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After 8 days on the run in Maryland, two dogs are reunited with their owner

Brian Shelton, of Charlotte, is shown with his two dogs — Caleb and Ena — after they spent eight days lost along Interstate 270 in Montgomery County, Md. The two dogs escaped a few days after Christmas when Shelton was involved in a car accident. (Courtesy of Lost Animal Resource Group)

The two dogs — Ena, a chocolate Labrador, and Caleb, a black pit bull — had been on the lam for eight days, running in fields, housing developments and, at times, dangerously close to busy highways. They had escaped from their owner’s truck after it was involved in a crash along Interstate 270 in Montgomery County.

But in what their owner calls a “miracle,” the dogs, both 5 years old, were found after nearly two dozen volunteers spent hours looking for them.

“I’ve been looking for them from sunup to sundown,” said Brian Shelton, 39, their owner and a professional firefighter in Charlotte. He and a group of volunteers from the Lost Animal Resource Group found the dogs hours apart Sunday in the Clarksburg area, a few miles from where they escaped.

The saga began three days after Christmas when Shelton, who was headed from Charlotte to visit family in western New York, crashed into a truck after he said it pulled in front of him along I-270.

Shelton suffered minor injuries, but when a passerby stopped to help, he inadvertently opened the passenger-side door and the dogs jumped out and ran away.

Then began days of searching. Shelton put out word on social media that his dogs were missing, which got the attention of the Lost Animal Resource Group, based in Towson. The group helped Shelton put up posters and asked residents to report sightings, but advised against anyone chasing the dogs.

Bob Swensen, a trapper with the group, said the dogs “got out and because they were scared, they ran.”

To catch a runaway dog, Swensen said it is best to use “slow, calming movements” to “attract the dog to come to you.”

“Once they’re out, they go into this survival, protective instinct mode,” he said. “They go into a mode where they might not recognize a person they’ve known for 10 years.”

To find Ena and Caleb, Swensen’s group of volunteers used cameras and traps with food — including fried chicken from KFC — to try to lure the dogs. They also relied on help from local horse trail riders who reported sightings, as well as a drone to help track the dogs’ location. Searchers also had Shelton use a T-shirt he had worn to try to attract the dogs in hopes they’d recognize his scent.

They got a break Sunday morning, when Ena came within 50 feet of Shelton. He called her name, but she “trotted away,” Swensen said. Later, when he approached the dog and made “calming signals” similar to whines, it put the dog at ease.

Swensen said those sounds from a dog’s owner helped the animal pull out of its “survival mode.”

“It realized, ‘That’s my dad. He’s hurt. Let me see what’s going on,’ ” Swensen said. “That draws the dog to you.”

At one point, the dogs were seen near the shoulder of I-270, Swenson said. Shelton said he was “very, very scared” because of the busy roads and reports that they had been seen crossing some of them, including Route 355.

A few hours after they found Ena, they got a report of Caleb being spotted in a wooded area off Foreman Boulevard. Shelton noticed Caleb’s head “pop up out of the brush.” Caleb seemed to recognize Ena’s whining and came up to her, Shelton said.

“It was all wagging tails and kissing,” Shelton said of the dog reunion.

In the search over several days, Shelton said his son, 14-year-old Kyle, had helped volunteers by tracking sightings of the dogs while his dad was driving to look for them. The teen eventually returned home for school, so Shelton called him with the good news Sunday when they found both dogs.

Shelton said his son was “overjoyed.”

“His initial reaction was, ‘Oh, my God, you found them,’ then tears,” Shelton said.

Shelton said the volunteer animal group’s work was “beyond amazing.” The rescue group started last fall and has helped to find about 30 animals, including dogs, cats, and even turtles and peacocks.

Rescuers said it appeared that the two dogs had been wandering separately since the crash. Ena had a minor injury on one of her paws, and both dogs were treated for ticks, but they were otherwise healthy. A Rockville veterinarian’s office, Caring Hands, gave them a free checkup.

“They’re healthy, happy and their tails are wagging,” Swensen said. He said his group was able to get so many volunteers to help — even over the holidays — because “there’s just something about a lost pet.”