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Local woman's soon-to-be adopted dog is found 12 days after the scared animal fled a car accident on a Southern California freeway

JASON CHANEY - HSO Shelter Manager Robin Cruz (left) and Julissa Gamez, Ellen Anderson-Mortensen's niece, pose for a photo with Ari right before the dog's adoption was finalized.

Ellen Anderson-Mortensen was on her way to visit family in the Los Angeles area and show them her soon-to-be-adopted dog, Ari, when disaster struck.

Driving down Interstate 5, past Sylmar, a few miles north of L.A., a motorist crashed into three cars on the freeway. Hers was the third one hit, causing it to roll five or six times.

Anderson-Mortensen and her mom and two nieces all survived the April 19 crash.

"It's crazy that we all walked away alive," she remarked.

But they all were taken to the hospital for medical care, and Ari, spooked by the crash, fled.

"They really didn't have time to get out and look for her," said Robin Cruz, shelter manager at Humane Society of the Ochocos.

Ari came to the Prineville shelter by way of Texas. The 5-year-old black and white Staffordshire Pit Bull had been rescued there but was scheduled to be euthanized.

"One of our workers took her into their home," Cruz said. "She had an autistic son, so she was trying to make (Ari) a service animal."

The plan didn't take after the family learned that Ari is not too fond of cats. So back to the shelter she went, waiting for a new home.

In came Anderson-Mortensen, who was likewise looking for a service animal. The bond was immediate.

"She met Ari and immediately fell totally in love with her," Cruz recalls. "We let her go into foster to adopt with her, to see if it was going to be a good fit or not."

Things continued to go well, and Anderson-Mortensen decided to bring Ari along on a trip to California to meet her family down there.

After the accident, family members contacted Cruz and let her know what had happened.

"So, we reached out to a rescue group down there," she said, adding that a woman named Lorena Zeballos, who was with the group, helped get the ball rolling.

"They went out and started looking, setting up traps and setting up food stations," Cruz recalls.

The group also distributed fliers throughout the area, and in Prineville, Humane Society staff launched a "Please Help Find Ari" Facebook page.

Cruz went on to note that other people in the Southern California area saw the search effort unfold and wanted to help. They even offered to fly drones over the area near the crash site.

Meanwhile, after getting out of the hospital, Anderson-Mortensen returned to Prineville unsure of the future for Ari.

Finally, there was a breakthrough. Someone spotted a black and white dog that looked an awful lot like Ari. It was late in the day, and Zeballos was going to search the area until morning. She couldn't wait.

She and other rescue group members went out that night, armed with a trap and a camera and worked their hardest to capture the missing dog. Success came during the early morning hours of May 1, 12 days removed from the crash.

Cruz got the call around 5 a.m. Relieved, everyone celebrated – Cruz, Zeballos and the rescue crew, and of course, Anderson-Mortensen.

"Oh my God, I cried," she said. "I almost passed out."

People invested in the search would later learn that Ari had managed to cross five lanes of freeway traffic, jump a freeway barrier, cross two more lanes, then another barrier and scale a nearby hill to end up where she was found.

"She was very street smart, which is probably what helped save her life," Cruz said.

Dog and future owner reunited, the adoption process moved forward and on a sunny Wednesday morning last week, the duo walked into the Humane Society building ready to complete the final paperwork and make the adoption official.

"Today is the big day," Cruz said.

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