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Family reunites with dog; collie mix found after 13-day disappearance

CODY — Michele Robles and her husband Braden Barkman thought long and hard when selecting a new family dog earlier this year.

The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Braelynn Barkman, is autistic, Robles said, and they knew not every dog would be a good fit.

When Braelynn gets upset, some dogs might run and hide, Robles said. Others might get nervous. But not Lola, a border collie/Australian shepherd mix.

“Our daughter can be overwhelming at times, especially for a dog,” Robles said. “But instead of running away when she cries, Lola runs toward her. She’s become one of our daughter’s best friends, and we’ve kind of fallen in love with her too.”

Lola, who was born in January at a farm in Belfry, Mont., became an integral part of the Robles/Barkman family in just a matter of months. But just as quickly, she was gone.

On the evening of Oct. 10, Robles let Lola out to go to the bathroom between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. The dog went missing for 13 days before she was reunited with the family in Billings.

“We heard some barking (on the evening of Oct. 10), which isn’t that unusual because occasionally she’ll bark if someone walks by,” Robles said. “But that was our last trace of her. We thought it was very strange that she had just vanished. It wasn’t like her. She’s not a wanderer.”

It was equally strange the Park County Animal Shelter hadn’t picked up Lola by the morning of the 11th, Robles said, and no one in town had seen the dog.

There was no dead dog on the side of the road either, thankfully. Lola had just completely vanished.

“I felt crazy, because I knew someone had taken her, but I couldn’t prove it,” Rubles said. “It was so frustrating. Every night I went to sleep without her, it was honestly painful. I knew it was getting colder, and I was worried about her.”

Lola’s journey after vanishing from Robles’ yard is a bit unclear and is full of unanswered questions. All Robles knows is that on Oct. 12, the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter in Billings took Lola in.

“According to the shelter, she had been abandoned at a park,” Robles said. “I don’t know what park or who found her or even who took her to begin with. That’s all a mystery to me.”

The next part of the story is just as mysterious, Robles added. Help for Homeless Pets, another Billings shelter, took Lola away from Yellowstone Valley, claiming she belonged to it. The shelter was trying to sell Lola for $425 and had also dyed the white spots on her chest and feet, Robles said.

Luckily, Robles hadn’t stopped searching. A post she made about Lola went viral in the Billings area and caught the attention of a Help for Homeless Pets employee who reached out. The family was reunited with their furry friend on Oct. 23 — a full 13 days after she’d vanished.

Robles said it was an extremely happy reunion, especially for Braelynn.

“My daughter’s nonverbal right now, but when she saw Lola, she screamed,” Robles said. “She got her friend back.”

Throughout her search for Lola, Robles learned dog theft is not uncommon, and some stories don’t end as happily as hers and Lola’s. But she encourages those who have lost their best friends to keep searching and never give up hope.

“I would just say, don’t give up searching,” Robles said. “When you’re back together again, it’s totally worth it.”

This story was published on Nov. 23, 2022.

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