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A community searches for a dog lost during Hurricane Ian

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When Hurricane Ian tore through southwest Florida, it flooded homes, upended lives and destroyed much of what people hold dear. For one family, it was especially traumatic when one of their dogs, Baby, a sheepdog mix, disappeared during the storm. WGCU's Eileen Kelley brings us this story about strangers who come together to try to help a poor dog find her way home.

EILEEN KELLEY, BYLINE: Just after the worst of the storm, Anthony Mas's son, Adrian, took their two dogs outside to use the bathroom. With the winds howling and the rain still pouring down, one dog, Baby, disappeared into darkness.

ANTHONY MAS: So he comes frantically running in, and he's like, I don't know where Baby went. She was right by the car, and she had gone to do her business. And when I went to look, she was gone.

KELLEY: The Mases had evacuated from their home in Charlotte County and were staying in North Naples. They searched for hours, and hours stretched into days. Soon, the Mas family had to leave Naples when another family booked their short-term rental. So they left without their beloved 11-year-old English sheepdog mix. But others stepped up.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOY SQUEAKING)

SUE LAW: They love squeaky toys. So whatever it takes, I've got it.

KELLEY: Sue Law is with Lost Pets of Collier County. She came to the neighborhood prepared. Her car is packed with Vienna sausages, rotisserie chicken and other snacks to try and lure Baby out of the wooded area. Another Sue, Sue Weatherford, was also helping search. She knew Baby was still around. She had seen her on her home's outdoor surveillance video.

SUE WEATHERFORD: She's looking really tired on the video that we're seeing and people's cameras outside, you know?

KELLEY: In fact, lots of people, people who don't even know each other or Baby, were looking for her, posting photos and pointing out sightings on social media. Ashleigh Maggiore is one of them.

ASHLEIGH MAGGIORE: I was walking my dogs, and my dogs started growling, and I was like, what are they growling at? We saw her a few times in here, but she would just keep running.

KELLEY: This isn't the first time Baby's been alone in the world. The Mas family found her a decade ago after the dog had been abandoned and tied up at a foreclosed house in Miami. Rebecca Booth is Anthony Mas's aunt and lives in the Fort Myers area. She picked up the search and was worried about a new threat. Bobcats and bears had been spotted nearby.

REBECCA BOOTH: Bobcats and alligators, and we kept thinking, dear God, please, you know, let her come home safe.

KELLEY: Hope was dwindling. It had been eight days since the hurricane. And then...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Woo. We found Baby.

KELLEY: A couple of teenagers heard about her and found the dog not far away. Baby is now safely with Aunt Rebecca as they wait to reunite with the Mas family.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What do you have to say for yourself, Baby?

KELLEY: The dog's once well-groomed charcoal gray and white coat is matted and muddy. Sand spurs are on her paws and around her mouth. She's quiet and looks tired. It's been an ordeal, but her tail is still wagging. And soon she'll be back with the family that loves her - a bit of brightness in an otherwise gloomy time.

For NPR News, I'm Eileen Kelley in Naples, Fla.

SIMON: That story was co-reported by WFSU's Lynn Hatter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eileen Kelley