Charlotte Malone was returning to her Cobb County home last week after lunch with a friend.
As she drove past Mars Hill Community Church she slowed -- as she sometimes does -- to read the inspirational message posted on a sign on the property.
This time, though, she noticed a yellow Lab mix barking at each car that passed.
“He was just baying at every car,” said Malone, a stay-at-home mom to three rescue dogs and a rescue cat. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll try to ignore that. Maybe he lives next door to the church.’”
She knew deep down, though, that wasn’t the case. Malone is very familiar with the area and hadn’t seen the yellow dog before.
It bothered her to see him alone, barking and watching every car as if looking for his owner.
So when she got home, she told her husband, John, about the dog. They decided to stop by the church on the way to walk their own dogs at nearby Lost Mountain Park. If he was still there, they’d stop.
There he was. Still barking.
Her husband went into the church to see if they knew anything about the stray. They didn’t but a staffer gave him part of a Subway sandwich to see if it would help lure the dog closer.
It didn’t work and, instead, the skittish dog took off running. John Malone tried to chase him, to no avail.
They later asked workers at an auto service business nearby if they had seen the dog. They had, and had unsuccessfully tried to catch him as well.
“That was the confusing part about this,” said Charlotte Malone. “We don’t know how long he had been out there, but he looked well-fed.”
Her mother suggested she post on Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods.
Soon other people began posting. Some offered to help look. Others reported seeing the same dog elsewhere. She found out that staffers at an animal hospital had seen him and given him food.
So far, though, no one had been able to catch the elusive canine. People shared news about the lost or stray dog on Facebook. Neighbors talked to other neighbors about him.
A woman named Donna grabbed a leash, water, food, collar and her dog and took off in search of the yellow Lab.
Another woman named Bonita posted an update that he was seen “following a person with a small dog quite closely, so much so that I thought it was her dog as well that she just happened to have off the leash ... but it was not her dog. Then someone else had three small dogs and he was following them closely. It seems like he likes small dogs."
Camille Sikes spent more than two hours Sunday following the dog in the park. She posted photos and a video on her Facebook page and over time thousands of shares.
“Every car that pulled in, it would strain its little head to see in the car,” she said. “To me, he was looking for his owner.”
Charlotte Malone fretted that if the dog had made it to the park, that meant he had crossed busy Dallas Highway and Mars Hill Road. She couldn’t put him out of her mind and even named him Parker, since he was found in a park.
Monday, Cobb County Animal Control was able to local and capture the pooch.
Fortunately, he had a microchip.
Here’s his story.
His name is actually Buddy, and he appears to be about 12 years old, although he acts younger, said Billy Mayfield, shelter operations manager. “He’s a good-looking dog.”
He appears to be in pretty good health, although there may be some hip issues.
Officials went to Buddy’s last-known address, which now had a for sale sign. A neighbor recognized the dog and said the owner had died about four years ago. A woman who used to take him to medical appointments had “adopted” the dog after the man died.
No one knew what happened to Buddy after that.
Perhaps he got loose and was trying to make his way back to the woman’s house. Maybe he was abandoned. No one knows for sure.
Buddy, who weighs 69 pounds, is being placed on a seven-day hold to allow his last owner to find him. After that, he will be put up for adoption to the public or a rescue group..
Ordinarily, it’s more difficult to place older pets, experts say.
It may be different for Buddy, simply because he’s been the focus of so much attention, said Mayfield.
“People are going crazy,” he said. “Any time you put a spin like that on an animal, oh my God, it’s like a Disney moment. Unfortunately, he’s one of millions that come through our shelter.“
Most of the time, people tend to want pets that are younger and smaller. Often that means senior pets are the last adopted -- if at all.
Many times, people want to get rid of their older dogs because they might have health issues that their owners don’t want to deal with, but dogs, like people, do age.
Malone doesn’t think her job is over -- just yet.
She is determined to help find Buddy a forever home.
She and others on Nextdoor are emailing and calling rescue groups to see who can take Buddy. A labrador retriever rescue group is already “beyond capacity.”
“I am guardedly optimistic,” said Malone. “Everybody’s heart is in the right place, but I have no idea how this is going to end.”