Teamwork turns up missing guide dog

TUPELO – A city of strangers united briefly this week to return a missing guide dog to its owner.
Municipal workers, cab drivers, churchgoers and paper pushers scoured the neighborhood around Tupelo Middle School where Ansel, a 9-year-old black Labrador retriever, wandered off Sunday afternoon.
They knocked on doors, looked in ditches and stopped people on the streets.
Twenty-four hours later, Ansel was found.
“It was crazy,” said his owner, Malinda Carter, who depends on the dog to get around. “The radio stations announced it, people in the office made phone calls, Calvary Baptist Church put out an e-mail and people from church went looking for him.”
Carter, who became visually impaired as a child, got Ansel six years ago from Guide Dogs of America. The California-based organization provides trained dogs and lessons on how to use them to people throughout the United States and Canada, according to its Web site.
“Ansel is more than just a dog to me,” Carter said. “He’s my independence, my freedom to go anywhere I want to go. But his main job is to keep me safe.”
So, Carter was understandably upset when her friend and protector wandered off on a sunny, spring afternoon.
Carter said she let the pooch outside to sniff around and then went in to get something. When she went out again, Ansel was gone.
Carter whistled and called his name, but the dog didn’t return. Neighbors of Kirkwood Apartments, where Carter lives, heard the commotion and volunteered to look. Soon, drivers for A-1 Cab joined the search.
“Some of them was looking around as they went on calls,” said Donna Sullivan of A-1. Carter is “a good person and she rides all the time with us, and we felt like we needed to help her.”
A night passed without Ansel. But soon others came to help. Crews with the Tupelo Public Works Department kept a lookout, radioing to each other and the central office each time they saw a black Lab.
“Everybody was watching for the dog,” said Susan Dempsey of Public Works. “In this day and time, it’s good to know people still care about each other.”
The breakthrough came when Carter’s colleagues at Reach Center For the Blind got involved. Joyce Jenkins and Donna Criswell spent hours driving around the neighborhood where Ansel went missing.
They finally found him in a ditch, and he jumped into their car without hesitation.
“We decided we weren’t coming back without him,” Criswell said. “He’s like a member of our family.”
On Tuesday, Ansel lay peacefully at Carter’s feet while she worked in her office at Reach. He wagged his tail at visitors but mostly seemed content to rest.
“He was so tired,” Carter said. “He’s just glad to be home. So am I. And I am so thankful to everybody in the community for their help.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/Daily Journal