“I tore off after him, but he soon disappeared and we couldn’t find him,” said Oswald, 68. “We spent the next 10 hours looking for him and I was worried I’d never see him again. I was so upset — Tilly’s my baby.”
Oswald and her husband quickly posted “lost dog” notices all over the Rathdrum area and wrote on Facebook that Tilly — a 2-year-old border collie and red heeler mix — was missing.
An Idaho State Police notice on the North Idaho News Facebook page urged everyone in the area to be on the lookout for the dog. People shared it widely on social media.
“Dozens of people stopped everything they were doing and went out and looked for him,” she said. “In the middle of the night, people were out calling for him. I was extremely grateful.”
But after nearly two days of searching, there was still no sign of Tilly.
“At night, I couldn’t feel him with my feet at the bottom of the bed, and that really made me sad,” said Oswald. “I couldn’t stop crying.”
Then on the morning of June 8, three brothers with a farm in Rathdrum noticed something unusual in one of their pastures: A reddish-brown, bobtailed dog was racing around, herding their sheep, Oswald said.
The brothers initially wondered why their Australian shepherd looked a little different, but then they realized they were looking at a dog that did not belong to them, Mike Oswald said they later told him.
One of the brothers, Travis Potter, knew about the car crash that had happened near the farm two days earlier and had seen the notices about Tilly, Linda Oswald said. Potter left a comment on Facebook that he’d seen her dog.
“Tilly is on our property right now! The sheep farm off Meyer and Emmanuel,” Potter wrote on the North Idaho News Facebook page.
A few minutes later, he added an update:
“Kootenai [County] Sheriff just picked him up! They saw him as my brother was trying to catch him and the sheriff knew it was Tilly. He’s going to call you guys!”
“A deputy had been driving by looking for Tilly at the same time Travis had spotted him,” Linda Oswald said, “so he just handed him over to him.”
When the Oswalds heard Tilly was found, Mike Oswald raced out to pick him up.
“As soon he came home, I ran out to give Tilly a hug, but he wasn’t having it,” Linda Oswald said, adding that Tilly was unharmed in the accident. “I think he was a little mad that he’d been left on the prairie for 48 hours. He ran straight inside the house and started drinking water from the toilet.”
“Tilly is an exceptional dog — he is really smart,” said Mike Oswald, 72. “He showed us that he knew where to go when times got tough. I was very upset about losing him and I was very happy to get him home.”
Linda Oswald said she was not surprised that the pup she’d adopted from a neighbor when Tilly was 6 weeks old ended up on a sheepherding adventure.
Since he was very young, Tilly nipped at the heels of other animals, children and adults and tried to round them up, Oswald said.
“Whenever my two grandkids come over, he will push them and nip at their heels, trying to get them together,” said Oswald. “And at the dog park I take him to, he always tries to herd people together as a group.”
Tilly’s herding instinct can be a little embarrassing sometimes, said Linda Oswald, who noted that she often has to explain to people that Tilly isn’t trying to hurt them when he nips at their heels.
“But he’s truly the smartest dog I’ve ever known,” she added.
Tilly is eager to please and responds quickly to commands at home, she said. He will run to the bedroom to fetch her slippers if asked.
Although it isn’t known where Tilly was before he was spotted on the sheep farm, Oswald said she believes he was making his way home after the car accident and became distracted.
“He saw all those sheep and just wanted to go to work,” she said.
Tilly walked about a mile and half from the scene of the crash before he ended up at the Potters’ farm, she said.
“When I was out looking for him, I actually drove past the farm several times because I knew he liked to herd and that he’d be attracted to those sheep,” she said. “But he apparently hadn’t shown up yet.”
After she was reunited with Tilly and posted an update on Facebook that he’d been found, locals who had been searching for him chimed in:
“WHOOHOO! Happy Day!” one woman posted. “I was just headed out to search again this morn. I am so happy for Tilly and your family.”
“This just made my day! Yay, Tilly!” wrote a college student from Moscow, Idaho.
Linda Oswald said it was deeply gratifying to have Tilly home, and even more so because of the number of people who cared and pitched in.
“Coming off the pandemic, people were excited to go out and do something to help somebody,” she said. “I can’t possibly thank them enough.”
As for Tilly, he was so hungry when he got home that he quickly devoured his favorite meal — kibble mixed with canned pumpkin — then slurped up a big bowl of applesauce for dessert, she said.
“He’s a little character,” she said. “I’m happy he’s back at the foot of the bed where he belongs.”
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