HOLBROOK, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A retired police K-9 who bolted after an accident in northern Arizona in January has been found safe, after surviving 19 days in the wilderness, braving blizzards and foraging for food. Now, after loved ones came to pick her up, she is now on the road back to her forever home in Arkansas.
"Nushka," a Belgian Malinois, ran from the scene of a single-vehicle collision between Heber-Overgaard and Holbrook on Jan. 11. Sadly, Nushka's owner died in the crash. Immediately after the crash, Nushka ran off, and was last seen heading east toward Snowflake.
Searchers immediately began scouring the area for the dog, including DPS, who tweeted photos and information, asking for the public's help. When the team at HARTT (Humane Animal Rescue and Trapping Team) heard about what happened, they jumped into action. The organization, which helps find missing pets, sent volunteers from its Rim Country team in Payson to begin trying to track the dog.
"Nushka was a retired drug-sniffing police K-9 officer, so we knew her sense of smell would be powerful," said Cheryl Naumann, founder and president of HARTT. "We used 'scent trails' of items from her owner, and her own blanket which we obtained from the owner’s mother."
The volunteers made numerous trips to the area surrounding the crash site, looking for tracks or any clues about the dog's whereabouts.
"HARTT Rim Country volunteers Alison Webb, Lori Guyman Walker, and Brent Reed, along with local animal rescuer Gail Johnston, spent many hours and days hiking and searching," Naumann told Arizona's Family.
As the days passed with no sign of the dog, things began to seem hopeless. But the searchers didn't give up, continuing their efforts to locate the lost dog. Finally, on Jan. 20, 11 days after Nushka's disappearance, local outdoorsman Trent Ault spotted Nushka in the area. She was trotting along about 50 feet off the shoulder of the highway. The last thing they wanted to do was spook the pup, so they decided to try to lure her with food. Volunteer Brent Reed set up a 'food station' in the new location. "We used smelly wet food to attract her," Naumann said.
The food did the trick. That night, Nushka appeared on HARTT's cellular trail camera. The next morning, volunteers placed HARTT’s extra-large dog trap in the same spot.
But then, January's winter storm blew in, throwing a wrench into plans. The storm actually froze the trail cameras with a sheet of ice. "Within an hour, we could see nothing out of our camera, which is extremely reliable and works in all weather conditions," Naumann remembers. "We had no idea why the images were coming in just black. Animal rescuer Gail Johnston drove out and realized that the camera was covered with a sheet of ice that wouldn’t budge. We couldn’t leave a live trap in a blizzard and risk Nushka going in and being trapped overnight without us being aware. So we disarmed the trap overnight."
The next morning, Reed went back out and reset the trap. Less than three hours later, success! Nushka showed up and went into the trap. Volunteers cheered when they saw she was OK.
"We all got camera alerts that after 19 long days in freezing weather, Nushka was safe," Naumann told us.
The dog was transported to the Holbrook animal shelter where she was welcomed with open arms.
"They rolled out the red carpet for their VIP guest, and they proceeded to give her lots of love, a warm bed and food," said Naumann.
Relatives of Nushka's owner arrived from Arkansas on Tuesday to pick the dog up and bring her home. There were many hugs, cuddles and even tears as they swooped into greet Nushka and prepared to take her with them.
Nushka is said to be in pretty good condition, despite being on her own for weeks. The shelter said she had pretty sore paws. She was also a little thinner than when her ordeal first began, but she wasn't starving. We wondered: What she could have eaten in that desolate area?
"We believe she likely dined on a buffet of elk poop during her time in the wilderness," said Naumann.
The HARTT organization exists so that volunteers can share cases of missing animals and members of the public can request trapping assistance.
According to the group's Facebook page, HARTT volunteers provide specific services to capture dogs who are extremely skittish, shy, or who cannot be captured without the use of specialized equipment. They also provide consultation services on lost dog cases throughout the state of Arizona.
HARTT volunteers have been specially trained in the use of animal capture equipment and have completed the Humane Dog Trapping Workshop taught several times a year by Naumann.
Naumann reminds us that dogs have a tremendous ability to survive, and that you should NEVER assume a dog has died unless you find a body. She also advises, "Ask a million questions until you get just the level of detail you need to locate and recover an animal safely."
And she stresses the importance of "grid searches" if you think a dog has been injured in an accident. The dog could be "laying low" and and waiting for someone to find her. As in Nushka's case, lost dogs from auto accidents are found very close to the crash site. Nushka was found 2.2 miles away from the site of the accident.
That was also the case when a pup named Bella disappeared after being thrown from a serious car crash in Flagstaff in May of 2019. She was located just 50 feet away from the crash site, 13 days after the accident.
Thank you from all of us at Arizona's Family to Naumann, HARTT, and all the volunteers who made Nushka's rescue and survival possible. For information about HARTT, visit their website or Facebook page.