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Who saved Elsie? The hunt for a kind stranger in New Westminster

A downtown dog owner wants to find the man who chased down her pet on Royal Avenue Monday night.

Don’t let the sad face and the cone of shame fool you — this is a story with a happy ending.

Elsie (owner of above-mentioned sad face and cone of shame) is doing just fine, and so is her family. But it all could have ended much differently had it not been for the quick thinking of an unknown rescuer in New Westminster.

Now Jana Buhlmann wants to find the stranger who saved her dog.

It all started on an ordinary-enough evening this past Monday (Nov. 21). Buhlmann had just come home from a long weekend away with friends in Qualicum Beach and decided to take her dog — a white Maremma-Great Pyrenees named Elsie — out for one last break before bedtime.

It was going to be a quick trip, so she didn’t even bother to grab her cellphone; she just clipped Elsie into her harness and set out from their place near Columbia station, around 9 p.m.

Elsie, at eight months, has hit what Buhlmann calls her “teenager” phase. She’s a solid size, at 52 pounds, but she’s shy and spooks easily, and she has a tendency to forget all her training when she’s stressed out. That night, as Buhlmann and Elsie were walking in the dark, the pup was spooked by a passerby carrying a couple of bags and then by what Buhlmann thinks was a bed frame lying at the side of the road.

Then it happened fast: Elsie yanked on her leash, Buhlmann went down on one knee, and Elsie pulled out of her harness.

“Even a well-trained dog, when they’re spooked? They’re gone,” Buhlmann says.

At that point, Elsie just “beetled” away down the street.

“She didn’t run off. She was just, ‘Oh look, I’m free!’” Buhlmann says.

Buhlmann followed as closely as she could as Elsie made her way up towards École Qayqayt Elementary School. Buhlmann couldn’t keep up, but she could — and did — make noise. She made her way after the dog yelling “Elsie! Elsie!” (which, apparently, people heard as “help me!”; the police received multiple calls as a result).

Elsie got to Royal Avenue — which, as those in the neighbourhood know, tends to be busy and fast-moving, even at that time of night. The dog got safely across Royal, with Buhlmann trailing, but then started back across Royal.

“At this point, I’m just waiting for her to be hit,” Buhlmann says. “I’m on Royal, in the dark, waving my flashlight and yelling, ‘Can you grab my dog? Stop!’”

Lo and behold, someone did. A car heading east on Royal stopped, and a man got out. He took off running and was able to keep up with her as the dog headed off in the direction of Sixth Street. Buhlmann followed, trying to keep them in sight, but lost track of them along the way.

“I’m walking by the community garden, crying, holding my harness with no dog in it,” Buhlmann recounts. “I don’t know where they’ve gone.”

She got to the corner of Royal Avenue and Sixth Street and heard barking. Seeing two cars stopped near the corner, she immediately thought the worst: Elsie had been hit.

Then, right by city hall, under a tree surrounded by bushes, she saw the man who’d run after Elsie and two other people coming up to help corral the skittish dog. Police showed up, too, and helped as Buhlmann crawled under the tree and got the cornered Elsie back into her harness.

The dog hadn’t been hit by a car, though she’d suffered a gash on her leg somewhere along the line.

Elsie refused to get into the police cruiser for an offered ride home, so Buhlmann dragged the dog back to her apartment, got her cleaned up and settled in for the night. She took her to the vet the next morning for stitches.

“She’s wearing the cone of shame, and it’s well-deserved,” Buhlmann says.

Who was the man in the white car? On the hunt for the stranger

In the thick of it all, the stranger who caught Elsie had just quietly left, making his way back to the car he’d abandoned six blocks away on Royal Avenue.

Buhlmann doesn’t know who he was. She describes him as youngish, probably in his 30s, with short, light-brown hair. He probably got out of a white car that had a dog — a border collie, she thinks — in the back.

“I would love to find this guy and get him a gift certificate to Kozak bakery or something,” Buhlmann says. “I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t kept up with her and cornered her.”

Buhlmann knows it probably wouldn’t have ended as well as it did, with herself lying sleepless in bed on Monday night, adrenaline surging, with Elsie snoring contentedly beside her.

She can’t imagine a life without the pup who came into her life quite by accident in June, all the way from her sister’s farm in Saskatchewan, after her sister’s dog had an unexpected litter of puppies. Elsie was the last one.

“She sent me these pictures of this sad-looking little puppy, and I said, ‘That’s my dog,’” Buhlmann recalls.

Since then, Elsie — named for Buhlmann’s maternal grandmother — has settled in as the younger “sister” of a three-pound rabbit named Butters, who rules the roost and feeds Elsie hay from his enclosure.

Once Buhlmann’s only daughter leaves for post-secondary dorm life next year, Elsie will be an even more central part of her life.

“She’s kind of my pandemic saviour. She gets me out and talking to other dog owners,” says Buhlmann, who lives with anxiety and says Elsie is a positive force in her life. “She’s a very healing force in this world, so the idea that it would have gone a different direction is still sitting really heavy with me.”

If you were Elsie’s saviour, or know who was, Buhlmann would love to hear from you. You can reach out to her via the Recordemail reporter Julie MacLellan with "Elsie" in the subject line.

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