Darwin Cameron and his wife, Cindy, weren’t sure what to expect when Mo first came home. They knew their dog had gone into survival mode. They knew things would be different.
After spending 9 harsh months in the Idaho wilderness, the dog was found near death in June on a ranch in Horseshoe Bend and reunited with the Camerons in Boise. Three months later, it’s hard to recognize 14-year-old Mo as the weary animal whose story made international headlines — but only at first.
“As each week goes by, she’s more and more her old self,” said Darwin. “But she’s been telling her story if you pay attention.”
In the first few weeks, the elderly Chesapeake Bay Retriever battled panic attacks that drove her to clear out a small den under the Camerons’ deck where she’d hide when she needed to feel safe. Darwin guesses that the corner, tucked behind a grill and some old furniture, reminds Mo of a cave she may have sheltered in somewhere around Placerville.
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And the Camerons were stunned the first time they watched Mo toddle over near one of Cindy’s bird feeders and snatch a sparrow out of the air — something she’d never done before.
“There wasn’t even a feather left,” Darwin said, laughing. “We don’t go through as much birdseed now.”
They think the dog, now too old to chase down squirrels, learned to hunt birds during the brutal winter when few other animals may have been left in the snow-covered mountains.
The sparrow snacks are a supplement to Mo’s new diet of homemade stew, which Cindy prepares at home each week. Though the gourmet meals are a step up from the dry kibble for their other Chessie, Ellie, Mo rations her food. It’s another vestige of her time in the wilderness that she can’t seem to shake, though Darwin said Mo knows her bowl is never left empty.
Mo, once enthusiastic about trips in the family camper that meant days spent hunting alongside Darwin, can’t stand the sight of the camper anymore. It’s the last place she was before she went missing — searching for Darwin, who had left their campsite for tools to replace a broken water line. Darwin said Mo panics the moment he sets foot in the trailer — it sends her hightailing to her makeshift cave.
The Camerons have changed, too.
The couple are longtime dog lovers, but Mo’s misadventure awakened something in them. Though they’re reluctant to adopt social media, Darwin and Cindy are now part of a vast network of rescuers tracking missing dogs across the country and working to find their homes. For their part, Darwin and Cindy often dole out advice or kind words to grieving pet owners, using Mo’s survival story as a tale of comfort.
The Camerons still work closely with Cheri Glankler, the Garden Valley rescuer who nursed Mo back to health initially and used Facebook (and her vast knowledge of the rescue world) to track down the Camerons. Glankler even has a fledgling rescue group inspired by Mo.
The rescue, called Legends of the Paws in a nod to Glankler’s nickname of “the Legend” for Mo, has headed to hurricane-ravaged Texas and Florida to pick up dogs from high-kill shelters and flooded homes, among other things.
“It’s given people a lot of hope,” Glankler said. “The situation with Mo helped a lot of dogs around the country.”
The Camerons’ extended family has even gotten in on the rescue effort — Darwin’s brother adopted two dogs from Legends, and his nephew has adopted a third.
“The Camerons are fabulous people with golden hearts, which I think is part of why (Mo) was determined to find them,” Glankler added.
Though Mo is home and healing, it’s clear she wasn’t the only one hurt in her ordeal. When the Camerons remember the dozens of strangers who tried to find Mo or speculate on what the dog survived, they are brought to tears.
Darwin hasn’t met everyone who helped look for Mo, but he knows they’re numerous. He knows they lost money, lost time, lost the opportunity to use tags as they set aside their hunting plans to help a stranger search for his missing family member.
The Camerons said they prayed that Mo would find another home if she didn’t find her way back to theirs. They couldn’t stand the thought of her dying alone in the woods.
“She celebrated her 14th birthday on June 14 by herself, and we’re just glad she’ll be spending it with us next year,” Darwin said.
Cindy said they’re taking it one day at a time. Even before Mo went missing, she said, their pet had started to show her age.
“We know every day we get with her is a blessing. We’re just going to enjoy every moment we have, because we almost didn’t have them,” Darwin said.