ELKHART — Losing a beloved pet, especially in an unfamiliar place, can be an animal lover’s worst nightmare.
When the Ketchum family of Elkhart lost two-year-old rat terrier Sophie in Michigan, they feared they might not be able to find her again.
On March 2, Susan Ketchum traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., to pick up her daughter, Briana, from Grand Valley State University for spring break.
Ketchum was accompanied by her two other children, Kayla, 13, and Brian, 12, and the family’s rat terrier, Sophie.
After unloading their luggage at a dog-friendly hotel, the family drove to campus to fetch Briana.
“There’s a center console in the truck (Sophie) likes to hide under when we’re driving,” Ketchum said. “Then when you slow down she’ll pop up to see where we are.”
Ketcham slowed the vehicle as they approached the university, but Sophie didn’t appear.
“I thought my kids had her. They thought I had her,” Ketchum said. “Usually it’s not a problem. When you open the door of the truck she just jumps right in.”
Ketchum called the hotel, where an employee told her she had seen Sophie running around the parking lot. She said the staff would catch the dog and leave her in Ketchum’s room.
“In my head I’m thinking that we’re only seven minutes from the hotel,” she said. “We’ll load up my oldest and get back and she’ll be waiting for us.”
The family returned to the hotel, but Sophie wasn’t in the room.
A hotel employee had chased the dog for eight blocks and was unable to catch her.
“Now we’re all in tears,” Ketchum said. “Eight blocks is a good distance from the hotel for a little dog.”
The family headed out into the nearby neighborhoods and asked residents if they had seen Sophie.
“It was a decent day so people were out but nobody had seen anything,” she said.
After two hours of searching, they returned to the hotel. Hotel staff had alerted the local police and animal shelters, placed ads on craigslist.org and lostmypuppy.com and printed “lost dog” signs to post in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The family went out again at 2 a.m. Sunday in hopes that Sophie would hear their calls without all the extra noise created by people and traffic.
“You start to look in silly places, where she could never be,” Ketchum said. “You’re just so hopeful that you’ll find her.”
They returned to the hotel empty-handed.
The Ketchums had to return to Elkhart on Sunday.
“We got on the interstate bawling,” Ketchum said. “She is one of us. She goes everywhere with us. When we got home, life isn’t the same because you’re missing part of your family.”
Briana’s spring break, which was supposed to be a relaxing week at home with her family, became a stressful week of waiting.
Ketchum’s mother placed an ad in the Grand Rapids Press and on lostmydoggie.com in hopes that someone would recognize Sophie.
“Each day we heard nothing,” Ketchum said. “As a mother, I was trying to be positive (for my children).”
“Sophie always sleeps with somebody,” She said. “She gets right under the covers. We would go to bed crying and wake up crying.”
Kayla Ketcham said Sophie usually greets her when she comes home from school in the afternoon.
“She’s always out barking on the porch,” she said. “And there’s no more barking.”
On March 9, exactly one week after Sophie went missing, Ketchum prayed for a sign that the dog was alright. A few minutes later, Briana called.
“She was sobbing,” Ketchum said. “I thought something had happened to (Kayla or Brian).”
One of Briana’s friends at GVSU had been checking Craiglist to see if anyone had found a dog matching Sophie’s description.
A man had found Sophie in his woodshed and posted her photo on the website. He alerted animal control and had her taken to a shelter.
The family drove to Grand Rapids on March 10 to take Briana back to school but the shelter was closed and they could not retrieve Sophie.
“Monday morning we were there,” Ketchum said. “She was safe, but very skinny.”
The small dog had weighed about nine pounds when she was lost. She had lost over half her body weight in the week she was gone, weighing only four pounds when she was found. Ketchum said it looked as if someone had covered the dog’s skeleton with plastic wrap.
Workers at the shelter told Ketchum that Sophie, usually a very friendly dog, was in “defense mode” and had tried to bite them.
“I thought I’d walk in and she’d know me,” Ketchum said. “I reached in (the cage) and she bites me like she doesn’t know me.”
“I lean in and go, ‘Sophie, it’s mommy.’ She stood up, tilted her head and came right to me,” she said.
Now back in Elkhart with her family, Sophie has gained back nearly all of the five pounds she lost during her week in Michigan and has suffered no major health complications.
“It really is a miracle,” Ketcham said. “I believe it’s an act of God.”