HOLLAND, Ohio — Editor's note: The above video is from a previous story.
The load has been lifted somewhat for the owner and trainer of Atlas, one of only a handful of dogs in Northwest Ohio trained to find missing persons; and a dog some consider to be a hero.
The story began two years ago on an early fall day.
October 2, 2019 was a worrying and exhausting day for the loved ones of Woodville’s Judy Bartell.
Over 24 hours had passed since the 68-year-old had gone missing. Her family said that Bartell had dementia.
Authorities charged with locating the missing woman were desperate. They even brought in a psychic medium to help find her.
But it was another phone call they made that ultimately helped save the day.
Shelbie Flegal at the Springfield Township Fire Department had a black lab named Atlas, trained to find missing people.
The goal for the day’s search was to cover close to 100 acres of the toughest terrain in Northwest Ohio.
100 volunteers went left to search for Bartell. Atlas and Flegal were the only ones to go right.
"Addie was able to clear that whole right side and found nobody and while we were doing that the ground pounders found [Bartell] to the left side of the property," said Flegal.
Atlas didn't get any of the credit, and Flegal says that's okay. Atlas was content with a treat and a tennis ball.
"Because we had one dog searching 60 acres by herself that saved all of the people volunteering to go to the left side and I think that's part of the reason why we found her so fast," said Atlas's handler and owner.
Dogs like Atlas are highly reputed in law enforcement circles. When someone goes missing, Flegal says it's impossible to allocate an entire fire department to find that person. Search and rescue dogs like Atlas cover far more ground and do it faster than any person or even group of people can.
"She's an important resource in this area. Right now, we have one other search dog in this area. That's all we have who are certified, "said Flegal.
Flegal says Atlas was in the process of being accepted into the Alabama State Task Force that deploys search and rescue dogs to disasters around the country.
But then, Atlas got sick. Veterinarians were unable to determine the root cause, but the bills were racking up into the thousands.
Starting this weekend, Atlas won't have to worry about those medical bills.
An organization called Spike’s K9 Fund, based out of Virginia, swooped in to cover all of the medical bills.
The group was founded by former Navy Seal James Hatch. Hatch was a K9 handler for years before being wounded in action.
"It was about 11 o clock last night. I got in touch with her and said we'd cover the expenses," said Emily Gray, the CEO of Spike’s K9 Fund. "Then I told her we'd be able to cover the rest because we don't know where it's going to go from here."
It's a program that wouldn't be possible without their network of generous donors.
"We call them our Spike’s pack - all of our donors and supporters. And as soon as we identify a need then we put it out there," said Gray.
That has Atlas's handler and owner floored.
"They haven't given me a limit," said Flegal. "They said get her better and I mean it's amazing that they're willing to pay for it all."
Flegal says Atlas just went through a blood transfusion that didn't work. Next, she'll be given plasma. The diagnosis from her vet is that Atlas has a serious GI bleed although they aren’t sure what is causing it.
The Go Fund Me page for Atlas has been shut off because of the generosity of Spike’s K9 Fund. Flegal says if supporters want to help, they should donate directly to Spike’s K9 Fund.