Sasha come home

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:55

    (Editor's note: Last week, we received a call from Bill Dittmar, who said he had a story he wanted to share with people he called the most generous and friendly he had ever met - the people of Sussex County. We asked Dittmar to write a letter to the editor. It came in a little long, but the story was so touching, especially at this season, we decided to share it with our readers. This is the letter he and his wife, Heidi, wrote.) To the Editor: The night after Christmas an event occurred which taught us about ourselves, our family and the amazingly caring nature of people who truly understand what being part of a community means. Around midnight, our beloved eight-year-old dog, Sasha, stood at the back door asking to go outside. As we had done many times before, we opened the door to let her out but this time was different. The snow was coming down furiously and the scents of deer, rabbits and countless animals must have sent a rush of adrenaline through Sasha. Before we could do a thing, she had darted into the woods behind our sister's home on Lott Road in Wantage. The snow was blinding as we tried to find her. Slowly, the clinking sounds of her collar and tag began to disappear. She didn't hear our cries and we couldn't find any signs as to which direction she ran. We were devastated. You see, we were just up here visiting family for the holidays, nd Sasha is our very loved house dog, a "baby," and not used to the woods. Plus, her home is in Newport News, Va., where the weather is much milder than here in Sussex County. We were worried about her surviving the extremely cold night and finding her way home in the snow. We searched for her until 4 a.m., slept maybe an hour and then arose to continue the search. Our family (five brothers and sisters and mom and dad) came to our aid. We created a flyer from recent pictures with a description of Sasha's unique markings and began distributing them door to door. Sisters Jeanette and Trish went to the local deli, gas stations, post offices, strip malls, and the A&P to hang up flyers. Brothers Paul, Mike and Matt searched the woods and fields behind the house. Mike's children, Erin, Mike, and Sean, and Paul's son, Paul, helped search dead-end roads and fields. Dad passed out flyers in the local restaurants and bars, engaging the help of others. He brought his friend, Tom, and his tracking dog to search for Sasha in the woods. Mom watched the children, prepared meals, and prayed. We called radio station WSUS to announce that Sasha was lost. We called the pounds and veterinarians to report her disappearance. We engaged the help of the local and state police, who spread the word among their troops to look for our dog. We have an incredible family, who stopped everything to help us find our beloved baby. But what impresses and amazes us even more was the outpouring of support and help from neighbors near and far who, when they received our flyer or heard our report, called to help. People who heard about Sasha on the radio called to say that they would come up to join the search. Parents and children we had never spoken to before went in their cars and on ATV's looking for Sasha on huge acreages of land. A man named Pete who owns 26 acres nearby was met by our brother Mike and his son Michael just outside of his horse stable. As soon as they told him our problem he dropped his chores and spent several hours searching his property on foot with Mike and his son. Mike said he learned a great deal from this man about the animals of this area, their tracks and their habits. It also left an incredible impression on Mike's sixteen-year-old son that a complete stranger would go out of his way like Pete had. A gentleman named Eddie, who was a stranger prior to Sasha's disappearance, came to the house to offer his tracking dog as assistance. He met us the next morning at 7:45 and searched the fields where Sasha may have been for several hours. The first call that made our hearts leap was from a woman on Quarry Road, on the South side of Dobbs field, who said that she had spotted a dog meeting Sasha's description that morning running down Rose Marrow Road towards Sally Hardin Road. This was more than three miles from where Sasha first disappeared. Until that phone call, we didn't know if she had made it out of the woods alive. The woman's call gave us hope, and we expanded our delivery area of flyers to include the Quarry Road, Rose Marrow Road, and Sally Hardin Road area. We practically burned out our brother-in-law's printer making the more than 450 flyers we eventually distributed. Tuesday, sister Trish and Dad suggested that we expand the area to Route 23 just in case she got that far. Dad, a retired police chief, was delighted that we had set up a real command post in Jeanette and John's dining room. He brought us a map of Sussex County, which was essential in helping us expand our territories. On Tuesday around noon, Patty, who lives on Rose Marrow Road, thought she and her daughter saw Sasha in her field. Patty and her children helped us trace animal tracks that may have been Sasha's paw prints, but we lost them when they came out of the snow and onto Sally Hardin Road. That phone call and the conversation with two sanitation men on Wantage School Road about a yellow dog sighting led us to search in that area. As the sun set each day and Sasha still hadn't been found, our hearts hurt thinking about her out in the cold alone, trying to survive in an area foreign to her. (The temperature did not rise above 28 degrees the first two days she was missing.) And then we would receive a phone call from a stranger saying that he or she was going out with a spotlight during the night to look for Sasha. Complete strangers who simply love animals, strangers who understand the helplessness of losing a beloved pet continued to assist us in our search. Stories upon stories were told to us of dogs that got lost and found their way home safely. One man encouraged us by saying that even his German Shepherd puppies had found their way home, with only a few porcupine needles as evidence of their little trek. On Wednesday morning, we awoke early with a sense of hopefulness. Around noon we received a call from Diane Mayer, who said she had spotted Sasha at the A&P parking lot in Sussex, nine miles from where she disappeared. We drove faster on Route 284 than we dare say, but we arrived safely. Diane said she lost sight of her. But Charlie Hart, his son, C.J. Hart, and his business partner, Ronnie Hendrickson, were driving south on Route 23 when they saw Sasha running north. They knew of her from a flyer we had left in their mailbox, and they jumped out of their truck and herded Sasha into the neighborhood behind the A&P. Charlie called the number on the flyer, only to have Mom tell him we were already in the area. A call on a cell phone soon had Bill and Mike running around the shopping center via Woody's Liquor store while I ran through the alley by the A&P. As I emerged between the buildings, I looked up the hill and saw the tail end of a tan dog behind a wood pile on the other side of a fence. I hoped it was Sasha but dared not get my hopes up. As I approached, I said, "Sasha," and she raised her head. She had a blank look in her eyes, probably from the shock of her ordeal. I ran up the hill to the fence, tears streaming down my face, crying, "Sasha! Sasha!" As I reached the fence, Sasha ran from behind the pile of wood and we met face to face, the only thing separating us was a wire fence. I wanted to climb over the fence but Charlie yelled for me to come by them. As I ran along the fence line to Charlie, Sasha ran parallel with me. With Ronnie's help, I climbed over the fence and dropped to my knees. Sasha ran into my arms, whining with delight. I put her stuffed elephant (her baby) into her mouth and she sucked on it so hard it squeaked. Bill ran along the house to reunite with Sasha. The three of us hugged as tears of joy and relief poured down our faces. When I told Charlie, CJ and Ronnie that we don't have children and that Sasha is our "child" and that we lost our other dog, Beowulf, to cancer this year, they understood the intensity of our emotions. Ronnie said as he was leaving, "This is the best thing I have ever done." New Jersey and New York residents often get a bad rap with the stereotype that everyone is a stranger and stays that way. We say the people in this area have demonstrated that there is more sense of community here than any other place we have ever been. Thank you all for recognizing that pets aren't just animals, but that they are truly part of the family. And thank you for taking your time to remind us of the true fellowship that can exist among strangers. You have blessed us more than you will ever know. Bill and Heidi Dittmar