LOGAN SQUARE — Anna Cohn, a 27-year-old social worker for Chicago Public Schools, searched for the right dog for months.
When she saw a 20-pound Labrador retriever mix named Theo at the Orphans of the Storm shelter, she immediately applied to adopt him. On Sept. 19, one week and a neuter surgery later, she was picking him up from the vet in suburban Skokie.
But Theo, who came to the Chicago shelter from Alabama, had another journey ahead of him. Just before he made it into his new home in Logan Square, the scared dog bolted away, leading to a desperate, days-long search that saw strangers band together to bring him home last week.
‘Oh, No! Theo!’
Cohn could see Theo was frightened on the way home from the vet. He shook the entire drive.
As Cohn and her mom gently coaxed Theo into her building’s vestibule, Theo, without warning, shook his head, wriggled out of his collar and took off running down the quiet Logan Square street.
“Oh, no! Theo!” Cohn screamed as she went after him.
Cohn’s neighbor, Jessican Perrino, saw it all happen from her third-floor window and ran outside in her pajamas. Her roommate, Anna Turzhanskaya, followed in flip flops.
The pair hit the street behind Cohn and chased Theo towards the three-way intersection of Diversey, Western and Elston. The dog was quickly out of sight, but people driving by told the three where the dog had gone.
At Diversey, Western and Elston, they heard brakes squealing as drivers stopped for Theo.
“Somebody else in a car pulled over and said, ‘There’s a dog running that way! He went over the bridge, over the river,'” Perrino said. “We kept sprinting. I don’t even know how we did it. But we were desperate to find him, we thought we could catch up to him, but he was going so fast.”
Eventually, the trail went cold in an industrial area on the east side of the river.
Turzhanskaya and Perrino knew Theo was gone. But they also knew he could be found. They had watched the story of Opal the stolen cat unfold over the summer and knew Chicago could rally for a lost animal. Opal, stolen during a May carjacking in Englewood, was found months later in suburban Maywood.
The Search Begins
Turzhanskaya and Perrino told Cohn to make posters, and they immediately shared photos of Theo online. Family and friends helped hang the posters all over Logan Square, Avondale, Lakeview and Buena Park.
Once the word got out, tips started coming in. It became clear Theo was heading east. One tip, texted to Cohn’s dad, said Theo was spotted in Graceland Cemetery. It seemed implausible: The cemetery is nearly 3 miles away and Theo had just been neutered.
But with no leads coming in around Logan Square, Cohn, her family and her newly acquainted neighbors headed to the cemetery, which sits between Montrose Avenue and Irving Park Road, east of Clark Street. The staff there stayed late to help look for Theo. But the cemetery is 119 acres, and Theo seemed to destined to spend the night amid the graves and the coyotes who live there.
At 9 a.m. Sunday, more than 20 people came to the Graceland gates to help in the search. Cohn’s old pals showed up, as did her new friends, Turzhanskaya and Perrino. There were also strangers.
“Some people had just seen it on Facebook and had just decided to come,” Cohn said. “People I don’t even know just showed up to help, which just really restored my faith in good people in the world.”
Turzhanskaya noted the significance of the date: Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.
“Theo led us to the cemetery, he wanted to show us something,” Turzhanskaya said. “And Theo means ‘gift of God’ in Greek, which I thought was interesting. It all seemed to correlate together in some universal way that made me think he was going to be OK.”
Twenty-something people crawled behind bushes and searched in brush piles behind a maintenance garage, looking for Theo.
But then Cohn started getting messages from people who saw Theo outside the cemetery. Her heart sank. If he was back out in the streets, not only was he in danger again, but he could be anywhere. She looked around the intersections where he was spotted but had no luck. She hung up a final poster and got in her car to go home.
“That was the last poster I had, so I broke down. I know at this point I just have to go home and wait and that’s going to be really hard,” Cohn said. “So we get in the car and then I get a call from a random number, and I answer it, and they immediately say: ‘We have your dog. We’re pretty sure it’s him. We can’t be 100 percent sure, but it really looks like him.'”
A Lakeview resident named Alex was walking his dog, Cupcake, when Theo appeared between two houses. “It was like he was asking for my help,” Alex said.
Alex took his own dog home and returned to find Theo still there, sleeping on a plastic Jewel bag. He asked passersby if they knew the dog, but no one did. He called Animal Control but they said they wouldn’t be there for hours.
He wasn’t sure what to do and considered taking the dog home to Cupcake. But then, Michael-Anne Peck and her friend walked by. Peck and her daughter, Samantha, run Baby and Buddy animal rescue in Wheaton. They knew what to do.
Together, Peck and Alex approached Theo slowly.
“Alex went to get food, we didn’t know if he was friendly, he was scared to death. But we got food and we sat with him and Alex went in and was talking to him and was able to pet him, so we knew he was somewhat friendly,” Peck said.
Peck’s friend came back with a leash and collar to secure Theo. They took him back to their porch and prepared to go to a police station to scan Theo for a microchip. But a neighbor offered to check the neighborhood page first. There was Theo and Cohn’s contact information.
Cohn and her mom drove to the Lakeview porch and found Theo snuggled up in a blanket.
“Oh my God. Yes, it’s him,” Cohn told his rescuers, her voice cracking. “We just got him yesterday. I didn’t even get him in my house.”
Theo looked up at Cohn as she bent down to greet him.
“I put my hand down underneath his chin and he immediately just laid his whole head into my hand,” Cohn said. “That made me feel a little bit better, like maybe he recognized me.”
When Cohn got back to her apartment, Theo again paused at the first step.
“He waited and looked at me until I took a step in,” Cohn said. And this time, “he followed me.”
Theo Becomes Donut And Settles In
A fresh start came with a new name: Theo goes by Donut now.
And he has a lot of new friends looking out for him.
“He’s got a new leash on life,” Perrino joked. “I told Anna immediately, you’re gonna get him back. Don’t worry. I know it’s really scary, but this happens all the time and usually within hours, or days, the dog turns up. And that’s just based on everybody in the community getting really involved.”
Cohn thanked everyone who pitched in, either by spreading the word, giving support or going out looking.
“I truly believe he was found and brought back due to our lovely Chicago community,” she said.
“It reminded me that even though Chicago is a big city, it still has a small town feel with neighbors truly caring about each other and being able to be connected.
“I have made new connections with people in my neighborhood. It also reminded me that, even in these times where we don’t feel very connected and are staying inside more, people do still care about one another and are willing to help!”