When John Brancato lost his dog, Hunter, on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory this past August, he was forced to make a heart-breaking trek back to his Texas home without his four-legged companion.
As the outlook continued to look more bleak with each passing day, he never gave up hope that the one-and-half-year-old Anatolian shepherd would be found. He continued to post Hunter’s photo on social media in the hopes that someone local would find her.
On Friday, nearly five months later, his faith was rewarded as Hunter jumped into his arms safe and sound in a Napanee backyard.
Hunter and her sister Becca had originally gone missing the weekend of the Tyendinaga Pow Wow, where Brancato had been visiting his cousins. Both dogs took off into the brush when spooked by some fireworks. Becca was found three days later, however there was no sign of Hunter.
“We just kept praying and praying and posting on Quinte Lost Dogs Network and Ontario Lost Dogs,” said an elated Brancato shortly after Hunter was safely back in his arms.
Brancato had been forced to take the difficult trip home to Texas without Hunter as he noted Becca was stressed from her ordeal and was refusing to eat.
He didn’t give up his search however, as he continued to seek help some 2,600 kilometres away.
His persistence paid off when Hunter appeared near the backyard of Mathieu and Beth Friolet in Napanee, nearly 25 kilometres away from where she had run from the fireworks.
“They started seeing the dog around so they started feeding it,” said Brancato. “Mat and Beth would see the dog come down. They even put up trail cameras to take pictures of the dogs, they put a number of live traps out.”
They went so far as to grill a steak for Hunter on Christmas. Try as they might however, they couldn’t lure her close enough to catch her.
“New Year’s Day I sent a text to my cousins that live here on the reserve and I asked them to re-post the lost dog,” said Brancato. “They said ‘Well, we have to tell you, we have been seeing this dog that we think is Hunter.’ The family that had been trying to catch the dog had contacted my cousins. They had gone out to track her through the woods and through the field for three weeks. They sent me the trail cam pictures and once I looked at them I saw every identification mark from the tip of the tail to the nose and said this had to be her.”
Certain that it was Hunter, Brancato hopped in his truck and drove from Tennessee, where he had since moved to from Texas, and made the cross-border trek.
He then camped out in his truck near the backyard in the hopes Hunter would return to the spot she was last sighted. After waiting all night until 5 a.m., he went to a family member’s house for a quick nap before returning to the site.
“I saw tracks right next to where I had parked the truck in the snow that weren’t there last night,” he said. “I got Becca out of the truck and she started smelling the tracks. She was just following the scent. It took about 10 minutes and all of a sudden she stopped and I looked up above us and I saw Hunter.”
Watching the whole thing unfold from his house, Friolet knew he was about to witness something amazing.
“I was in shock,” said Mathieu. “I was in disbelief because this dog has been running from everyone since we met her.”
Friolet says he’s certain Hunter had picked up the scent of his owner and was sticking close to the house, which she never did previously, in the hopes he would return.
“I started to shed a tear,” Friolet said of watching the reunion. “Then I was scrambling to get my phone because I thought I have to get this on video.”
A video of the incredible conclusion to the roller-coaster five month search was uploaded to the Quinte Lost Dogs Network Facebook page.
“I was happy that we didn’t get her in a cage and instead the owner got her in a peaceful way,” added Friolet.
Shortly after being reunited, Brancato took Hunter to a local veterinary clinic to be looked over. Aside from weighing in at 66 pounds, 25 pounds lighter than when she first went missing, she was given a clean bill of health and made the trip back home with her family.
“They poured their heart out for a dog, who they didn’t even know who it belonged to,” Brancanto said of the Friolets. “Tremendous heart to do that. Words can never say enough.”
Brancato, who considers himself ‘half-Canadian’ on his mother’s side, expressed gratitude to all the Canadians and residents of Napanee who helped bring Hunter home.