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For 50 days she had been on the lam and then the starving chihuahua mix was cornered in the prison garbage room.
The correctional officer at New Glasgow’s Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility was not about to let Sophie slip away on Monday morning. Up to that point she had eluded prison staff for nearly a week before the fateful showdown.
It took peanut butter for the officer to coax the timid creature into her embrace. She recognized the dog from a profile posted on Nova Scotia Lost Dog Network’s Facebook page and wasted no time returning Sophie to her grieving family.
The Leblancs had pulled out all the stops to find their cherished pet that went missing Oct. 2, and by Monday they had all but given up hope.
“We love her so much,” said Richard Leblanc. “We have a small, little family and our animals are like our children and losing her was like losing a child. It was really traumatic. Since she ran away I called three police departments, the SPCA, called all the vets in town, called the radio stations and put missing dog posters up all around town.”
All that changed at the crack of dawn Monday.
On the brink of giving up
Carrying the famished but still spirited pooch in her arms, the officer arrived at the Leblancs doorstep just as Richard was loading up his truck and heading for work.
“She says, ‘Does this dog belong to you?’ I am looking at Sophie, her fur all matted down, skinny as can be. Me and my wife and two-year-old son all started crying right there. It was wonderful.
“We were just about to lose hope with the weather turning. How could a little dog like that survive? There’s no way we thought?”
The Leblancs had just moved from Ontario to New Glasgow when Sophie made her getaway. Richard was alone doing renovations on the house while his wife and child bunked at a local hotel.
Sophie seized her opportunity after returning from a walk with Richard. Just as her harness was removed she bolted out the door. They were face-to-face on the front lawn but not for long.
“My neighbours’ kid came out to help and the two of us tried to chase her down,” recalled Richard. “Sophie even turned around and charged right for us but she just kept running until she was out of sight. We couldn’t catch her for the life of us.”
Sophie, a Maltese, Yorkie and chihuahua mix, has a mind of her own. The family has two other dogs (a Labrador, shepherd mix and a Jack Russell terrier) and Sophie calls the shots.
“She definitely acts bigger than she really is. Very alpha for a little dog. She tells way bigger dogs what to do and she’s smaller than both our other dogs but she runs their show. If she’s not happy she’ll let them know.”
But that’s not to say she wasn’t thrilled to be reunited with her family.
“She was so happy to see us,” recalled Richard. “Every two seconds she was looking up to see if we’re still there. I think she’s changed a little from this ordeal. She’s a little less timid. She seems a little more sure of her surroundings now.”
The family’s grateful to the quick-witted correctional officer but also to the wider community. They received several reported sightings of Sophie but the ensuing searches were fruitless.
Making all the difference was Sophie’s picture profile that Richard submitted to the Nova Scotia Lost Dog Network. Site founders Janet Chernin and Ann Morrison made sure the good news was shared on Monday.
“It’s a beautiful story,” said Morrison. “They’re new to the area and it’s wonderful that the community got so involved in the search for Sophie and the Leblancs certainly know their community now.”
In the eight years since the network’s inception, they’ve helped reunite more than 5,000 lost dogs with their families.
“People form such deep bonds with their dogs and Janet and I have become almost like grief counsellors to some,” said Morrison. “We’re really happy for the Leblanc family and this story is the reason we do what we do, of course.”