Imagine living out in the elements, outside of your warm home, for 19 days — surviving through two snowstorms and a heavy rainstorm. Now, imagine you’re 4 pounds, having lost half your body weight, and a Chihuahua who wandered nearly 5 miles from home, and you can’t find your way back.
That, in a nutshell, is part of the extraordinary journey Ricky the Chihuahua had for nearly three weeks.
“He was totally out there all alone,” said Judith Cordier, Ricky’s mom.
The Cordiers have owned Ricky, who celebrated his second birthday on Valentine’s Day, since he was 6 weeks old.
“He’s my baby,” she said. “If he loves you, he loves you.”
It all started on Jan. 28, when Cordier let Ricky outside, but he sadly didn’t return.
“We have an invisible fence, and he had his collar on, but we had just got back from Florida. While we were gone, there was a bad storm and, unbeknownst to us, there was a break in the invisible fence,” said Cordier. “He went out and just kept going, and next thing I knew, he was gone. That’s when the journey started.”
“I went right to the vet to tell them, because we don’t live far from them and they know Ricky. She said, ‘We just saw him out there.’ People were trying to get him, but he just kept running away from everybody. Then he ran so far away he didn’t know how to get back home.”
Cordier said that, later that day, there was a sighting in Bay Forest, and a search party gathered to try to locate Ricky.
“We got our troops together. There was a sighting at Bay Forest. We probably had four or five cars out there driving through, people walking through Bay Forest, calling his name, with, obviously, no luck.”
Cordier later went on to print flyers and post them throughout the area, in hopes that someone who had seen or found Ricky would contact her.
“The second week, we kept doing it and got a bunch of flyers out there and posted them everywhere I could. Then a friend of mine posted it on Facebook,” she said. “We did get a few phone calls, and we’d rush out to an area where people thought they saw him.”
Megan Browne, whose family had seen the post on Facebook, was one of many who helped in the search for Ricky.
“My husband was working outside, and he saw this little dog run up the side of our fence. He initially thought it was a little fox, and then he said, ‘Wait a minute — that’s a dog… It looks like that Chihuahua,’” recalled Browne. “He ran around the other side of the house and tried to head him off in front of our property but couldn’t get there in time. Ricky kept going and ran into the neighborhood next to us.”
A few minutes later, the Cordiers and a police car showed up, having received a report that Ricky was nearby.
“The next day, we saw them driving through our neighborhood again, so my husband and the boys jumped in our truck to help them and drove around looking for him… Pretty much every day for five days, they were driving through our neighborhood. They even took Ricky’s sister Lucy, and they were walking in and out of our neighborhood with her.”
Browne said she and her husband would continue the searches when they would walk their own dogs.
“We walk our dogs in the neighborhood next door to us, so we took a leash and treats with us every time, hoping we would see him,” she said. “There’s new houses being built over there. So we thought, maybe he’s hunkered down in one of those houses. We went over a few nights, wandering through the new-construction houses with a leash and treats, trying to find him.”
During the endeavor, the Cordiers had to leave on a business trip, but still the community kept up search efforts.
“I didn’t want to go, but we were committed,” said Cordier. “The first day we were there, I got a call from somebody who said they saw Ricky. So I just called all my people and they went out, but it wasn’t Ricky.”
Browne was one of many who saw the look-a-like dog, and was out searching for it and Ricky.
“Even if it’s not Ricky, it’s another poor dog lost.”
She laughed, noting that eventually everyone — even Route 26 construction workers — knew about Ricky and the other missing dog.
“One day, I was out looking and the construction workers were jumping up and down, waving at me, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’ They would point, and there he would go, right by… I got to know the construction workers,” she added with a laugh.
The ordeal culminated on the evening of Feb. 16, when the Cordiers received a phone call from Pat Brown, who lives in Bethany Forest.
“It was the rainy, rainy, rainy, rainy sidewise day… It rained horrible that day,” said Brown of Feb. 16. “I was talking on the phone, and I heard a dog barking, and I know all the dogs in the neighborhood. I got up and looked, and I had not seen this dog in my neighborhood before. In fact, I thought it was a fox. It was so little and scrawny.
“As soon as I opened the door, he ran off the porch, but I saw his collar, and I knew it was a dog. I tried to call after him, but he didn’t come back…
“It dawned on me after I saw him that I’d seen these posters posted all up and down the road… So I got my coat on and drove up the road, but all the signs were torn up because of the rain.”
Driving home, she came across a flyer that was enclosed in plastic, with the Cordiers’ phone number, and called them.
“She told me to turn on all my outside lights and put out a plate of meat for him,” recalled Brown.
“Last Tuesday, we got a phone call from a dear woman, Pat Brown, who asked if he was still missing. ‘I think he was here, barking on my porch,’” recalled Cordier. “Bethany Forest made sense, because that was the last time it was verified that anyone had seen Ricky.
“It was around 7 o’clock at night, and my husband and I said, ‘Well, let’s go.’ And we went over there, stopped the car in front of the house, and kept calling him and calling him and calling him. We were there about 15 or 20 minutes. It was very dark, very wet. We thought, if it is him, he’s not coming out We couldn’t find him.”
After setting out a plate of her turkey meatloaf, Brown went to her neighbors’ home to see if Ricky had been barking at their door as well.
“[The Cordiers] came to the house and were calling his name — unbeknownst to me — calling his name. But I was calling my neighbor to see if any dog had been barking at their front door. Just as I was walking to my neighbor, she said, ‘You know, I saw a car out front, and there were people sitting out in front of your house.’ And just then Ricky came up on my porch to eat the meatloaf.” But the Cordiers had already gone.
After her second Ricky sighting, Brown called the Cordiers, telling them to return to the house.
“So we turned around and went back, and he wasn’t there. One of her neighbors had one of these heavy-duty flashlights,” said Cordier. “Pat said he went toward the bushes, so my husband took the flashlight and looked in the bushes — nothing. Then he looked under her porch and saw his little nose sticking out.
“But he still wouldn’t come out. So my husband said, ‘You’ve got to come over here. He’s only going to come out for you.’ So I went over, got on my hands and knees, and stuck out my hand with a piece of meatloaf and just put it near him… I could just see his little nose. And, then he stuck his little head out, and as soon as he saw it was me, he came out.”
Cordier said that her whole family, including Ricky’s Chihuahua sister Lucy, was thrilled to have Ricky home.
Brown said it was an amazing rescue, given the weather, and a special reunion for all those involved.
“The yard was soaking wet because of the horrible rain, but they finally got him,” said Brown. “All of us were crying. It was so emotional because of the length of time that dog survived. We were all crying, and the husband said to me, ‘We are going to get him to the vet, and you will hear from me.’ They called me later, told me there was a reward. I said, ‘No, I don’t want a reward. I’m just so thankful that Ricky came to my door.’
“They sent me a big bouquet of flowers… I was so emotional about finding this dog. If I hadn’t found him that night, I probably wouldn’t have slept that night, because I was so sad.”
Brown said that, in between her two Ricky sightings, she had called her son, who lives in Ocean View, to tell him about seeing Ricky.
“‘The worst possible thing has happened… I had a dog that has been missing for two and a half weeks right in the palm of my hands almost, and he ran off.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, somebody will find him.’ Well, I called him when it was all over, and he said, ‘Mom, you are a hero.’”
Browne said she and her husband were in a baseball meeting when they heard of Ricky’s safe return home.
“We’re sitting in a board meeting… and I was looking on my phone, and I see this post ‘Ricky has been found!’ We were blown away! We couldn’t believe it.”
After Ricky’s rescue, the Cordiers took Ricky to the vet to be examined.
“Skin and bones,” said Cordier of Ricky after his adventure. “He was half his body weight. According to the vet, he didn’t have much longer to live, because he didn’t have enough nutrients in him.
“Thank god for Pat Brown and the community. Everybody in the community has been so incredible. Everybody was helping looking for him. The community could not have been better.
“The police have been great. … The post office has been great. All the different establishments — the diner, the liquor store, the drug stores — everyone let us post the flyers.”
To thank all those who helped in the search, the Cordiers are hosting an appreciation happy hour at Hooked Up in Millville on Saturday, Feb. 27, from 4 to 6 p.m.
“People who were out there, boots on the ground, looking for my little dog, I would love to have them come so I could meet them and thank them,” she said. “I’m looking forward to Saturday, just to thank everybody. We’re going to have just a little bite to eat and toast Ricky’s return.”
The man of the hour will also be making a special appearance to thank everyone who helped.
“The restaurant is actually going to let us bring Ricky in, so he’ll be there, too,” she said. “It’s just something we can do to show how appreciative of everyone — people I don’t even know — who were out looking, and just praying.
“I just can’t believe a now- little 6-pound guy could bring out so much love and worry from people. They don’t know him, they don’t know me, but, my, there are a lot of dog lovers in this area.”
Cordier noted that she has even had special “Ricky Strong” sticker printed for the event, for those attending to wear.
Browne, who volunteers for Paws of Tomorrow, an animal rescue out of Ocean View, said that she is now fostering a Chihuahua because of Ricky.
“I think it’s phenomenal. I have a whole new respect for Chihuahuas.”
She added that she can’t wait to meet Ricky on Saturday.
“It was great how the whole community was looking for him,” she said. “My kids are so excited. It’s so awesome it had a happy ending, and I can’t wait to meet him!”
“I think it’s a happy miracle story,” added Brown.
Cordier praised the community’s efforts to help them find their missing family member.
“It’s just been incredible. We haven’t been in the area that long; it’s only our eighth year. It gives us such a good feeling to know what a nice, nice loving community. It makes you feel like you came to the right place.”
Author’s note: Browne declined to share her meatloaf recipe, stating, “It wasn’t anything special.”