Three Seymour residents who were once strangers now consider themselves friends.
It’s all because of their shared love of dogs.
In January 2016, Heather Chase saw a post on Facebook about Karrie Bevers’ lost St. Bernards. Bevers was having to choose between searching for the two dogs and attending her son’s wrestling tournament in Indianapolis. Chase felt called to help, and after spending hours searching, both dogs were returned to Bevers.
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Around the same time a year later, Chase saw a Facebook post about a lost dog shared by Sarah Winburn. She had seen the same post a few months before about a dog that got loose from a woman transporting it from a shelter in Tennessee to a shelter in South Bend. Chase’s father, Bill Abbott, who also is the Seymour police chief, and the animal control officer, Chuck Heiss, helped capture the dog and have it transported to South Bend.
“I’m just a huge, huge, huge dog person,” Chase said of what drew her to help.
Bevers’ dogs, Izzy and Jaxon, got loose when she let them out of her house to go in the fenced-in backyard and didn’t realize someone had left the gate open.
“When I read that she was gone and she needed to find her dogs, I put myself in her shoes and said, ‘What if I had to choose between my son to go to an event and my dogs were lost? What would I do?’” Chase said. “I just kept reading that over and over and thinking, ‘That poor woman.’”
Chase said she thought it would be easy to find two loose St. Bernards. Not so much.
That afternoon, Chase called her father and mother, Diane Abbott, to help search for the dogs. She also called the police department and asked if the dogs had been spotted.
She learned they were seen on the south side of the city near the Freeman Field Sports Complex.
“We drove around for about two and a half hours. We were just basically driving around aimlessly through town,” Chase said.
They then were told Jaxon had been found and taken back to Bevers’ home, but Izzy was still loose and had been spotted in different locations.
When they were ready to give up searching, Chase received a phone call from Brianna Akers, who Chase didn’t know. Akers saw the Facebook post and said she found Izzy asleep on the porch of a home on West Fifth Street.
Izzy was cold and tired, her paws were bloody and cut up from walking on the snow- and ice-covered ground and roads and she wasn’t responding when Akers called her name.
Chase sent Bevers a text message and had her describe Izzy to make sure it was her. Bevers told her to look for a heart-shaped brown spot on the right side of her body.
Chase’s father came to the home to help. Izzy started growling at them, but they were able to get the leash on and roll her over and saw the heart-shaped spot.
Chase let Bevers know it was Izzy.
“She said, ‘Thank you so much. You’re a complete stranger to me. I can’t believe that you’re spending all of this time trying to find my dog,’” Chase said. “I said, ‘Well, my heart goes out to you.’ I never dreamed I’d find her, that’s for sure. She thanked me a hundred times over and said how it was a blessing from God, and all of it was.”
Since Bevers was out of town, she had Chase call her sister to pick up the dog. Chase learned the sister lived nearby at the corner of Fifth and Johnson streets.
“The sister drove over and said, ‘I think she was trying to come to my house,’” Chase said.
Four and a half months later, Chase was walking through Jay C Food Store in Seymour when she saw a woman who she thought was Bevers. Sure enough, it was.
“We just embraced in a hug, and both of us had tears,” Chase said. “Fast forward a year later, Karrie is somebody that I talk to probably every day on Facebook. We interact together very much on Facebook, and she has become a friend of mine.”
Bevers said she is grateful for Chase’s help finding Izzy, who is now 7 years old and weighs 136 pounds.
“I’m blessed,” Bevers said. “I was devastated when I lost my dogs. I was crying with my babies running away. I’m the type of person that animals are just like my children. They’re not my dogs. They’re my babies.”
Back on the hunt
Chase never realized she would be on the hunt for another dog a year later.But during the second week of January, she saw Winburn’s post with a picture of a mutt near Somerset Place Apartments on the east side of Seymour. It caught her eye because it looked like the same dog, named Lance, from a post a couple of months earlier.
After spending an hour going through Facebook on her phone to find the post, she was able to confirm it was Lance.
The woman transporting Lance had stopped at Burger King in Seymour to eat. While taking Lance for a walk, the leash slipped out of her hands. She called the police department, and officers spent several hours looking for Lance with no luck.
Chase messaged Winburn and told her she thought it was Lance.
“She told me the story, and I got goosebumps,” Winburn said. “It was like the coolest thing ever.”
Winburn said Lance was standing in the parking lot near her apartment, and she could tell he was skittish but friendly. She threw a breakfast burrito toward him to eat, and she took a picture of him and shared it on Facebook.
“As soon as I saw him, I thought, ‘There is something cool about this dog. I have no idea what it is. There is more to you,’” Winburn said. “It was this weird feeling you get.”
Chase told Winburn she would have her dad and Heiss come out the next day to try to catch Lance.
After arriving at the apartment complex at 8:30 a.m., Heiss called Chase and told her he had been called out there several times to try to catch the dog. He also told her the residents had been feeding him for a while, but he wouldn’t come close to them.
“The people who lived in the apartment complex were taking care of this stray dog knowing his story, knowing that all they needed to do was catch him, but they just couldn’t catch him,” Chase said. “I later found out he liked to eat hot dogs, so Lance was being very well fed.”
She also called Anne Poore at Mercy Rescue and Adoption in Jennings County. That shelter had been contacted by the Tennessee and South Bend shelters when Lance initially escaped.
Poore told Chase they had set live traps and spent time trying to capture Lance but didn’t have any luck. They later replaced the live trap with a doghouse because of it getting colder outside.
After Heiss spent eight hours attempting to catch and observing Lance, he and Bill Abbott were able to get close enough to shoot the dog with a tranquilizer.
Abbott called his daughter and told her the good news.
“I was like, ‘Oh, thank God,’” Chase said. “The poor dog that had been loose for so long, that was over, and the next journey of his life could begin.”
Lance was taken to Seymour Animal Hospital to get checked by Dr. Steve Sunbury. He then was taken to the police department, where Poore picked him up and took him to her shelter for the night.
A couple of days later, someone with the South Bend shelter, Homeward Bound, arrived to take Lance to his new family.
Chase said that was possible because of Winburn sharing the pictures.
“How many times do we see a stray dog and think, ‘Oh, it’s just a stray,’” Chase said. “If she had not snapped those pictures and shared them on Facebook, he’d still be loose.”
Winburn and the other Somerset residents deserve a lot of credit, Chase said.
“I really want to make sure they know they helped him through tough times, kept him alive and safe, even though they couldn’t catch him,” Chase said. “There were so many people that actually loved this dog. Sarah, she’s a huge dog lover like myself. I know some of them were very sad when he was gone.”
The dog whisperer
Winburn said she admired Chase’s efforts.“It was all her. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” Winburn said. “I told her, ‘You are like a guardian angel or a dog whisperer.’ She just has the right connections and can get the job done.”
Chase also credited Mercy Rescue and Adoption, Heiss and her father for helping Lance reach his intended destination.
“It was one of those feel-good stories,” she said. “So many people said, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this,’ and I didn’t do anything. I did nothing, in my eyes. It was 100 percent people coming together to just be good people. It didn’t matter who was on what side of the fence. We just all came together to be good people. That’s really how I feel about it.”
Chase has kept in contact with Homeward Bound to see how Lance is doing, and she shares that information with Winburn.
“Last report was he is doing great,” Chase said. “He’s laying next to the fireside with other dogs, and he’s really enjoying his life now. You’re talking of a dog who spent three months out on the run, and he finally is able to enjoy his life with his family. He’s in a good place.”
Winburn and Chase have yet to meet face-to-face, but they keep in touch through Facebook.
Chase’s father has joked with her about opening her own dog searching business, and he has asked if they will be rescuing another dog in January 2018.
“My dad said, ‘What are we going to do in 2018?’ I’m like, ‘Nothing. I’m doing nothing,’” Chase said. “My dad’s phrase is, ‘Put your blinders on.’ I said, ‘But I can’t.’”
She also has joked with her dad and Heiss about being a part-time dog catcher.
“(Heiss) likes to joke and kid me and give me a hard time and say, ‘Hey, I’m going on a couple of calls. Do you want to go with me?’ I say, ‘Sure, just let me know,’” Chase said, smiling.