By LuAnn McLain
When Jan Prentice died in a head-on collision early Thanksgiving morning, her dog, Axle, had been traveling with her. He was not found in the vehicle or at the site of the collision, which occurred between Ravalli and Arlee at Spring Creek.
Axle was like an only child to Jan, according to her relatives who all live out-of-state. The family lamented that it would probably be impossible for them to track Axle down.
It was presumed that Axle had a collar on that would have Salt Lake or Utah tags. No one could be sure. Axle is a sheepdog with black body, beige face and feet, and hair in his eyes.
At the funeral, Pam Hughes, a friend living in Whitefish, decided to see if she could help. She contacted Dianne Armstrong of Montana Pets on the Net, requesting ideas and contacts and giving her own plan of action.
The funeral was Monday, so Axle had already been out on his own for several days. Pam planned to call all the vets she could locate in the area of the accident and make posters. Her husband, Dick, would be driving to Missoula on Wednesday, so he would put up posters in businesses along the way.
Dianne recommended some contacts to be made in addition to the shelter in Missoula that Pam had already contacted. Dianne alerted shelters and rescue groups in Montana who participate in the Montana Pets by email, as she usually does when there is a lost dog or some special need situation relating to an animal. Dianne also provided Pam with some personal moral support.
On Wednesday, Pam's husband headed for Missoula with posters to deposit along the way. One poster was dropped off at the Tribal Offices in Pablo. An employee there, Virginia Butler, could not stop looking at the picture of Axle. "She's the person who really was important in this all," says Pam.
Virginia racked her brain for names of people she might know who lived in the area of the crash site. One man she thought of calling she did not know very well, so she asked her nephew to call for her.
Virginia's nephew called back. Yes! The man was certain he had seen the dog on Tuesday.
Pam was notified and she in turn called Dick. He turned back and went to the crash site. There he found Jan's brother, Tom, who was making one last search of the area for his sister's belongings and for Axle.
The two men began to comb the area. Some neighbors joined in the search. After 1 1/2 hours, they found Axle down by the river, which was about a mile from the actual crash site. His leg was mangled and he was hungry and thirsty but joyful to be found by people who knew his name.
As Tom drove back to Whitefish with Axle, he called Pam to tell her the dog was fine, wagging his tail and licking his (Tom's) ear. Axle had been given food and water and had been checked to make sure he was strong enough to travel back to Whitefish.
"Tom was really thrilled to find Axle," reports Pam, "and especially happy he was able to be there when they found him."
The leg was not broken but there was a lot of nerve damage. It is uncertain whether the nerves will regenerate well enough for him to keep his leg. It was decided that Axle would stay at the Veterinarian's in Whitefish for treatment even though Tom had to return to California.
Axle's leg requires frequent dressing changes and physical therapy. "Of course all the vet techs are fawning over him," says Pam. It will be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month before they will know if his leg can be saved.
Tom plans to retrieve Axle when he is able to travel. For now Axle is the darling of the employees at the veterinarians and is getting lots of TLC!
The family will cherish Axle for the loving dog he is and because he is a living link to the woman they now mourn.