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BEHIND THE SCENES: Hank didn't go far 'on those little legs'

BarrieToday's Nikki Cole takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on BarrieToday's Nikki Cole, whose story 'Hank the dog 'happy to be home' after weeklong adventure' was published on Oct. 28.

Here is the original story if you need to catch up:

After a weeklong adventure that saw him make his way across Barrie, Hank the dog is back home safe and sound this weekend with his family.

Hank, a one-year-old dapple dachshund wiener dog, went missing on Oct. 19, mere hours after his owners, Brien and Lisa Johnston, had boarded a plane to Italy.

The couple was headed to Rome for what was supposed to be their “dream vacation,” but upon landing, they learned that Hank had gone MIA from his Browning Trail home.

“He’d gone out for a pee and ended up getting spooked from some people and just ran … and went on an adventure all across Barrie,” Brien told BarrieToday on Saturday morning.

Upon learning Hank was missing, the couple attempted to get emergency flights out of Rome, which was not an easy task, he admitted. 

“As soon as we landed — about 13 hours later — we saw the post. You have no idea how hopeless you feel. You just start bawling. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat. I actually collapsed in Rome and wasn’t doing so well… that’s how Air Canada got me on an emergency flight home,” he said, “We are about $26,000 in losses. The dream vacation is gone. We came back to Barrie and just searched all day and night.”

Johnston said upon returning to Barrie on Oct. 23, they found there were hundreds of people searching for Hank — including volunteers with Pawsitive Ground Search, which had seen one of its social media posts receive more than 90,000 shares in just a few days.

The couple, with the help of the community, searched day and night for a week for Hank.

“I only slept one or two hours a night. I slept in a field. It was just insane what we did.”

While Johnston acknowledged that not everyone will understand the lengths they went to to get back home and find Hank, he said you simply can’t put a price on family.

“He’s our little boy. Our kids are grown up and gone now. We just have our two wiener dogs and I would do it all over again if I had to,” he said. “Sure you regret now that he’s home because you have to dig out of that massive hole (but) it’s like that commercial on TV where you do something and it’s priceless … I would do it a thousand times over,” he said. 

During the week he was missing, Hank was spotted all over the north end of the city, from his home on Browning Trail, around Letitia Heights to the dump on Ferndale and back. 

“His adventures were seven days long. Basically almost to the minute and hour. He disappeared at 5:32 p.m. and we found him at 5:40 p.m. We had over 50,000 posters, over 100,000 flyers.”

Johnston credits the community for finding Hank, and the couple couldn’t be more grateful.

“There was a lady … who showed up at our house asking for flyers. This lady went to Walmart and defied everybody who was yelling at her and she just walked through Walmart handing out flyers.”

The woman, he said, suffers from dementia and told them she hadn’t left her house in more than six months, but that she said something came over her and she just knew she needed to help.

“She stood there handing out flyers. A lady took a flyer and went home and saw Hank sitting on her front porch. She said hello to him but he bolted … but she called us right away and within five minutes we were all there,” he said. “Even Barrie police, who were doing training at Sunnidale Park … there were 40 officers with cadaver dogs and drones watching out for him as well. It got that big. It was insane.”

Hank was finally located under a shed in a backyard on Richler Street, said Johnston.

“If you look at the hole you’d think there’s no way a dog is going to fit under there, but holy smokes he was under there.”

Seeing the community come together to help them find Hank, he said, has renewed their faith in the goodness of people.

“We live in such a dark world right now. You watch the news and it’s all bad news. Everybody says the world is such a broken place, but once you see a community unite … that just warms your heart. You wake up the next day after your dog is back and you’re just on top of the world. Nothing can bring you down. It doesn’t matter if it’s pouring rain … it’s a beautiful day.”

Hank has been home for two days now, and hasn’t left his owners' sides since they were reunited on Thursday night.

“He’s lost a lot of weight. He was in fear and it got really cold and it rained .. but he is so happy (to be home).”