An Upper Arlington family received an early Christmas gift when their family pet was found safe nearly two weeks after disappearing.
It was a sad Thanksgiving for the Fernandez family, who skipped a trip to visit relatives in their native Chicago. They stayed home after a week of searching in vain for their dog, Addison, a 1-year-old mixed breed they saved from a Pike County dog shelter last June.
Addison, named after a street which runs outside of the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field, took off from the family's home on North Star Road Nov. 22 after Richard Fernandez momentarily left a gate open.
Adding to the challenge of finding Addison were anxiety issues she developed after she was physically abused by previous owners. Because of her demeanor, Addison was apt to run, and that's what she did when a neighbor tried to corral her the night she slipped out of the Fernandezes' yard.
She also wouldn't come to Richard or Julia Fernandez or any of their children, who spent seven hours Nov. 22 scouring Ohio State University's West Campus and nearby woods in hopes of bringing her back home.
"We made signs and called our vet, Dr. Susan Barrett at OSU (College of Veterinary Medicine)," Julia Fernandez said. "Addison was in flight mode, and (Barrett) said the last thing you want to do is chase her."
Barrett came up with a rescue plan that included using food as a lure -- but there were concerns about how well that would work because Addison is so skittish, members of the Fernandez family had to approach her on their hands and knees at home to seem less imposing.
Many of the family's friends from St. Agatha Catholic Church joined in the hunt and spent those first frigid days walking West Campus, armed with hot dogs.
"Addison's story made everyone care," said Georgia Kellen, a family friend. "This little pup had so many people praying for her. If any dog, ever, deserved a break, it's Addison."
Richard Fernandez spotted Addison on Nov. 23, but she still was running in fear.
Although the family was accompanied on their search by the dog's "sister," Wrigley -- a fellow dog shelter adoptee named for the Cubs' stadium -- Addison bolted across Lane Avenue and wasn't seen again for almost 10 days.
Barrett put the family in touch with local animal-lover, Don Corsimer, who had experience safely trapping lost pets.
"Don really helped us," Julia Fernandez said. "He said people give up hope too quickly because they don't realize animals can survive for a while on their own."
People in the community and in the OSU area also got behind the effort to find Addison. St. Agatha church members and others in the community continued to search for the dog, and students and staff at OSU's Waterman Farms promised to keep an eye out.
A local grocery store donated food for the humane traps that were set to capture Addison and Barrett lent night-vision equipment.
Julia Fernandez and her four children -- Catalina, 11, Elena, 8, and 5-year-old twins Javier and Mateo -- posted signs throughout their neighborhood and West Campus, and they created a Facebook page and email blasts in hopes of spreading awareness about their lost pet.
"We put a sign up on each trap so people would know what we were doing," Julia Fernandez said. "For the most part, we asked all the businesses on Lane Avenue if they would put a sign up, and they did. On West Campus, not a single sign was taken down.
"It was just a huge outpouring. People were out looking for Addison, even though they didn't know us. It was just heartwarming, really wonderful."
The family purchased night-vision cameras, which captured images of numerous coyotes, possum, foxes, deer, cats and raccoons, but no Addison.
Despite the bleak outlook, the family continued looking, taking Wrigley along every four hours as they checked traps and filled them with fresh bait.
At about 5 a.m. Dec. 3, they were rewarded.
"Finally, all of our hard work paid off," Julia Fernandez said. "My husband went out to check the traps and found her in one. The kids woke up and they were all so excited."
Catalina Fernandez said the disappointment of not having Addison home for Thanksgiving lifted as soon as her father brought the dog back home.
"It was really hard, and poor Wrigley was really upset," she said. "When she came home, I was so excited and just couldn't believe it.
"We prayed a lot, and it helped telling so many people because they prayed, too."
Her mother agreed, saying the tactical, physical and moral support provided by others was instrumental in keeping faith and locating Addison.
Because of that help, and because so many people continued to reach out in the community and on Facebook, Julia and her twin sons painted a banner, which read, "We Found Our Dog. Thank You!," which they posted in place of an older "Lost Dog" sign at a convenience store at the corner of Lane Avenue and Kenny Road.
As of last week, she said, 11,000 people had viewed her post of a photo showing the sign on Facebook.
After losing some weight during her journey into the wild, Addison was back up to about 25 pounds last week and, with the aid of medicine, gradually is showing more trust.
In addition to sitting by Elena while she's reading, Addison is slowly becoming more social, Julia Fernandez said.
"She is better now than before she left," she said. "Before, she would stay in her cage for 12 hours.
"I think she realized life was definitely better here. We are just so grateful for everybody that helped us."