Summit County animal shelter, rescue nonprofit and owner team up to find missing dog after 35 cold days

Summit Lost Pet Rescue co-founder Brandon Ciullo takes a photo with Jade, who was missing for 35 days.
Photo by Brandon Ciullo / Summit Lost Pet Rescue

Jade, a yellow Labrador retriever, was found in Fairplay on Tuesday, Jan. 19, after surviving 35 days in the windy winter elements.

Lesley Hall, director of Summit County Animal Control and Shelter, called the rescue a “huge team effort” between the shelter, local pet-finding nonprofit Summit Lost Pet Rescue and Dwight Winter, who had recently adopted Jade.

Jade had been transferred to the Summit County shelter from New Mexico before she was adopted by Winter, who had recently lost his 14-year-old dog. He said he planned to foster a dog before getting a puppy in the summer, but he fell in love with Jade after stopping by the shelter.

“I go in there, and here’s this just sweetheart of a dog behind the counter,” Winter said. “For several days, I thought about it and went to take her home.”

But Jade never made it home. She jumped from Winter’s truck when he opened the door after driving from the shelter to his house in Fairplay on Dec. 17. Winter said she was calm in the truck, sleeping in the back seat, before unexpectedly leaping out and running away. Winter called the shelter, which asked Summit Lost Pet Rescue for help.

Summit Lost Pet Rescue co-founders Melissa Davis and Brandon Ciullo started the search for Jade by asking Winter to post bright, neon signs around town letting the community know Jade had gone missing. They also asked Winter to put out his dirty clothes — a frequent tactic to draw an animal back to its home based on scent. However, Davis explained that this situation was unique because Jade didn’t have a bond with Winter, so clothing and towels from shelter staff were brought to Fairplay and set out to try to attract Jade.

“At first, we really didn’t get many sightings — one here and there,” Davis said. “And then a stretch of three weeks went by with no sightings at all, and we were all getting really worried.”

Davis said the nonprofit doesn’t have many volunteers in the Fairplay area, but several of the shelter’s staff members live there and were able to keep searching. Davis said shelter staff members, who had bonded with Jade, were out searching and leaving their scents, which might have helped to keep Jade in the area.

Camera footage from a mission to rescue Jade shows her sniffing a trap.
Photo from Brandon Ciullo / Summit Lost Pet Rescue

On Christmas Day, Winter said he spent about five hours at the Gold Rush mine, where she previously had been spotted.

“I just felt bad for her being out there in the cold,” Winter said. “My biggest concern was for her health.”

Some good news came when Jade was sighted again after three weeks. Winter then put out what Summit Lost Pet Rescue calls a “comfort station” — consisting of food and items that carry the scent of people Jade had bonded with — in a trap in the area where she had been seen. Davis said the food and familiar smells helped condition Jade to come to the trap. Based on camera footage, the group found that Jade was getting more comfortable with the trap. Once she was comfortable enough to go all the way into the trap, the trap was armed. Jade was caught Jan. 19.

“We just never gave up hope,” Davis said. “It was a long one, especially going without sightings for at least three weeks. But when we did get that sighting, it was all hands on deck, and we moved very quickly to get that comfort station set up, and we got her just in a couple days after that. … She’s a tough, tough girl, and she obviously knew how to find some food and find shelter.”

Jade was taken back to the animal shelter. Winter, who has a backyard with a short fence that Jade could easily jump, said she would do better with an owner who has a more enclosed space.

“I really can’t go through that again,” Winter said about Jade running away. “Literally, she probably cost me a few months of my life, and I know it took some toll on her life. … I’m very happy that she got back and that she wasn’t hurt.”

Back at the shelter, Jade received a clean bill of health despite losing 22 pounds, and she is available for adoption. Hall noted that she didn’t appear to be dehydrated and there were no signs of frostbite.

Now, Summit Lost Pet Rescue is on the hunt for Piper, a dog who has been missing for more than 25 days.

Camera footage shows sightings of Jade, who was missing for 35 days.
Photo from Brandon Ciullo / Summit Lost Pet Rescue

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.