A dog lost in Silverthorne while its family was on vacation has been found after 27 days

Dog-sitter Katie Kelsey and Piper reunite after the dog ran away and was found 27 days later in a shed in Frisco.
Photo from Melissa Davis / Summit Lost Pet Rescue

When the Schlehr family lost their dog, Piper, while on vacation in Summit County, Summit Lost Pet Rescue stepped in to help.

The search started with the pet-finding nonprofit’s standard procedures — including posting signs and leaving out items that smell like the dog’s owners — but a windstorm chased Piper away. Then it was all hands on deck for midnight searches and a “Team Piper” text thread before she was found in a shed 27 days after she went missing.

Piper’s owner, Erin Schlehr, said her family rescued 2-year-old Piper in May near their home in California and decided to travel to Colorado in January. The family planned to ski at Beaver Creek Resort for a few days, so they hired a dog-sitter in Silverthorne.

“We did the first day, and everything went great,” Schlehr said. “She warmed up to the dog-sitter, and then the second day when the dog-sitter went to go warm up her car, (Piper) skirted out the door, looking for us, basically. She’s so fast and so agile that there was no hope for anybody to catch her.”

The dog-sitter, Katie Kelsey, quickly called Summit County Animal Control and Shelter and contacted Summit Lost Pet Rescue. Schlehr drove to Silverthorne to help the sitter look for Piper and said she was optimistic they would find her. However, night fell and Piper was still missing.

Schlehr said the family was distraught.

“The next couple of days, I was thinking she was going to die overnight because it was so cold, but (the founders of Summit Lost Pet Rescue) were so reassuring that, ‘Nope, we already know she’s a survivor, and it’s very common for dogs that get spooked to not come right back or not go to any humans,'” Schlehr said.

Schlehr was on “Piper quarantine” and had to stay in the area so Piper could pick up her scent. She walked around the neighborhood where Piper went missing, and she carried a leash, squeaky toy and tennis ball. The family stayed at Kelsey’s apartment for a week and then went home while Schlehr stayed behind.

Three nights after she went missing, Piper was captured on video. Over the course of the next week, there were regular sightings of Piper on cameras that were set up near Kelsey’s home, indicating Piper was getting comfortable with the unarmed trap meant to eventually catch her. The night the trap was armed to hopefully catch Piper, a windstorm picked up and scared her off. No one knew where Piper was for eight days.

Summit Lost Pet Rescue co-founder Melissa Davis said she thought Piper might be stuck somewhere, and neighbors were asked to check under their decks and in their garages.

Then animal control called and said a property owner had photographed Piper on his land. Davis speculated that the windstorm had driven Piper into a fight-or-flight mode and that she ran to Frisco through the trail system toward Meadow Creek and kept moving west. Sightings had been reported by Whole Foods Market, Officers Gulch and the scenic overlook along Interstate 70.

“My last couple of days in Silverthorne, we were getting more sightings because animal control knew that Piper was this (dog) on the freeway,” Schlehr said. “And so the last couple of days, we would get these sightings in the middle of the night, and we would go searching in the middle of the night. And not only were we searching, but other volunteers from the rescue (group) were getting up at like 3 a.m. and searching.”

Schlehr ended up having to go home to California, but she got updates on the Team Piper text thread.

“The anticipation of reading these and seeing these and feeling like you’re getting closer and closer was fantastic,” Schlehr said about the text updates.

Davis said the team believed Piper was staying in the area of the private property in Frisco where she was previously spotted. On Jan. 27, the property owner sent a message saying there was an animal growling in his shed. Rescue group co-founder Brandon Ciullo headed over with animal control officers for backup.

“We entered the shed, and I could hear growling a little bit,” Ciullo said. “And (an officer) took left, I took right, and as soon as I turned the corner on the right, I just saw her sitting there cowering in the corner.”

The group used animal control equipment to capture Piper and push her into a crate. Ciullo sent Schlehr pictures and called her on FaceTime once Piper was caught. Schlehr said the family huddled around the phone, looking at Piper with tears in their eyes.

After receiving a clean bill of health from a veterinarian, Piper was brought to the animal shelter and visited by Ciullo, Davis and Kelsey before heading home to California.

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