Nathan Lawrence spent six anguishing days searching for his dog after it escaped from his wrecked SUV during a snowstorm last month.
Atticus, a 60-pound male catahoula, bolted from his kennel inside the vehicle and jumped out through a broken window on the shoulder of Interstate 90 southwest of Spokane.
Lawrence said he had to climb out the passenger door window after his Ford Explorer flipped onto its left side and struck a barrier between the Salnave Road and Tyler exits on Jan. 18.
By the time he got out, Atticus was gone, the kennel door ajar.
For the next several hours, Lawrence searched the nearby woods and freeway, following Atticus’ tracks in the snow, but with no luck.
“It was pretty frightening,” said Lawrence, a firefighter from Gig Harbor, Wash., who was returning home at the time.
“I was chasing down the interstate trying to call out to him,” he said.
But Atticus was too spooked.
At one point that afternoon, Atticus returned to the accident site, but then a semitruck blew its air horn and Atticus ran again.
Lawrence had no choice but to leave Atticus in the snow and cold for the night, he said.
He and his girlfriend, Chelsea Jones, returned to the scene of the crash for each of the next five days walking the miles between exits and canvassing the rural neighborhood at Tyler, an old rail town just off I-90 near the Spokane County line.
They posted an offer of a reward on the Internet, made up posters and got word out to maintenance crews at the Washington State Department of Transportation. Family and others joined the search.
On Jan. 21, Kent Reitmeier, a maintenance driver, pulled his snowplow over at the scene of the accident to look for the dog. He spotted Atticus, who had been using a dry culvert to get out of the weather. But when Reitmeier aproached, Atticus bolted.
“He jumped up and away he went,” Reitmeier said. “He just dashed. He was so spooked.”
The driver left Atticus some energy food bars, and went back the next day to look again even though it was his day off, he said.
“A dog, if they get lost, most likely will go back to that spot,” Reitmeier said.
Lawrence and Jones could hardly sleep during the ordeal.
“It was pretty devastating,” said Jones, a student at Gonzaga University. “He’s our version of a kid.”
They said they were encouraged by Reitemeier’s sighting, the first anyone had seen of Atticus since the accident, and it helped them keep up their search.
At one point, Jones said, they came upon a lost puppy in the median, which they turned over to Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, which was in the area helping in the search for Atticus. SCRAPS returned the puppy to its owner, who lived nearby.
On Jan. 23, the couple got a call from residents living in the Tyler area who had seen a posting about Atticus on the Web, and told the couple that a dog matching Atticus’ description had been sleeping under their porch. They had given the dog some food.
Later that afternoon, the couple drove to the home. There was Atticus.
“It was just one of those moments. You are just so happy,” Lawrence said. “He was wagging his tail. He was so happy.”
Atticus had lost about 10 pounds, but was not seriously hurt. He had scrapes from crossing fences and a torn paw. As of Friday, the dog was still regaining weight.
Lawrence and Jones said they are grateful not only to have Atticus back, but also for the people who so willingly helped.
“We really appreciate people’s support,” Lawrence said.