RATHDRUM — Tilly the dog has had a chaotic few days.
At 11:55 a.m. Sunday, Linda Oswald’s family was driving along Idaho state Highway 41 with their dog in the back of their GMC Yukon when they collided with another car.
The crash shattered the Yukon’s rear window and flung Tilly through the opening. He survived the ejection unharmed but stunned, and took flight across the prairie south of Rathdrum instead of hanging around at the crash.
The story could have ended there, with a confused and lost Tilly roaming North Idaho. But late Tuesday morning, Tilly returned to the Oswald family home unharmed and spent most of the day curled up and asleep on his favorite couch.
Oswald is ecstatic to have found Tilly. She says if it weren’t for a locally viral Facebook post and the help of some farmers, he’d still be out there, alone.
A serious search party
The hunt for Tilly began before the dust settled after the crash. Oswald says a nurse came up to her family’s vehicle to see if everyone was all right and told Oswald to stay in the car. Oswald didn’t heed that advice. She said she had to look for Tilly.
A half-dozen complete strangers, who pulled over when they saw the crash, helped look for Tilly, too. They fanned out, scouring the area near the crash site.
“People just kept going out,” Oswald said, “2:30 in the morning some people were out looking for him.”
For about 10 hours on Sunday, the Oswalds searched before heading home.
“We were sore and exhausted,” Oswald said.
The first day of searching was fruitless, but the family also wrote a Facebook post that included a picture of Tilly.
More than 3,000 people shared that post. Thousands of people in Kootenai County had their eyes peeled for the 2 1/2-year-old border collie and red heeler mix.
Following his instincts
On Tuesday morning, at the Potter family’s farm south of Rathdrum, Tyler Potter told her brother Travis Potter something odd.
Hooey, one of the family’s Australian shepherds, looked funny today, Tyler Potter said. His red fur looked darker than usual.
At the time, Travis Potter didn’t think too much of it.
But a little while later, Travis’ brother Zane had another odd experience when he tried to call Hooey.
“Hooey really comes right away when you call him, and this dog put its ears back and started running off,” Travis Potter said.
Zane Potter knew something wasn’t right. He took a closer look at the dog and realized its coat wasn’t the same as Hooey’s.
It was Tilly.
Thanks to the social media post, the Potters knew Tilly. Even their grandmother, who lives in California, had seen the post and told them to look out for the dog. The Potters knew the crash had happened just 1.5 miles from their farm.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, where’d this dog come from, how did it get here?’” Travis Potter said.
Moments after Zane Potter found Tilly, a Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office deputy drove by. He was searching for the dog, too.
So the Potters didn’t even have to make a call after finding Tilly; they were able to simply hand him off to the deputy who had arrived right at the moment of discovery. Tilly’s story was an extraordinary one, but Travis Potter said his family is accustomed to strange happenings on the farm.
They’ve had two helicopters land in their pasture — one to LifeFlight someone seriously injured in a nearby crash and another that had to land after catching on fire.
“It’s not like we don’t see crazy things happening all the time,” Travis Potter said.
Both the Potters and Oswald think Tilly was drawn to the farm and their sheep.
Travis Potter said he got a call the morning his brother found Tilly. Some of the family’s sheep had gotten out of the fenced-in pasture and were near the road.
Tilly probably chased the sheep out.
“I think that dog was trying to herd,” Travis Potter said.
Oswald said she doesn’t just think Tilly was trying to herd; she’s sure of it.
“He’ll herd anything,” Oswald said. “When I go to the dog park, he tries to herd the people into one group.”
Tilly’s adventure came to an end on Tuesday morning at around 11 a.m. Oswald ran out to see him as soon as her husband, Mike, drove up with him.
“(Tilly) was not having it,” Oswald said. “I think he was a little upset, like, ‘Hey, you guys left me out on that prairie for 48 hours.’”
And then Tilly did what any dog would do after a stressful two days on his own.
“The first thing is he ran in and drank out of the toilet, which he’s never done,” Oswald said. “He was so thirsty.”
The rest of Tilly’s Tuesday was uneventful. He ate and slept like a dog.
Oswald said she’s extremely grateful for all the people who helped find Tilly. It was a rough couple days for her and her family. They spent much of their time continuously searching.
“I just cried every day,” Oswald said. “It was ridiculous, but you get so emotional over your pets.”
She thinks the pandemic, and all the social isolation it has caused, is part of the reason so many people were willing to pitch in.
“All of a sudden, I think people saw a time to really jump out and help, even if it was just a small thing like finding a dog,” Oswald said. “There’s a lot of kind people out there.”