As Debbie David of Omaha drove north on Interstate 29, she saw a dog in the middle of the highway and slammed on her brakes.
“I almost hit her,” she said. “The semi behind me just missed hitting me and the dog.”
What began as concern for a dog's safety turned into something more serious.
After pulling to the shoulder, Debbie got out of her car but couldn't get the dog to come to her.
“I said, 'You can't play this game with me on the Interstate! You've got to let me catch you.'”
Debbie started walking back to her car to find something that might interest the pooch — but then she heard its insistent barking.
She turned and saw the dog moving away, toward an embankment on the right side of the road. The dog stopped, looked back and barked again, five or six times.
“She was telling me, 'Follow me, lady! I need your help.'”
It's fortunate that Debbie David speaks Dog. She runs a volunteer dog-rescue operation in Omaha called Hearts, Hands & Paws.
Rescue was needed on I-29 that day, but it wasn't so much for the dog as it was for its owner.
Debbie followed the animal and then saw tire tracks in the grass, which led down to a wrecked Mitsubishi in a grove of trees. She immediately dialed 911.
Advancing more closely, she saw a woman in the driver's seat and again called 911.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought there was a wreck down there,” Debbie said. “You could not see it from the roadway, especially with a lot of trees and brush.”
Before state troopers, an ambulance and a firetruck arrived, the driver slowly emerged and began walking toward open fields — disoriented but apparently not seriously injured.
The scene unfolded just before 10 a.m. on May 17 near Rock Port, Mo., east of Auburn, Neb. But the driver had been in the wreckage for as long as seven hours.
Missouri State Trooper Jennifer Vernon said the 58-year-old woman, who lives in the Kansas City suburb of Merriam, Kan., reported that she had fallen asleep at the wheel about 2:30 a.m.
She told the trooper that because it was the middle of the night and she was seat-belted and not seriously hurt — and there was no fire — she decided to stay in the car and sleep.
“The fact that it took until 10 the next morning seems a little odd,” Vernon told me.
The trooper said there was no evidence of alcohol use, and she didn't issue a ticket.
“The car had hit several trees in a small grove, and it was totaled,” she said. “It was in a steep ravine.”
The woman, whom the trooper identified as Margaret Gill-Benlon, said she had artwork in her car. She was checked out at a hospital and released.
The trooper took the dog to a vet, and the animal was returned to the driver's family. (The woman didn't respond to messages I left.)
In her 10 years as a trooper, Vernon said, she hadn't experienced a situation like this one.
She said it was remarkable that the dog tried to get the attention of drivers. And the trooper heaped praise upon Debbie.
“Had it not been for her stopping for the dog in the roadway,” the trooper said, “we would not have known about the crash at all.”
And what if the dog — a Rottweiler mix named Juno, weighing about 90 pounds — hadn't flagged (or barked) down a motorist? Presumably, the driver eventually would have sought help, but what if her injuries had been serious?
Dogs, at least some of them, seem to have an additional sense.
Earlier this year, a dog that had slept for weeks in bed with its dying owner in Omaha was given to another family after the person's death, only to run out of the house late at night.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
Days later and two miles away, the dog showed up across the street from the church where the owner's funeral was being held.
On I-29, Juno nearly got run over trying to get help for her owner.
“Dogs communicate, I guarantee that,” Debbie said. “She told me to follow.”
Juno may have been out on the highway for a long time trying to get help for her owner. Debbie wrote on her Facebook page that so many drivers passed by after she had stopped that she was “disappointed in humanity.”
A Millard South graduate, Debbie said she grew up with a passion for animals, often bringing home strays. She volunteered with other rescue groups before starting her own dog-rescue operation a year and a half ago.
“Debbie has a heart for animals that just never stops,” said Rochelle Timperley, who volunteers with her. “I could cite so many times when she has come to the aid of a dog that has been hurt, neglected or abused. She finds them all foster homes.”
Rochelle said the image of the dog urging Debbie to follow her gives goose bumps.
No one else stopped. Maybe Juno the wonder dog sensed that Debbie would follow her meaning — and her footsteps.
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