OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - An Oakland couple who lost their dog for almost two weeks last month, has a lot to celebrate. Not only did they get a much hoped for reunion with their beloved pooch, they got to experience the meaning of community, through an outpouring of support and countless offers of help from those they'd never even met.
Last month, Brian Leonard and his wife, Eli Olson, lost their dog, Thelma, when she got away during a walk in Roberts Park off Skyline Blvd. in Oakland.
They desperately searched for the 9-year-old Boxer Shepherd mix but could not locate her, so they didn't waste a minute getting out the word and asking people to help find Thelma. They put up more than 450 flyers and put out blasts on social media including Nextdoor and Facebook, as they canvassed the redwood shaded park for hours every single day.
The response they received was an unexpected gift.
As each day passed since Thelma's disappearance, hope would grow a little dimmer that they might not find her. But also with each passing day, there was another feeling that grew and kept them going.
"It was amazing the reaction and outpouring of support we experienced from the community," Leonard told KTVU. "Strangers who saw the posting on Next Door reached out to us... others stopping by our house to pick up flyers that they could distribute."
Leonard said the volunteers just kept coming, and they received dozens of reports of sightings, which they tracked on Google Maps.
"We had more than two dozen volunteers, most of them complete strangers, who actively helped in the search, not including the dozens of groups who helped, like equestrian groups, running organizations, dog walkers," Leonard explained.
He told us about a woman named Susan Packer from Sunnyvale, who worked around the clock and provided much needed guidance during their search. Packer volunteers her time to help those who have lost their pets.
"We would be on the phone with her before daybreak some days and texting with her late into the night," Leonard said. "Susan coordinated much of the effort and counseled us on how to best look for Thelma: what type of poster to print, strategies on where to look, doing outreach to organizations, etc."
Ultimately it was the kindness of a stranger who went out of his way, that resulted in Thelma's return. 12 days after she got separated from her owner, the dog was finally located as she was spotted racing through the Oakland Hills by a man who was driving through the area.
"He said he followed her for about 30 minutes, and then while driving, pulled her into his car by the scruff of the neck," Olson recalled. "He said that Thelma was not happy at first but then she calmed down," Olson explained.
He then called the number on Thelma's identification tag, which led to a tearful and emotional reunion.
"Thelma licked my face and gave me a paw. The same good dog she always was, and always will be," Olson said.
On June 20, Leonard announced the good news on Facebook, along with a touching photo of his wife embracing their dog and these words of gratitude:
"Thelma's found. After 12 days, 450+ posted handbills, dozens of volunteers walking the hills of Oakland and searching 3 parks, and countless tips and sightings we were reunited with Thelma this morning. Thank you!"
The magnitude of just how much support they had received during the stressful ordeal, really hit Thelma's owners after the reunion, as the couple began taking down the missing dog flyers.
"Countless strangers would yell out their car window, or would say as they walked by 'Did you find him/her?' 'Happy ending?'" Leonard recalled. "They were emotionally invested in a dog, that they didn't know, had never met, and didn't even know the dog's name," he said.
Through the search, there were a number of connections they made with complete strangers.
"One woman came up to me and asked [if] I was the dog's owner," Leonard said. "She said her son was obsessed with finding the dog."
The young boy insisted his family drive around town to look for the dog, and Leonard said the child was beside himself with happiness when he was told Thelma had been found.
To Thelma's owners, all of this was a clear demonstration of how lucky they felt to be a part of this incredible community of Oakland.
They were so moved and touched by this unexpected gift during a very stressful time, they decided to throw a thank you party inviting some of the dozens of people who actively helped bring Thelma back.
On Sunday, with Thelma in attendance, Leonard and Olson gathered with their "search party" at Monaghan's in Oakland. "Several of the people we met for the first time face-to-face," Leonard explained.
The event was not only a celebration of their dog's homecoming, but one that marked their appreciation for community, the kindness of strangers, and for the outpouring of support they'd received during a time they really needed it.
On Nextdoor, as Thelma's owners expressed their gratitude toward all those who took part in the efforts to bring their dog home, they described the 12 days without her as "traumatic" but added, "we never felt alone thanks to all of you."