It took only a moment for Dixie, an 11-year-old nearly blind and deaf pug, to dash from her owner's backyard in Bluffton's Rose Hill Plantation last Thursday morning and become lost in the brambles of the woods nearby.
But luckily for Dixie and her concerned owners, Kitty Fletcher and daughter Jamie, volunteers and trained dogs from the Urban Search and Rescue team, based on Hilton Head Island, were there to help. Dixie, shivering near a creek and whimpering but little the worse for wear, was found a few hours later about a half a mile away.
The group, made up of volunteers from Savannah, Beaufort and Jasper counties and their dogs, are trained to search for air scent and participate in cadaver searches, tracking and water rescues.
While most of the group's work centers on finding humans -- living and dead -- members also will search for missing pets, said Dan Fuller, the group's founder and director.
"Primarily, we search for humans, but if someone calls me -- we're all dog people -- and says their dog is missing, we are usually able to help," said Fuller, who organized the island team about seven years ago. "My fear in this case was that if the dog stayed out all night, she might have died. When we started searching, it was already late in the afternoon and looked like rain."
Dixie's ordeal began early.
At about 9 a.m., Kitty Fletcher stepped outside her Sorrelwood home to let the little dog out when she noticed Dixie's collar and leash were tangled in some bushes. She bent down to free the animal. That's when Dixie made a break for it.
"For some reason, she moved a lot faster than normal," said Fletcher.
Kitty and Jamie Fletcher and a few neighbors searched for the animal for about four hours before Jamie's boyfriend, Jamie Paris, called the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies recommended the search and rescue team, which often works with law enforcement, Fuller said.
The team, made up retired military, firefighters, EMS personnel and other volunteers, has searched for homicide victims, Alzheimer's patients, children, hunters, and of course, a few beloved pets, Fuller said.
The search for Dixie began the way all the group's searches do.
Fuller collected a scent article from Dixie's family for the team's dogs to track. Members and their dogs then plunged into the dense woods off U.S. 278 near John Smith Road.
In the meantime, Rose Hill security officers called Sheriff's Office deputies to report the team trespassing in the neighborhood. Security officers told Fuller's group they were prohibited from searching for Dixie in the neighborhood because it was private property.
An employee at Rose Hill Plantation's Home Owner's Association, who did not identify herself, said Wednesday the association did not wish to comment.
Despite that delay, team member Sonia Geiss and her German shepherd found Dixie about 2 p.m., about 15 minutes after the search began, Fuller said.
"Thank God for the K-9 team," Jamie Fletcher said after Dixie was safe at home. "They tracked her trail all the way to 278 and back. She had wandered a ways --about a half a mile -- but they were able to find her so quickly."
Besides being a little fatigued from her journey, Dixie was unharmed.
Today, she is back to her normal self, Kitty Fletcher said.
"She was in a tizzy when they found her," she said, "but she was happy to be back home and to see her mommy."