DENVER, C.O. — She was on her own for more than ten weeks, navigated 30 miles of mountainous terrain and lost 20 pounds in the process.
Somehow Winnie Cooper, an 8-year-old Australian Shepherd mix, made it back to her Denver neighborhood.
“She’s our everything. We didn’t feel like a family when she was gone,” Aliza told KMGH. “She’s a fixture in our household,” said Aliza’s partner, Justin.
The couple, who spoke exclusively with Denver7, asked us to only use their first names to protect their privacy.
The couple and their two toddlers were only going to be gone for one night to celebrate three of their birthdays in March.
The Airbnb they rented did not allow dogs.
“We got a phone call a half hour after we left her that she had jumped the fence,” said Justin.
They turned back to the dog-sitter’s house in Evergreen. It was snowing and it was not like Winnie to run off.
“We got back and started calling her name. When she didn’t come back in about five minutes we panicked,” said Justin. “Yeah, we called the troops,” Aliza said.
That was back on March 27.
The couple said Winnie became even more attached to them after their sons were born and that she was no stranger to hard times.
Winnie was a shelter dog who had been abused and chained outside as a puppy.
It took almost a year for her to adjust to a new home, learning to trust her new family. But she did.
“We hike off leash with her all the time. She comes back to the whistle. She doesn’t ever go out of our sight,” said Aliza.
They started handing out and posting flyers and posters, at least 500 of them, and they didn’t stop there.
“We hired a tracker with scent dogs try to narrow down an area of where she might be,” said Justin.
Friends and family launched the Facebook page “Help Bring Winnie Home.” They plastered social media with pictures and videos.
“We’d get a sighting and get so excited, go out and put trail cams and get nothing on the camera,” said Aliza.
People they did not even know let them put trail cameras and traps on their properties in Evergreen.
Aliza even camped out in her car overnight in someone’s driveway.
“I saw her, but she didn’t even see me. I had her bed out. Nothing registered. She was in survival mode,” said Aliza.
Weeks turned into months, the sightings started to dry up and there was talk of scaling back the search.
Her family never gave up, but all the while Winnie was already homeward bound.
On June 5, Winnie was spotted blocks from home in the Baker neighborhood inside a building at 11th and Acoma.
“They don’t even know how she got in. She was just on the landing of the staircase,” said Aliza.
Alone and on a mission to get back to her family, Winnie made it back to Denver. Justin got the call from the people who found his cell phone number on her dog tag.
“The generosity of people we’ve never met and didn’t know us is completely overwhelming,” said Justin. “The amount of humanity that shined through in this is incredible,” Aliza said.
Winnie had survived frigid nights, lonely days and a very long journey home.
“We found her the first time when we adopted her,” said Justin. “This time she found us.”