She had no map, no GPS, not the vaguest sense of the metro area’s geography.
But somehow a rescue dog named Zelda found her way, over three wintry months, from her new owners’ home in Chanhassen back to her foster home in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood.
“I am never ever again going to question the possibilities of miracles,” said Seneca Krueger, Zelda’s foster caretaker — and now her owner for good.
Zelda ran away from her adoptive family in Chanhassen on Feb. 6 and showed up near Krueger’s house last week. No one can say what she ate along the way, how she endured the subzero nights or how she knew which way to go.
“She survived, she persevered and it’s a really amazing story,” said Niki Taylor, who leads a west metro team of lost-dog searchers called START (Search, Track and Retrieval Team).
Cases of dogs and other animals navigating long distances to find their owners — even for hundreds of miles — are rare but not unheard of. Scientists have not found an explanation for this ability. Some say the animals possess a sense resembling ESP.
“I’m just happy to have her home,” Krueger said. “I know how dedicated I was to finding her, but the amount of work and dedication she put into finding me is amazing.”
The tan-and-black Zelda, likely a Labrador and German shepherd mix now about six years old, moved into Krueger’s home in August. At first she hid under the bed, paced the house, crawled out a window. Krueger, a therapist by profession, used her knowledge of human fear to calm Zelda. She tied herself and Zelda together on a leash for two weeks.
Finally Zelda seemed to decide Krueger meant her no harm. “After two months she wagged her tail for the first time,” Krueger said.
In January, Krueger took Zelda to her adoptive family in Chanhassen. Krueger has cared for dozens of foster dogs and never minded saying goodbye. But this time was different.
“I was in bed for three days crying,” Krueger said. “I felt like she was my dog and I just gave her away.”
Chanhassen is 22 miles from Krueger’s home on foot, a walk that Google indicates would take a human seven hours and 20 minutes. But Zelda took the scenic route, meandering around Lake Minnetonka for weeks before heading for Minneapolis.
As word of her disappearance went out on signs and fliers, Nextdoor.com and Facebook pages such as Lost Dogs Minnesota and Lost & Found Pets Minnesota, reports came back of her running between houses or popping up in backyards. “I caught a quick glimpse,” one person noted.
START instructed people not to chase her — stray dogs should never be chased, they say, especially one as fearful as Zelda — but to get a photo and report her location on social media.
Reports indicate Zelda wandered from Chanhassen to Excelsior and Minnewashta, then crossed frozen Lake Minnetonka to Orono and Minnetonka Beach. With every sighting, Krueger drove out to scour the area.
One day Taylor herself spotted Zelda walking along Hwy 7. But with the dog on the other side of the four-lane highway, Taylor didn’t dare call out for fear of scaring the dog into traffic. Zelda vanished into Excelsior.
In late February, the sightings abruptly stopped. Where the dog went and what she did during that time is anybody’s guess. But in late March, she popped up near St. Mary’s Cemetery in south Minneapolis. In a Facebook update shared more than 500 times, Krueger offered a $100 reward.
“Honestly, I would happily empty my savings account to get her safe,” Krueger wrote.
Zelda managed to cross the Mississippi River and zigzagged toward Krueger’s neighborhood. At one point she came within two blocks of Krueger’s house. One day a couple nearby contacted Krueger. They’d been feeding a stray dog for a week that looked an awful lot like Zelda.
The START team set up a live trap — a cage with tempting food and a door triggered to shut behind the animal. At 4:33 a.m., a dog wandered in. Krueger rushed over.
This isn’t Zelda, Krueger thought. The dog was thinner and lighter colored than she remembered, and the dog didn’t seem to recognize her either. But the implanted microchip confirmed it was Zelda, her appearance changed from months outdoors.
“I just fell to my knees and started crying,” Krueger said. “I’ve never been so overwhelmed with gratitude and emotion before.”
Riding back to the house, Zelda put her head in Krueger’s lap. The adoptive family had already decided the dog wasn’t a good fit, so she was going to live with Krueger for good.
Zelda that day smelled “like dumpster juice and dead raccoons,” Krueger said. But she was “more friendly, more cuddly, more playful than I have ever seen her before.”
Zelda put her head on her shoulder. She had never done it before. “It’s like she was hugging me,” Krueger said.
And if you didn’t know better, you’d swear Zelda was smiling.