BELFAST, Maine — For two days this week, a little lost dog named Ruthie brought the community of Belfast together as volunteers scoured yards and woods for her, put up posters around town and monitored social media for tips and sightings.
The bright-eyed West Highland White Terrier had jumped out of her owner’s car on Tuesday and ran off, dragging a retractable leash behind her. As the hours and then days ticked by with no sight of Ruthie, her owner Marine Delune grew more and more fearful that her dog would never come home.
But the searchers didn’t give up, not even during Thursday’s icy rain. And just after darkness that day, Ruthie was found — dirty, cold and hungry, but safe.
“I cannot tell you how tortured I was by the thought of her being scared, so scared, and so cold,” Delune, 67, said. “The community saved her life. And they also saved me. Because I was just out of my mind with worry.”
The search for Ruthie is a story of a community coming together to help a dog and a person, but it’s more than that to Delune, a former city councilor. As a person with multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy and chronic Lyme that has caused profound hearing loss and progressive paralysis, she couldn’t do much searching herself. When she posted on a Belfast Facebook page that she needed help looking for her lost dog, she expected only a few people would respond.
“But the response that I got was literally overwhelming,” she said. “It was extraordinary. I couldn’t even keep up with all the responses. I’m not very Facebook savvy, and I couldn’t respond to all the posts. What happened was that half of Belfast was out looking for her in the woods.”
Raymelle Moody, an administrator of the “You Know You Love Belfast” Facebook page, said that it was amazing, though not surprising, to see how people responded to the news about the lost dog.
“It was just a huge sort of snowball of community effort,” she said. “This community is such a big dog community. And even if you didn’t know Marina and Ruthie, it was easy to fall in love with Ruthie. And because Marina is a disabled person, and couldn’t search herself, it was easy to want to help her.”
Those people included Heather Susee of Belfast and her three young daughters. Susee had met Delune and Ruthie at a community kite day that the Little River Church had put on in Belfast City Park.
“I could tell that Ruthie meant the world to her,” Susee said, and when she saw that the dog was missing it hit her hard. “I kept thinking about Marina and how desperate she must be to find Ruthie.”
So she headed to the park on Wednesday where there were already lots of people looking in the woods and on the beach. The next day, she and her girls made lost dog posters and went around town to put them up.
“I wanted my children to see how we can serve people,” she said.
For Kimberly Mitchell, 53, of Frankfort, an animal lover who also has disabilities that stem from a traumatic brain injury she suffered five years ago, the call to help was strong. She walks with a cane and has her own cognitive challenges, which made her acutely aware of how Delune could be feeling.
“I just knew I needed to go and make contact with her, because I live alone with disabilities and a dog, and I know what it feels like to need help,” she said.
Mitchell got in touch with Delune and headed to her home late Thursday afternoon to be of assistance. When she pulled into the drive, she had a strong feeling that the dog was nearby.
“I got goosebumps all over my body. I knew that Ruthie was there somewhere,” she said.
Despite the cold rain, and her cane, she checked the yard. No Ruthie. She expanded her search to the neighbors’ yards, but still came up empty-handed.
“I was looking for her logically, and it wasn’t working,” she said. “So I got quiet and got back in my heart. When I operate from my heart, I hear a true, simple message. I heard, ‘Over there.’”
It was dark by the time she rounded the corner of a neighbor’s house and saw a tiny hole in the bottom of their deck, just big enough for a curious Westie to hide in. Mitchell used her cell phone flashlight to peer around in the darkness.
“Way up in there [under the deck], I saw her little face. She was looking right at me,” Mitchell said. “I got numb. I knew in that moment, I was witnessing a miracle. There was no thought in my head. It was all heart. I think that it was the collective love of the whole community.”
Ruthie had gotten her leash hung up and was stuck. Mitchell got help from the homeowner, Collin Brewster Cunning, who shimmied under his deck with a knife to free the dog from her leash.
“I had a very small rescue role,” Cunning said. “It’s kind of insane that she was under the porch the whole time.”
When they brought the muddy dog to Marina’s apartment, the reunion was emotional, Mitchell said. Delune cried, and held on to the dog and the two rescuers.
“We were in a three-way hug with Ruthie in the middle. It was absolutely amazing,” Mitchell said.
The day after the rescue, Delune said she is mulling over some hard decisions, including whether it may be approaching the time that she no longer can take care of her dog herself. But that’s a decision for a different day.
“Today, Ruthie and I were just so cozy and warm and happy and grateful,” she said. “It was definitely a miracle, because Ruthie could have been there forever and we never would have found her. This whole community outreach thing worked.”