Jim Dey: Dog found in Washington tornado rubble
When disaster strikes, people grasp for straws of good news to help ease the pain.
In that spirit, here's a happy tale about Dexter, whose wagging tail fanned a breeze that stretched all the way from Washington, Ill., where a Nov. 17 tornado wreaked havoc, to Champaign and Douglas counties, where Dexter's supporters held their breaths and prayed for his survival.
Dexter, a 6-month-old puppy, survived without food and water for nine days in the wreckage of the apartment building where he lived with his owner, 26-year-old Jacob Montgomery.
Formerly of Villa Grove, Montgomery lived in a third-floor apartment with Dexter at Georgetown Commons in Washington. After the storm, Montgomery said, he searched far and wide for his beloved pup and never gave up hope.
"I just knew he was there. Something told me he was still there," Montgomery said.
On Tuesday, Montgomery's faith was affirmed when he received a call that a dog resembling Dexter was found in the wreckage of their apartment building and afraid to allow rescue workers to approach him.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The story begins around noon Nov. 17, when a series of tornadoes ravaged central Illinois, hitting communities like Washington, located near Peoria, and Gifford, which is east of Rantoul, particularly hard.
Montgomery was on his way to work when he learned that his apartment building had taken a direct hit and was "pretty much gone." He headed straight home to search for Dexter.
Montgomery, who got Dexter from a friend, said he is so attached to the dog that he didn't really care about the possessions he lost when the building was blown apart.
But the devastation was vast, prompting search-and-rescue workers to close off the area so they could do their work.
Montgomery said he couldn't get close to his apartment building for two days.
When he was allowed in, Montgomery said he looked through the wreckage, called Dexter's name and found nothing. He said he visited the site every day, searching a building that was only partly intact.
"He didn't come out when I was there," he recalled.
Where was Dexter? Perhaps, he was trapped by debris. Perhaps he was frightened and hiding from rescuers he didn't know. Whatever the circumstances, Dexter isn't saying.
Thinking perhaps the dog was blown free of the building and lost, Montgomery said he checked "every animal shelter around."
A big part of the weather disaster is the toll it took on pets. Animal shelters were filled with dogs and cats that were separated from their owners. Montgomery said he received several sightings of dogs that resembled Dexter.
"But none of them were him," he said.
Although things looked bleak, Montgomery said, he could not shake the feeling that Dexter was still alive.
Fortunately, Montgomery wasn't the only one who was looking for lost pets among the rubble. Search-and-rescue workers continued to examine the tornado site for whatever was salvageable, including pets.
That's why on Tuesday, Montgomery received a call from a neighbor in the apartment complex. The neighbor, who was looking for his lost cat, told Montgomery that rescuers had found a dog resembling Dexter in the rubble but had not been able to coax him out of his third-floor location.
Montgomery immediately returned to his old home.
"I called his name, and he immediately perked up," Montgomery said.
He said he crawled through the rubble to Dexter, who was overjoyed.
"(Dexter) jumped into my arms. His tail was wagging like crazy," Montgomery said.
He took Dexter to a veterinarian, and the findings were as good as could be expected. The dog was bruised, hungry and dehydrated but otherwise OK. Psychologically, Dexter is still a bit rattled.
"He's a bit timid. He's kind of weak," Montgomery said. "But he's recovering."
Since then, stories of Dexter's miraculous survival have been flying around the Internet. At the Champaign County Courthouse, where Montgomery's mother works, employees were amazed to learn Dexter was alive and well.
"We were praying that he would find him because that's his little buddy," said Linda Osborne, Montgomery's mother.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 351-5369.