GENOA - Dragging a leash and fending for itself, a pooch on the prowl for several months in Ottawa County isn't killing livestock, but it is stealing hearts.
Cindy Koepfer is dotty about the catch-me-if-you-can canine, and she dreams of the day when she can wrap her arms around its scruffy neck and whisper in its ear, "It's OK girl, it's OK. You're safe now. You're home."
But that likely won't be today, tomorrow, or the next day.
The mixed-breed dog, alone and without a home since at least October, continues to outfox would-be captors. And this alarms Ms. Koepfer.
"Lately, she's been walking real slow. She's getting worn out. Being out there like that, all by herself, it's wearing on her," said the 52-year-old woman who has made it her mission to catch the mystery mutt. Is it lost? Was it abandoned?
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Nearly every day Ms. Koepfer treks from her Toledo home to Clay Township where, carrying binoculars and sometimes a pork roast, she tracks the stray and tries to gain its trust.
She's been close enough to hear the jingle of its collar and to see the sadness in its eyes.
"It breaks your heart. I just know she got loose from someone. I so hope when people hear about her someone might say 'That's my dog' or "It's my Uncle John's dog'."
In early April, a friend told Ms. Koepfer about a black dog in a field in Clay Township near Genoa. The next day, the dog was still there.
Ms. Koepfer, who takes in kittens until she can find them homes and who recently took a stray chicken under her wing, instantly connected with the dog. But only from afar. "It's just so pitiful.
I can't get close enough to her to grab her collar."
She named the dog Genoa and contacted authorities for help, but the pooch, described by Ottawa County Dog Warden JoLynn Hetrick as smart and clever, remains elusive.
Through changing seasons, the dog has stayed in the same area, sticking close to farm fields where this summer a soybean field has provided a green canopy of protection. In the winter, Genoa sometimes holed up in nearby barns.
Ms. Koepfer, who is working with dog rescue groups to find a way to catch Genoa, said when caught, it will be adopted into a good home.
Through the kindness of strangers she obtained permission to set up a feeding station. She restocks it regularly.
Ms. Koepfer speculates the dog ran away from a traveler along the nearby Ohio Turnpike or a mean pet owner dumped it.
Around the dog's neck is a worn leash, ends frayed from dragging against clumps of dirt, corn stalk stubble, and icy snowdrifts.
Genoa's furry coat is matted, perhaps from burrs, "but she's beautiful," said Ms. Koepfer. "She looks some like a border collie, but I think she's a mutt, my favorite kind of dog."
Others with a soft spot for the four-legged animal have tried to coax it into their yards. But Genoa keeps its distance. Some say the dog likes being a lone wolf.
"It doesn't want to be caught," said Clay Township police Chief Roger A. Schultze, who started to get calls in the fall about the dog.
If someone walks towards it, even a mile away, it turns tail and goes the other way. It doesn't run, it just walks in the opposite direction, the chief said. The dog, he said, "is very much a survivalist."
With assistance from the Wood County dog warden, several efforts have been made by the Ottawa County dog warden's staff to catch the animal, said Mrs. Hetrick, and efforts will continue to capture it.
So far, the canine has stayed out of range of tranquilizer guns, she said, and live trapping isn't being considered because Genoa isn't hungry enough to be fooled into taking the bait.
Ms. Koepfer believes Genoa wants to go home. In an online alert, she said the dog "clearly is waiting for its owner to return as it lies by the road watching every single vehicle that goes by, as if it refuses to believe that its owner won't return for him/her."
Dogs can fend and care for themselves, said Mrs. Hetrick, who is concerned for the dog and for anyone who tries to catch it. Someone could end up getting hurt or someone could chase the dog into the roadway, where it could get killed or cause a crash, she said.
The dog has survived so far because he's "very street-wise," the dog warden said. "I think he's smart."
One day the dog ran into a wooded area and "we never did find it again. I think he went down through a wheat field," Mrs. Hetrick said. Five deer were chased out of the woods and the dog "probably was laughing" at the failed attempt to catch it, she said. "I think he is pretty clever."
She added: "We would like to capture the dog," but noted she has no idea whether the dog, after being on the loose for so long, has the social skills to be adopted. "He seems very content in the world he has made for himself. Will we ever know the truth about the dog? Probably not," she said.
The dog has been on its own for at least 10 months.
That's a long time without a human hand brushing against its fur coat. It's a long time without playing fetch or curling up on a comfy couch.
It's a long time without a friend.
"The dog wants to be loved," Ms. Koepfer said with tears in her voice.
She looks across the field, scanning the soybeans for movement, for a streak of black. "I just want to catch her. I just want to hug her."
Contact Janet Romaker at:
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Dragging a leash and fending for itself, a pooch on the prowl for several months in Ottawa County isn't killing livestock, but it is stealing hearts.