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Hesperia couple reunited with dog lost in Arizona
Hesperia resident Brian Suggs had just kicked out the back window to escape from his Volkswagen Jetta that was now smoldering and upside down against a concrete culvert on the side of Interstate 40 just west of Ash Fork, Ariz. He spent an hour trying to flag down help in the fading daylight with a storm beginning to move in.
Having just survived a violent car accident, Suggs had only one thought on his mind: “Where’s Meatball?”
Meatball is the Suggs family’s Chihuahua they adopted two years ago after he was dumped along with the rest of his litter next to the railroad tracks in Hesperia. He was a beloved family pet who had grown accustomed to living the good life only a rescue dog could appreciate. And now, after being thrown from the car in the rollover, he was lost in the Mohave County desert with his 4-foot leash dragging behind him.
Meatball’s journey actually began around the Fourth of July during a family reunion in Arkansas. Patriotic celebrations in the Ozarks were well under way when Meatball got spooked by fireworks and ran into the woods, sparking a five-day dog hunt among the residents of the small southern town.
Meatball was eventually found and chased back to Brian’s brother’s house, where he was cornered in a barn and taken into custody.
“As soon as he got home he was going to get a new collar and a microchip,” said Brian’s wife, Erin Suggs, who did not make the trip.
Brian’s son and his friend flew back to California at the end of the reunion while Meatball and Brian were to make the trek back to Hesperia by car. They were on the final leg of their journey on the evening of July 23 when Suggs said his car was clipped by a semi-truck making a lane change on the westbound I-40.
Suggs’ sedan spun into the median and rolled several times before coming to rest in a concrete culvert on the side of the road with the driver’s side against the ground. Suggs kicked his way out of the wreckage and began calling out for Meatball, who was nowhere to be found.
Brian crawled to the highway, where he spent the next hour looking for the dog while trying to flag down help. No one stopped.
“I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dead, that I wasn’t just a ghost on the side of the road no one could see,” he said.
Department of Public Safety officers responded to the scene after getting a report of tire marks going into the median and a man standing on the side of the road who appeared to be injured. Brian begged the officers to let him stay to help look for Meatball even as he was being loaded into the ambulance.
Touched by Brian’s situation, DPS Officer Nicholas Harnois spent the next two hours looking for Meatball in the rain.
“His uniform was muddy and he was soaked,” said Officer Carrick Cook, a DPS spokesman. “He scoured drainage ditches and everywhere he could think of. He felt really bad that this guy’s dog got loose and took it as a personal mission to find him.”
Brian was taken to the emergency room at Kingman Regional Medical Center where he said the nurses were in tears after hearing his story. They offered to call his wife, but that was a call Brian said he had to make himself. It was around that time that Harnois called to reluctantly say that the dog was nowhere to be found.
Erin drove to Kingman to pick up her husband. Before they headed back to California, they returned to the accident scene to look for Meatball one more time. There they ran into several Department of Transportation and DPS officials who had already heard about Meatball from their colleagues and were advised to keep an eye out.
The Suggs got a reminder of the harsh and unforgiving conditions of the desert when they stopped to switch drivers on the drive home and saw a rattlesnake on the side of the road.
Erin posted an ad for a lost dog on Craigslist. For the next six days, she checked her email every 20 minutes. By Sunday, resignation started to set in. She made one last post on Craigslist and later that night, the family all said a prayer for Meatball.
“After that, I was just going to accept that he was gone,” Erin said.
It’s not uncommon for Dawn Schmitt to find dogs wandering in the desert near her ranch five miles off of I-40, several miles from where Suggs’ accident had occurred. Some of the dogs have been dumped; others are obvious pets. Meatball, with his rhinestone collar and harness, not to mention the leash he was dragging behind him, was obviously a part of someone’s family.
It was the dragging leash that finally ended Meatball’s five-day, four-night adventure. Schmitt’s neighbor down the road, Jim, found the dehydrated and skittish dog after his leash had gotten snagged on a refrigerator on the porch. Knowing that Schmitt was a vet tech at Cerbat Cliffs Animal Hospital, Jim called her and she took Meatball home. He spent the night curled next to Schmitt’s 75-pound lab mix, also a desert rescue.
Schmitt took Meatball to the clinic the next morning and intended to call around Monday to other agencies to see if anyone had reported a missing dog. Before she could, a co-worker, Shawna Clor, came into work on Monday morning and noticed Meatball’s name spelled out in rhinestones on his collar, the only identification on him. Clor often checks the Internet for missing dogs and had seen Erin’s posting on Craigslist over the weekend. The dog in the ad looked identical to the one at the hospital.
Erin was finishing with a hair client when her phone alerted her to an incoming email that asked her to call the animal hospital in Kingman.
“I wanted to throw up and cry at the same time,” Erin said. “I was pacing the floor while I was on the phone. That was the day I was going to give up hope.”
The Suggs made it to Kingman by 5 p.m. They stood at the hospital’s front desk expecting Meatball to come from the back. But staff snuck him in through a side door, allowing Meatball to see them first.
“He started making noises we had never heard before,” Brian said of Meatball’s excited yelps. “He jumped out of their arms and into ours.”
Brian cried on his way home from Kingman, this time out of joy for getting back his best friend. Erin videotaped the two while Meatball licked the tears from his face.
“I would love for him to tell us what he was doing out there,” Brian said.
Meatball appears none the worse for his impromptu camping trip but seems to appreciate the creature comforts of being back with his
“He lays into you and takes these big sighs like, ‘Ah, home,’” Brian said.
The Suggs aren’t taking any more chances. Meatball is headed to the vet to get his new microchip lest he gets another case of wanderlust.
“I guess he just had the call of the wild in him,” Brian said.
Erin Taylor is a reporter with the Kingman Daily Miner in Kingman, Ariz. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.