Karson, the Wilmington Police Department K-9 missing since before Christmas, was found Sunday after 61 days on the loose.
His recovery prompted relief from his handler and others involved in the search, as well as a social media celebration that spread from the Miami Valley to as far away as Idaho, New Jersey and Missouri.
The Belgian Malinois was found at 1:15 p.m. Sunday by Pam and Rick Jones of Mason. They were searching for the dog in a field just east of Interstate 71, near Port William in Clinton County.
“When we first saw him we weren’t sure,” Rick Jones said. “Then that emotion comes over you that just maybe, it’s him.”
Shortly after being spotted by the Joneses, Karson was reunited with his handler, Wilmington police officer Jerry Popp.
“I have him in the truck next to me. He’s alive and healthy. It’s all over finally,” Popp posted at about 1:30 p.m on a Facebook page set up to aid in Karson’s rescue.
“What an amazing reunion,” said Pam Jones, a photographer who captured the moment. “Everybody’s diligence is what brought that dog home. He became everyone’s dog.”
Karson was checked out by a veterinarian at the Country View Pet Hospital near Wilmington but did not attend a press conference held at the police station.
The dog was said to be mildly hydrated, but otherwise in good health. He weighed 55 pounds Sunday — 14 less than when he went missing.
“He’s not just a dog, he’s a member of our police family,” said Wilmington police chief Duane Weyand, adding that Gov. John Kasich plans to meet Karson when the governor is in town Tuesday to give his State of the State address.
The K-9 escaped Dec. 23 from a kennel where he was staying while Popp was on vacation.
A $2,000 reward for Karson was posted in late December. There were reports of sightings, including several over the weekend, before he was surrounded Sunday afternoon by officers, including Popp and Wilmington Police Sgt. Ron Fithen.
“Karson’s home. I’ve got him,” Fithen said in a 911 recording released by Wilmington police.
Popp told the Wilmington News Journal that he and Fithen maneuvered into the field with a 4-wheel drive police pickup truck, but Karson was “pretty skittish” and took off.
Popp said they kept driving around Karson to wear him out. Then Fithen got out and started talking to Karson and “when Karson saw me, he jumped in back of the police truck,” Popp said.
In addition to the Facebook page, the search featured a tracking team from New Jersey and volunteers posting Karson’s picture around the area.
Sunday was the last day of the organized search.
By the end of the day, more than 24,000 people were following on the Facebook page.
“So happy he is finally back where he belongs :),” posted Fay Kiger of Lorain, Ohio.
In addition to Dayton-area postings, people from across the country expressed relief and joy.
“PRAISE GOD!!!!!!!!! I am sooooo Happy!!!” Lisa Deccio Snyder posted from Sun Valley, Idaho.
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.