Shane Pottle was driving to Jackman for a family vacation last month when something — he doesn’t remember what — caused him to go off the road on U.S. Route 201 in Madison.

His car was destroyed and Pottle, of South China, was taken to Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan and later transfered to Maine Medical Center in Portland for treatment of a severe concussion.

Pottle was released from the hospital the same night, but that’s when the worst part of the crash sank in: His 7-month-old Labrador retriever puppy had been thrown from the car and was missing.

“That’s all I could think about,” said Pottle, 20, whom police identified previously by police as a woman, but who is transgender. “I was in pain myself, but all I thought about was I want my puppy back.”

With the help of his mother, Kristi Albert, volunteers from Maine Lost Dog Recovery and a lot of persistence, Pottle finally was reunited with his pet on Aug. 25 — 16 days after the crash.

There were times when he felt like giving up or worried that something might have happened to Tucker, but through it all, he said, he never wanted to stop looking.

Car crashes aren’t the most common reason for a dog to run off, but Maine Lost Dog Recovery does respond to them on occasion, said Natalie Messier, president of Maine Lost Dog Recovery, adding there are special challenges and strategies that dog owners can look for and adopt if a dog is lost after an accident or other traumatic event.

“It was challenging because it was a bad accident and his owner was hospitalized,” Messier said. “They weren’t from Madison, so there was some traveling involved, too. It can be hard if you go days without a sighting.”

A majority of dogs that are lost after a car crash will make their way back to the scene of the accident or the nearby area, Messier said. Often the best thing that owners can do is to stay calm. Dogs, like humans, often are traumatized by bad crashes and in the aftermath are focused only on survival.

“Believe it or not, the best thing you can do is to not go out yelling and searching,” she said. “Your dog’s adrenaline is so high he’s going to pretty much run from everybody, even his owner.”

Pottle said he doesn’t remember much from the Aug. 9 crash in East Madison. Another driver reported seeing Tucker thrown from the car and also told police that Pottle might have been using his cellphone in the moments leading up to the crash.

Chief Deputy James Ross, of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, said last week that he couldn’t confirm the report of distracted driving, and it is not likely there will be any charges in the case. Pottle, an assistant night crew manager at the Hannaford supermarket in South China, said that when he left his house that day, his phone was dead and he doesn’t remember using it in the car.

‘FELT IMPOSSIBLE’

At the hospital, Pottle was told he had a severe concussion as well as a broken rib.

Immediately upon his release that night, Pottle started looking for Tucker, whom he had adopted a month before.

He and his mother set up a game camera near the accident scene — something that Maine Lost Dog Recovery recommends — along with food, water and some of Pottle’s shirts. The organization also helped them by printing fliers and posting notices on Facebook about Tucker.

For about a week, Pottle and Albert checked the game camera, but the only animal it was catching was a black cat who was sneaking in to eat some of the dog food they had left out. They took the camera down after becoming nervous about the possibility that someone might steal it.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I lost my puppy and I got a black cat,'” Pottle said with disappointment.

Not long afterward, Tucker was spotted by a man who said he had seen the puppy playing with a black Labrador retriever near Lake Wesserunsett. The man took Pottle out on his boat to show him where he had seen the dogs. They saw them both — a black Lab and another, lighter dog, but it wasn’t Tucker.

“It pretty much felt impossible,” Pottle said. “It had been so long and we hadn’t heard anything. That was the first sighting and it wasn’t even him.”

A few days later, another sighting was reported on a logging road off U.S. Route 201 in Solon. Pottle and his mother met with the woman who made the report and to their surprise, instead of taking them to a side road, she took them back to the scene of the accident in Madison.

“The majority of dogs that are in car accidents, pretty much they will stay in the area if they’re not chased or yelled for or there are big search parties,” said Kathy Winslow, a volunteer with Maine Lost Dog Recovery, who helped Pottle and Albert with their search. “We’re seeing this more and more, that it’s easier to get the dog back if you just let the dog calm down.”

Pottle and Albert decided to put the game camera back up. The next night, Albert told Pottle around 11 p.m. that she had learned of another sighting on Facebook.

“Do you want to go now?” she asked him.

“I said, ‘You bet I do,'” Pottle said.

‘HE STARTED TO WAG HIS TAIL’

According to Messier, one of the best things an owner can do when searching for a lost dog is to just sit in the area and use what are referred to as calming signals — sitting or lying on the ground and speaking softly to give the dog time to recognize your voice and smell. So that’s exactly what Pottle and Albert did.

The pair sat outside in the woods all night, occasionally throwing hot dogs into the trees.

Early in the morning of Aug. 25, after several hours of silence, Pottle looked up and there was Tucker. “He was so sad-looking and skinny,” Pottle said. “He just looked terrible.”

Pottle quietly said the dog’s name so as not to spook him. Slowly and cautiously, he tossed another hot dog, but the dog ran away. That’s when Pottle and Albert called Winslow, who helped them get a live trap from the Humane Society Waterville Area.

They filled the trap with McDonald’s cheeseburgers, a deboned rotisserie chicken and Vienna sausages. “We wanted him to be like, ‘Ooo, I need that,'” Pottle said.

Winslow told Pottle and Albert to check the trap every three hours, so they stayed in Skowhegan and routinely come back to check, being careful not to spend too much time near the trap so as not to spook him.

Around 6 p.m. there was still no sign of Tucker either in the trap or on the game camera. Winslow told them to go back a little after dark.

Around 9:20 they saw a police car and then an ambulance go by in Skowhegan. They worried that there had been another accident and Tucker had been hit, so they headed to the trap to check.

“I looked and all of a sudden, he was in there, just laying down,” Pottle said. “I just froze and started crying.”

Albert was the first to go over to Tucker in the trap, and Pottle said once he began to recover from his shock and disbelief, he, too, went over to greet his dog.

“It’s hard because you don’t know how they’re going to react after so long,” Pottle said. “He was so weak and feeble, but he started to wag his tail. It just melted my heart.”

Winslow said it’s important to not open the trap until it’s brought to an enclosed building, so the dog won’t get away again.

They put the trap, with Tucker in it, into the back of their Jeep and drove to Pottle’s grandmother’s house in South China. Her dog, Lexi, greeted Tucker with kisses through the trap.

As soon as they opened the trap inside, Tucker ran out and started licking the entire family. He ate and drank, then lay down on Pottle’s grandmother’s bed for a long nap.

‘DOGS ARE SURVIVORS’

“Maine Lost Dog Recovery was incredible,” Pottle said. “Every time we would call or text, there would be an immediate response. They do know what they’re talking about because we followed just everything they said to a T and it worked.”

The organization always needs more volunteers, said Winslow, who lives in Millinocket and largely helped with the search via phone and internet. There’s also a growing need for technology such as game cameras and humane traps that, as in Tucker’s case, can be instrumental to recovering a lost pet.

“In northern Maine we are trying to spread out,” Winslow said. “I don’t want to preach the donation thing, but when we do get donations, it goes to buying that equipment. This area, Madison especially, there’s a lot going on with loose dogs and we just don’t have the volunteer force yet or the equipment.”

Winslow said if there’s one message she wants to stress to the public, it’s the importance of letting a dog calm down after a traumatic event such as a car crash. She said Pottle and Albert did everything right and because they never lost hope, they were able to get Tucker back.

“Tucker was gone at least two weeks without being seen,” Winslow said. “You have to keep people motivated and let them know their dog is still out there. Dogs are survivors. We try and encourage people to stay at it, because it is doable to find your dog.”

Today Tucker is doing much better. Though he’s still recovering from a broken leg, he’s started to gain back the excessive weight lost by eating lots of treats and has largely bounced back to his old self.

“He did not look like he could afford to be out there another day,” Pottle said. “I don’t want to make him sick, but every couple of hours it’s time for a treat.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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