TOWNSEND -- Two German shepherds, Mishka and Chip, short for Chocolate Chip, headed off for a jaunt in the woods early Friday morning.
Andrei and Mila Koustov were not alarmed. Chip, 2 1/2 years old, knows the paths and roads around their home on Brookline Street. They assumed 4-month-old Mishka would stick with the older dog.
"She always follows him," Andrei said.
But on that Friday, March 20, Chip returned home alone.
Andrei's immediate thought was that the pretty puppy was stolen. "I was praying," he said. "I wished that she'd get a good home."
He knew that the couple could have done more to keep the dog safe. "We definitely messed up here," he said.
For the next five days, the Koustovs lived like they were at war, the Russian immigrant, a Cossack, said. All they did was eat, sleep and follow an action plan.
The same day Mishka left, they walked the streets the dog might have crossed, putting posters on poles and talking with people.
"Like always, there were good people," Andrei said.
They contacted Granite State Dog Recovery and Mary Letourneau, Townsend's animal control officer. The Letourneaus, Mary and her husband, Keith, came during the weekend to help.
Guided by Colleen Goleman, a volunteer at Granite State, they kept looking for Mishka.
The searchers talked to neighbors and the data started to roll in. The dogs were separated when spooked by a car on Townsend Hill Road, near the North Forty farm, they learned.
Andrei looked for Mishka's tracks.
On the advice of Goleman, they left food near the lair, but not at the lair. The idea was to not scare the animal from her comfortable spot, he said.
The search was an ordeal. The Koustovs relied on their culture to keep them going. As members of the Russian Orthodox religion, they prayed to saints to intervene on Mishka's behalf.
"When you truly speak from your soul," he said, "God always helps you."
Just before Mishka disappeared, Andrei said he had a dream with bad portents, but ignored it. His wife, a Ukrainian with a Cossack background, had a better dream while the puppy was gone. Hope remained.
"You are a Cossack, don't give up," Andrei said to himself.
With the help of Granite State, they installed two cameras in the woods; one near the lair and one near the path they thought the puppy was using. They put one of her favorite pads in the shelter.
They were looking in the right place. The cameras showed Mishka in the lair, a lean-to made of sticks.
On Tuesday evening, they got a call from the homeowner on Warren Road where the lair was found. She had seen the puppy.
The Koustovs grabbed Chip and went over. While Andrei spoke with the homeowner, Mila and Chip were outside.
Mishka came over to see her friend Chip and the ordeal was over.
Initially, Mishka fought like a wild animal, making noises and trying to get away, Andrei said, but once the two dogs were in the car, she calmed right down.
Mishka is fine now. She is a little thinner, but grew an inch or two taller over the five days she was missing, Andrei said.
Things will change a bit for the couple and their animals.
The Koustovs plan to put netting on their fence so the dogs can't get through. Mila will be walking Mishka so that she can get to know the neighborhood like Chip does, Andrei said.
They also got to know many of their neighbors. He wants to thank all the people who helped them track down their puppy.
"They were great," he said.
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