Ellen McQueen’s trip to South Dakota in July began as a gift to her parents. McQueen had purchased flights from her family’s home in Nome, Ala., to Rapid City so they could be part of the reunion in her father’s home state of South Dakota.
Her father is 81 and hadn’t been back to South Dakota in 13 years. The trip was well worth it as McQueen said her father became emotional upon seeing each one of his 125 family members at the reunion.
Two of McQueen’s aunts live in Mobridge so the family and McQueen’s service dog, Latte, came to visit them over the Fourth of July.
While McQueen and her parents were at the home of one the relatives, Latte was tied in a backyard. McQueen noted there was a row of trees, so she felt that the dachshund was safe there.
But on July 5, Latte went missing.
“I called to her and she didn’t come,” McQueen said. The family drove around town, asked the neighbors if she’d made their way into another yard, reached out to the pet store and the vet clinic, and called the police. A notice was also placed with the newspaper and radio station, requesting the safe return of the dog as the family and police continued to search around Mobridge twice a day.
“She was just gone,” she said.
Latte is more than just a regular pet to McQueen. Latte is a service dog and has been a part of McQueen’s life since she was a six-week-old puppy. She is now five and has been a registered service animal since she was one-year-old. It can take one year of training for a dog to become a registered service animal, so a lot of time and work are put into dogs like Latte.
Part of Latte’s job, besides being her owner’s tireless companion, is to help comfort McQueen during bouts of anxiety and migraines, as well as going to the hospital with her.
“She really helps me,” McQueen said. “She’s really good at watching over me.”
Despite a number of sightings of Latte around town, no one was able to recover the dachshund.
On July 9, McQueen had no choice but to leave Mobridge without her precious companion. She didn’t want to leave without her but that the situation couldn’t be helped.
“I was crying and actually sick to my stomach. I was physically ill,” she said. “I didn’t know where she was.”
While without Latte, McQueen said she had to visit the doctor due to symptoms that appeared without Latte’s help.
“I didn’t know the effect she had on me was so great,” McQueen said.
In the early afternoon on July 12, two men were taking their lunch break on the lake shore. They had seen an ad in the Tribune regarding the missing dog. When they saw the small dog in the brush and they reported it to the Mobridge police.
McQueen said the individuals who found Latte had heard shuffling in the brush and found her hiding beneath some logs, chewing on her leash. Although Latte had been missing for almost eight days, she was unhurt but was very hungry and thirsty.
When McQueen received a call that Latte had been found, she cried with happiness.
“It’s a miracle they found her,” she said.
After receiving the call, McQueen was on her way back to Rapid City to pick her up that night. The impromptu flight wasn’t easy, but McQueen wouldn’t have it any other way, saying, “It was worth it. It was so important.”
McQueen said Latte was eager to be back with her owner.
“She was super happy to see me and was very protective of me,” she said. “I’m just so happy to have her back.”
Both McQueen and Latte are doing well now. McQueen said Latte’s vet at home gave her shots and medicines to help her recover, but that she is doing much better.
McQueen urges pet owners to make sure that that their animals are secure. If someone sees a lost animal, it’s also important to contact local authorities. When a service animal is lost, it is a criminal offense not to turn it in.
Although the trip wasn’t perfect, McQueen is still thankful for the chance to bring her family to South Dakota.
“Despite the hiccup, it was great. It was a wonderful trip.”
McQueen is very thankful for the support of the town who helped make sure Latte made it home safe.
“I can’t thank the people of Mobridge enough for pitching in and helping us find her. You have a great community,” she said.
For those interested in supporting McQueen in paying for the expenses of last minute travel and veterinary costs, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/lattes-safe-return to donate.