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Can one young dog cause an entire town to come together on his behalf? It seemed to be the case for a 4½-month-old puppy named Ozzy, whose big brown eyes and wrinkled brow touched the hearts of many compassionate residents looking at his missing poster.
Ozzy’s owners, Trish and Justin Wootton, have lived in Newtown for the past 14 years, enjoying the proximity to Fairfield Hills, as well as the open space and trails near the town’s dog park.
Over time they have assembled their tight-knit pack of dogs, including pit bull/Labrador mix Angus, who Mr Wootton rescued as a stray wandering through a McDonald’s parking lot in Bridgeport; a brown shepherd mix named Finley they adopted from PawSafe Animal Rescue; a hound mix named Bishop they adopted from Companion Pet Rescue (CPR); and — their most recent addition — a Shar-Pei mix named Ozzy, also adopted from CPR.
The Woottons fell in love with Ozzy the moment they saw his picture posted to CPR’s Instagram. They laughed at his full body wrinkles and his former country star name, Billy Ray.
On June 9, they officially brought Ozzy home and the dog pack eagerly welcomed its newest member, especially his brother Bishop, who quickly became his closest buddy.
Since then Ozzy had acclimated well and enjoyed his routine morning walks with Mr Wootton over at the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary (CVHAS) grounds.
He had even proven to be trustworthy enough to trot around off leash with Bishop during their walks, while Mr Wootton supervised and walked nearby with Finley on leash.
What started out as a typical, peaceful outing one morning soon turned into a desperate 24-hour-long search to find Ozzy and bring him back home safely.
Out Of Sight
On Wednesday, August 2, around 8:30 am, Mr Wootton and three of his dogs made their way along the broken paved path near the CVHAS grounds when local cyclist Monte Frank approached them.
As Mr Frank hit the brakes to chat with Mr Wootton, Bishop and Ozzy scurried off further ahead, spooked by the unfamiliar sound of the bike. Still within eyesight, Mr Wootton watched as the dogs looked back at him and relaxed, eating some grass a little ways away.
After catching up with one another, Mr Frank began to pedal off, unintentionally causing Bishop and Ozzy to jolt up again at the noise and run further off in the distance.
Having bolted into the thick, heavy brush in the lower fields of the Governor’s Horse Guard, Mr Wootton lost sight of them.
Mr Frank saw the dogs flee in separate directions and helped direct Mr Wootton where each went. By the time Mr Wootton and Finley made their way over to them he was only able to catch Bishop and loop him up with Finley.
He began searching frantically for Ozzy who, being much smaller, was impossible to see through the field.
Around that time Ms Wootton was just getting home from her short walk with Angus, she recalled, saying, “Justin called me and said, ‘Ozzy’s missing.’ He sounded panicked. I dropped everything and went there.”
She immediately ran over to the fields and the two began searching through waist-deep brush, unable to see any paths or signs of Ozzy.
The Search Team
“Suzan Hurtuk of Pawtown is our dog walker, and she was so instrumental. She was one of the first people I called,” Ms Wootton said of her course of action after finding out Ozzy was missing.
Ms Hurtuk and her team of dog walkers were some of the first people to show up and volunteer their time to help find Ozzy. Having walked Bishop and Finley since they were puppies, Ms Hurtuk considers the Woottons part of the Pawtown family.
She suggested Ms Wootton immediately post Ozzy’s picture and information on Facebook to begin spreading the word on social media that he was lost.
Ms Wootton shared the post on the Newtown Neighbors Unite page. Many local residents and organizations, like Canine Advocates of Newtown, saw it and began sharing the information.
Meanwhile, one of Ms Hurtuk’s clients, Lauren Sieber, dropped everything she was doing to bring her bird dog, Hannah, to the scene. Hannah was able use her skills to sniff Ozzy’s collar and track his scent, actually finding him on two different occasions before he scampered off, unable to be caught.
“[Ms Sieber] had long sleeves and long pants on — it was over 90 degrees and humid — and she was running through the thick brush following her hunting dog. Then she left and came back and did it all again,” Ms Wootton explained. “All of our friends from Pawtown stayed all day, they never left. They didn’t leave during the storm. Finally at 9 o’clock we sent them home.”
Even as lightning bolts appeared in the sky and a thick fog made it nearly impossible to see, people were determined to not give up on Ozzy.
Newtown Police officers, members of Newtown Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire Company, and Bruce Clark from the Pootatuck Club patrolled the area tirelessly.
The Newtown Animal Control Center helped supply large Havaheart traps and taught seekers how to set them up with hopes of luring Ozzy.
Ms Wootton’s family at Yoga Dimensions even mobilized to search for Ozzy and make more posters.
If that was not enough, an outpouring of concerned residents drove around scanning the area and others walked to neighboring streets like Oakview Road (were Ozzy had been spotted at one point) to knock on every door and spread the word.
CPR was also instrumental in helping Ozzy, Ms Wootton added.
“They sent people to search, posted it, and got a recovery organization and contacted us about what we needed to do. They were fantastic,” Ms Wootton said.
One of the points they made was that people should not chase Ozzy if they see him. Since he would be in “flight mode” he would be less likely to listen when called, even if it was coming from his owners, and it would just cause more confusion being called from many different directions. Instead, the Woottons walked around with food and treats and squeaked toys to try to coax Ozzy to them.
The endless support from the Newtown community was met with multiple Ozzy sightings and many close calls catching him.
“He was spotted all over the place,” Mr Wootton said, adding that his brother even saw Ozzy at one point, soaking wet and only about five feet away from him. Unfortunately, once Ozzy saw them he stepped right off the trail and into the woods out of sight.
The frustrating game of cat and mouse was “overwhelming” for Ms Wootton, especially knowing she could not be everywhere at once.
“We walked and walked. I can’t image how many miles. We were out there for 15 or 16 hours just hiking and trudging through,” Ms Wootton said. “We had a whole pile of wet shoes outside [our house], because we kept coming home and just changing into dry shoes.”
As night crept into morning, Ms Wootton urged her husband to come home and regroup for the next day, despite him being adamant he did not want to stop looking until Ozzy was found.
“That was the worst,” Mr Wootton said in a heavyhearted voice. “Giving up… that was tough.”
He thought as long as he was out there making noise it would at least deter other animals from the area.
“By 5 o’clock [the following morning] we were back out there, but for three hours he was by himself,” Mr Wootton said.
Two hours later, Ms Wootton’s mom, Diane, came to trade places with her daughter to allow her to head back home and get some work done.
Then, Ms Wootton said, “It was at 8:30 am when I got the call from my mom saying ‘We found him! We found him!’”
A Happy Reunion
While Mr Wootton and his mother-in-law had searched for Ozzy that morning, they ran into Mr Frank, who had been out looking for Ozzy, too.
Mr Frank apologized profusely for his bike startling Ozzy to run off in the first place, and Mr Wootton assured him that they do not blame him for what happened.
Mr Frank told them that he would take another ride around the fields and exchanged numbers with Mr Wootton in case he saw anything to report.
Shortly after, Mr Wootton got a call on his cellphone from Mr Frank saying he had found Ozzy.
By the time Mr Wootton arrived, Ozzy was sitting by a woman’s car in the parking area before the small bridge over Deep Brook. It just so happened to be the exact same spot where they start their walks each day around that same time in the morning.
Without missing a beat Mr Wootton picked up Ozzy, who was wet and shaking, into his arms and brought him back to the house.
“When he got home, it was like he never left,” Mr Wootton said.
Ms Wootton added, “As soon as he got home and saw all of his pack buddies, he was swiping at them and wiggling his butt and getting in their face.”
The celebration only paused long enough for them to pull two ticks and a pricker off Ozzy, who did not seem phased. The Woottons, on the other hand, appeared to have endured the worst: being absolutely exhausted and covered in cuts and scrapes all over their legs.
“It was a very happy ending,” Mr Wootton said. “We were lucky.”
The Woottons want to express their sincere thanks and appreciation for all who helped support them in their efforts to find Ozzy during those stressful 24 hours.
“I was told [the Facebook post] was shared 2,400 times,” Ms Wootton said. “His uncle in Texas somehow saw it online. The fact that people saw it and shared it and didn’t say ‘Do I know this person?’ It’s so important.”
Ms Wootton says the fact that so many strangers were so willing to help them still leaves her “bewildered and overwhelmed.”
She was excited to post about Ozzy being found and was met with an outpouring of people expressing their joy and relief for the family.
“It shows the strength of the community,” Ms Wootton said. “The outpouring of support was incredible. We are so grateful.”
For now, Ms Wootton says she does not want to let Ozzy out of her sight. She has started looking into GPS collars and assures that for the foreseeable future Ozzy will be on a leash for their walks.
This experience has also taught her the power of sharing lost dog posts on social media.
“When you see those posters of a dog missing, there’s a family in crisis in that moment, with that feeling of overwhelming dread,” Ms Wootton said.
She continued, “Whenever you see stuff like that, share it — even if it’s not in your area of where you live or where you walk. Share it because you never know who’s going to see it. It makes a difference. It’s sometimes just about getting it in front of the right person.”
Shortly after Ozzy went missing, another Newtown dog, Renly, ran through his electric fence during the thunderstorm and was reported missing.
The Woottons did not hesitate to reach out to Renly’s family to offer help and join in the efforts to look for him. On August 5, the Newtown Animal Control Center posted that Renly was home.
“That made us so much happier [knowing Renly got home], and we were finally able to truly enjoy our good fortune,” Ms Wootton said.