For four weeks, Colin Browning and Maria Odler of Foxboro lived a nightmare when the Okaya, a 4-year-old German Shepherd, went missing.
Last Monday, though, they received a holiday miracle when they got word that Okaya had been found—about 15 miles away in Pawtucket. Somehow, she survived, and remained very strong and graceful during the weeks spent outdoors.
“It’s a treasure, and we’ve had a really tough time the past four weeks when she’s gone,” Browning said.
Okaya—named after one of Japan’s most beautiful towns, according to Browning—disappeared on November 24 from the Stop & Shop on Foxboro’s main street after one of its owners opened the car’s door to move it from front seat to front seat. Rear seat. Her disappearance sparked massive community efforts to reunite the dog with her family.
Okaya posters hung from telephone poles and work windows. Her missing dog’s post on the PawBoost Facebook page has garnered 47,000 views, according to Browning. Her family contacted the services of professional dog tracker Jimmy Genero, who Browning said worked by catching a location with chickens and capturing what visited the place with motion-activated cameras that send the signal to his iPhone.
“We saw lots and lots of animals but we never made them (Okaya) come,” Browning said. “At one location, we saw many different animals. They had a possum, a coyote, of course.”
There were many different reports and potential sightings, which intensified the searches in several specific areas. Just over a week ago, Foxboro police and fire departments responded to the Interstate 95 scene, to no avail. Browning said police even tried to use a drone to try to locate her.
“It was very frustrating because we kept getting views from people,” Browning said. “She was a lot of moving. She is a very athletic dog, she can run like a deer, she bounces and jumps. She is also a very nervous dog and she doesn’t like being approached by people. She would run away from anyone.”
Neighbors Jim and Maureen Lobel, who had lived near Browning and Odler for 10 years, created a map of the various sites where Okaya was seen.
Jim said the neighborhood had gathered to look for Akkaya. But the longer it took, the more anxious they became.
“We put some food out, set up some night cameras, but we never took her picture,” he said. “We asked for permission to put the camera on the property of the other homeowners and everyone agreed to help.”
Deborah Stone, who doesn’t know Browning or Odler personally, saw Okaya’s missing dog post on Foxboro’s Facebook discussion page.
“I started gathering volunteers from Foxboro to make flyers and hang them around town and distribute them to businesses,” she said. “We stayed in close contact with Genero, and he would help us narrow down the sites for posting.”
She believes the group of seven volunteers commented or distributed about 500 flyers over a period of 3½ weeks.
“I was tempted to help because one of my dogs went missing several years ago and I remember feeling very lonely trying to find it,” Stone said. “In the end, I got my dog back thanks to the very attentive neighbors and the posts I closed.”
After all the postings and posts on social media and the search, Browning got several calls on December 20 that Okaya might be in the Pawtucket Animal Shelter, after an internet search follower noticed her. Apparently, after moving in the general direction home for about two weeks, I made my way down the freight train line, and eventually to Pawtucket. There, workers at the nearby water department saw her, detained her, and took her to the shelter.
“We wouldn’t have known that because it was too far from expecting a dog to be able to run so far in such a short time,” Odler said.
Browning heard the news near 3 p.m. the time the shelter was closed, so he arrived Tuesday at 10 a.m. when the shelter opened for the day. He confirmed Okaya’s identity by scanning the slide number.
It was a happy reunion for Okaya and its owners, it still fills their hearts.
“We are very pleased, and of course, very pleased with the reaction of the people in our hometown of Foxboro,” Odler said. “My husband has received a lot of phone calls from people who have been trying to help. When you are under the stress of losing this dog (Okaya), it is psychologically helpful to know that there are people out there trying to help.”
“One of the good things that came out of all of this was knowing how many wonderful Foxboro people there are in the surrounding area,” Browning said.
Their assistants are also thrilled.
“We were about to give up hope because it had been going on for a month, but she was right there at the rescue center in Pawtucket,” Jim Loebel said.
Stone said she is “completely relieved” that Okaya is at home.
In addition to the love Okaya embraced upon her homecoming, she received an adorable treat from another fan.
Steve Tromara, a member of the family that developed the property where Browning and Odler reside, has known the couple and Okaya over the years.
“She (Akkaya) and I have a deep relationship, and I am happy to bring her a great steak, which she donated from the same Stop & Shop where she originally disappeared from,” Tromara said. “There are, indeed, many happy hearts, today, after many days and nights of experiencing the deep and deeply opposing forces of hope, of hope, of absurdity, and of uncertainty.”