A Rossville, Georgia, woman whose service dog went missing from her yard in July is still searching for the animal trained to help save her life.
Laurie Klusner said Bear went missing after a home health nurse visited. The nurse was only at her home for a short time, Klusner said, and asked if she could put the dog outside while she was there. Because the yard is fenced, Klusner agreed.
"She had been there before and never asked that. She was there for 10, 15 minutes, and then she left. After that, my dog was gone," she told the Times Free Press on Thursday.
In the four months since Bear went missing, Klusner has spent every day searching for the German shepherd she calls her "fur baby."
In addition to posting flyers around town, she has contacted news stations, joined Facebook groups dedicated to helping owners find their missing pets and worked with local law enforcement from across North Georgia to check out potential leads. She makes weekly trips to McKamey Animal Center in Chattanooga, just in case. People contact her on a daily basis with photos of dogs that they think might be Bear.
Just this week, Klusner worked with animal control in Sullivan County, Tennessee, to see whether a dog someone thought might be him actually was. That lead - just like ones out of Florida and Coweta County, Georgia - didn't pan out, but Klusner isn't giving up.
"Maybe people think it's weird for me to do all this, but Bear was like my child! He's my baby," she said. "He's trained to take care of me if I need him. It's dangerous not to have him with me."
Klusner has struggled with seizures for years and broke her back in 2016, which she said limits her mobility. She also has kidney disease, which causes the potassium in her blood to spike and increases her risk for heart attack. Bear was trained to assist her with all of it.
"He can open doors and get the neighbors if I start having a seizure. He knows how to use a phone to dial 911. He is trained to know how to use my home alert for 911," she said. "Since 2016, he has helped me with physical tasks because I broke my back. If I drop something and can't get it because I can't bend, he's trained to get it."
Altogether, Klusner spent thousands of dollars getting Bear trained and certified. Paying for that same training for another dog isn't possible for her right now, no matter how important she believes having a service animal around might be for her health. If that ends up being necessary, she said she would have to raise funds somehow to pay for the training, either through GoFundMe - a page has been set up to train another of her dogs, Xena, to be a service animal - or some other means.
"It was $2,000 a month for 28 months to get him trained because he did hospital and controlled environment training, seizure training and off-leash training. He also had 36 weeks of obedience training for $2,400," she said. "I can't do that again. I know I need my service dog for safety, but I can't. That's why I keep hoping someone will bring him home or find him."
If someone took Bear and wanted to return him, Klusner said there would be "no questions asked." She just wants him home again.
"Drop him in my yard. Call me and ask me to pick him up. I'll come get him," she said.
The Catoosa County Sheriff's Office confirmed that Klusner came to the department after Bear's disappearance. Sheriff Gary Sisk said the cost of training a service animal would likely make it a felony if it turned out that Bear was stolen.
"The value would probably make that a felony just because of how much the cost of training service animals is," Sisk said by phone Friday. "His value to her and the value she put into him make it a more serious crime if someone did take him."
Still, Klusner said she would not pursue charges if he was returned safely.
"As long as they don't try to charge me to get him back, we don't even have to involve police," Klusner said.
Anyone with information about where Bear might be can reach out to Laurie Klusner on Facebook or by phone at 706-483-3583. More photos of Bear - who Klusner describes as a black and tan German Shepherd with a joker smile and a tan stripe that runs down his back and shoulders - are also available on her Facebook page.
Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.