1000 x 90

No Strangers to “Miracles,” Local Family Shares Story of Missing Pet Reunion


Sam and Laura Belden snuggle with Maple soon after their reunion. Photo submitted.

By Sherrie Norris

After spending a Christmas vacation in Mexico, the Doug Belden family of Boone was in the Atlanta airport waiting for their connector flight back to Greensboro when they received a call that their beloved pet, Maple, a shepherd/cattle dog mix, was missing. She was being cared for by a trustworthy family friend during their absence in a familiar loving setting. The call set off a series of events that, thankfully, the family said, ended well three weeks later, on Saturday, Jan. 27. 

“It truly is a miracle,” said Janet Belden. “ Maple was found at around 10 p.m. in the rain, facilitated and coached by Michelle Wilson with Epic Animal Recovery.  She is home,  safe and sound, and being snuggled up.  We just can’t let go of her.”

 “Maple went missing, January 8, the night we were returning,” Belden shared. “She was being cared for by a family friend. They know and love each other well. Apparently, she got spooked. She’s kinda skittish, anyway, but she had never run before. It was very unusual. When we got the first call, she had been missing for about an hour. By the time we got home from  Greensboro, she had been missing for about five hours.”

Upon  their return to Boone that night, in the torrential rain, Maple’s primary owner, Sam Belden, and his sister,  Laura, began looking for her. “Sam went for miles and miles looking for her in the pouring rain.”

The next day, the heavy rain continued. The family was advised not to be too proactive, that she, Maple, probably wasn’t moving around much.

Posts began circulating on social media; the community became vigilant in their attempts to find Maple, many knowing how important this pet is to the Belden family.

“We were surrounded with lots of people who love us and were encouraging us not to give up,”  said Janet, who is a registered nurse at Watauga Medical Center.

For professional advice and assistance, the Beldens contacted Epic Animal Recovery, which proved ultimately to be a tremendous help in Maple’s return.

“We got in touch with the owner and expert,  Michelle Wilson, and started making signs and  posters, as well as  updating social media posts often. We were offering $1000 reward for Maple’s return. No questions asked. She is family and there is no dollar amount for her value to us. We were pleading for everyone to please keep looking — In parked cars,  on Craigslist, etc.”

And in retrospect, Wilson shared how Maple’s saga came to a happy ending, eventually.

“This is in the mountains  — lots of rough terrain and not to mention, snow covered with freezing temperatures. Maple, by nature, is a skittish pup, so we knew we had our work cut out for us. We met the family, along with Nancy Smith Pepper, from our Boone team. Seeker would be lead K-9 on this search. The terrain was steep and rough in some areas. Seeker got on scent immediately and pulled us up the backside of the mountain. After a few miles of up and down and back and forth, this led to Seeker taking us up Deck Hill Road, where the scent trail would come to an end.”

Janet Belden said, by this time, they were thinking that Maple had been taken.

“That was the only way that we could cope emotionally,” Belden added. “The next week, the weather turned terrible with all the snow. There were no sightings; we went for a good while with no movement, nothing.” 

 Wilson said. “We should have gotten a call. But nothing was coming in.”

Then, random sightings of Maple were reported, Belden added. “Dog prints were being seen on front porches where dogs didn’t live; another lady felt that she had seen Maple run in front of her car on Deck Hill. But, there were no pictures, no definite evidence that it was her.”

By Friday night, (Jan. 26), Belden said, “ I was pleading with the Lord. We were getting exhausted. We had been on such a roller-coaster ride with worry and anxiety. We just didn’t know how much longer we could hold out without some kind of resolution. It was horrific.”

Later that night, however, there was a very strong siting at the bottom of Deck Hill, Belden said. “A couple had just happened to see Sam’s poster, and called to say that they really thought they had just seen her. But again , no picture, no video.”

“On Saturday, the Beldens secured a camera from Epic Animal Recovery and placed it at the siting location. “We drove to that spot that she was last seen,” Belden recalled. “At the bottom of Deck Hill, there’s an old trail, and Laura said to drive up there. It ended at an old burned house. I said, ‘Are you sure?’ but she was insistent. “Yes, we did last night!  There’s a clearing in the front of the home where we parked before,” Laura responded.

And then, all of a sudden, Laura exclaimed, “Mom, there she is!”

At that moment, Janet recalled,  Maple literally ran right in front of the car — back into the woods.

“I told Laura to hurry, I had just gone to Walmart and had food in the car. I grabbed hot dogs and handed them to Laura, telling her to just go up into the woods, sit on a log and sing. That’s what we had been told to do.”

Janet made a quick trip to Sam’s house,  which was nearby. “I grabbed him, called Michelle, and when we got back down the hill, Sam just sat there waiting for her. But, we weren’t seeing her.”

And, it was raining really hard. But Sam continued to sit there, in  hopeful anticipation that Maple would return soon. 

After a while, Sam was drenched, so they returned to his house for warm, dry clothes, along with Maple’s water and food bowls — and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  

“Sam’s neighbor, Jessica Mason, who has been involved in several dog recoveries, helped us set up the camera. At 6:15, we get text messages that Maple is on the camera. She’s back at the burned house. We all pull up the app on our phones, and there she is, right at the camera. Literally, we watch her from 6 until 10 p.m. We were all watching her, obviously pacing and looking for either Sam and/or more food.  We are sure she was smelling Sam’s scent from earlier in the day, as well as the night before.  Around 10 p.m. on Saturday night (Jan. 27) — kinda like a SWAT operation — Michelle made the call to send Sam in for her, giving him specific directions: ‘Take some more food. Leave the car at the bottom of the hill. Laura, you drive. Keep the passenger door open, crouch, walk softly, head down, and set the food bowl down and just wait.’”

In the meantime, the family was watching part of it unfold on the camera — and praying.  

 “We see Sam do just as Michelle told him,” Janet shared. “And Maple comes out of the house and sees him . . . but she goes around to the other side of the house. Sam goes around to meet her, he  crouches down and says, ‘ Maple girl, it’s dad.’ She comes up to him. Sniffs him all around and the switch flips — and she realizes who he is! He grabbed her and carried her. Laura is crying. We all were crying!”

Wilson concludes, “Maple was in the car and safe.  Sam was a genius and did exactly what he was supposed to do. He kept his cool. He saw an opportunity to get in front of Maple, he sat down and spoke softly to her, and she came right to him. Then I made the call to Janet. She was over the moon and went over to see Maple immediately.”

Wilson had much to say about how the family, working together, helped with this successful rescue: “Janet was the glue that held it all together. Laura needs a special shout out, too. Her strength was unmatched. She was Sam’s rock and we all know that her support for her brother helped him get through this.” 

Maple has since had a follow-up visit with her vet with good results.

More than likely, Wilson surmised, in the meantime, somebody was able to corral Maple and picked her up. 

“Either they dumped her back out or she got away. Often times when you see that much pressure put on a community, the dog ends up dumped back out because folks don’t want to get in trouble. She was found on the same road we tracked her to. This was one brave girl. — and one heck of a family and community! Many, many thanks to Nancy, Jessica and all that came out to assist and make this recovery a success!”

And What About that Family Trip to Mexico?

“We haven’t even processed the trip. The joy and rest was just yanked out from all of us,” Janet shared. “But — these are the days when if you don’t have a foundation of faith and a deep well of Gods faithfulness to draw from,  the storm will swirl and suffocate, leaving us shattered and broken and hopeless. I have seen and believe Him to be true and faithful through countless storms. And today is no different. Do we want the wins, the miracles? Absolutely. Especially when we know the win will increase our kids’ faith. Yet, these are the times that the roots grow and the refining happens, if we let it.”

On her FB page just a few days before Maple’s return, Janet wrote: “I’m still believing,  still fighting,  still hoping,  still clinging, still battling.  Thank you for all your prayers over our family for Maple. As a family,  we have been so blown away by the messages and shares and prayer.  We are still hoping and praying for her return. And in this waiting,  I am choosing to stay rooted.”

And so it is — a miracle for Maple — the Beldens describe.

“The miracle of the couple seeing her on Friday night,” Janet noted. “That she ran that exact moment in front of my car. And that she came to Sam, after surviving in the awful weather we’ve had for three weeks! Life-threatening temperatures, wind chills, torrential rains and deep snows. We believe that God has his hand on  her and all of us.  We saw it.  We have lived it. God is faithful!”

But, the Beldens have experienced miracles before, they agree. 

The family have just celebrated the 10 year anniversary of Doug’s hemorrhagic stroke that occurred in January of 2014.  

“The celebration of life restored occurred in November, right around the time of Doug’s 60th birthday,” Janet explained.

 They are quick to credit their village and community with so much support and care for their family over the last 10 years.  

“We also daily celebrate the miracle of Doug’s life that was spared, and the fact that he is able to do all he does independently,” Janet shared. “Our neurologist, Dr. McAdams, just recently showed us the evidence of Doug’s miraculous recovery by looking at the latest MRI of his brain. Doug has developed countless new pathways, as well as blood supply to the places in his brain that were damaged.  Dr. McAdams said, ‘This is your miracle, Doug.’”  

On behalf of her family, Janet concludes, “We made the choice to remain in Boone 10 years ago after Doug’s stroke, when all of our extended family live in other states.  That was a really hard decision.  Yet, the support of this amazing High Country town throughout the hard seasons in our family’s lives, make us even more deeply assured of why we made the right decision.  Our community is like no other, and to see the support and prayers surrounding Maple’s recovery just blew us away once again.”  

To learn more about Epic Animal Recovery, visit www.epicanimalrecovery.org, find on Facebook, text 704.770.8625 

or email: lostpets@epicanimalrecovery.org.

The Belden family during their recent trip to Mexico. From left: Siblings Corey, Sam and Laura with parents, Janet and Doug Belden. Photo submitted.
Sam and Laura Belden snuggle with Maple soon after their reunion. Photo submitted.
Sam and Maple — forever friends. Photo submitted.
This poster was a familiar site around Boone in recent weeks and eventually helped bring Maple home to her anxious family. Photo submitted