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The legend of Pearl the dog

Good Dirt

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Tom Caughlan and daughter Scarlet pose with no-longer-wand'rin Pearl. - TIM BERGSTEN
  • Tim Bergsten
  • Tom Caughlan and daughter Scarlet pose with no-longer-wand'rin Pearl.

I was born under a wand'rin star... — Lee Marvin

Pearl the dog would be held by no man. At least that's the way it seemed to Tom Caughlan as he chased her for most of the night through Rock Ledge Ranch and Garden of the Gods.

Pearl was a rescue from the Humane Society, an otterhound mix with a mellow disposition. Caughlan brought her home on April 3, 2015. She stayed with him for a short four hours, and then made her break from his Pleasant Valley home when he opened the backyard gate for a second.

"She got by me at the fence, then turned around and looked at me and bolted," he says.

And so began the legend of Pearl. She wore a collar with Tom's contact information attached, but for 22 months she roamed the foothills neighborhoods — living a hobo's life — in and around Manitou Springs. Tom set live traps. He regularly spoke with the sergeant at animal control. "We'd have a Pearl sighting, I'd call and they would send people out, but she would be gone. She wasn't a priority because she wasn't a dangerous dog."

Caughlan, 38, works as the supervisor of behavioral health at Penrose Hospital. He is an ultrarunner with many friends in the running community. He never gave up on Pearl, and neither did his friends.

"I was always looking for her, [and] I came close twice," says John Teisher, who lives near Tom. "Once I was out walking my dog, turned a corner, and Pearl was right there. My dog and Pearl sniffed each other, but as I was reaching out to grab Pearl's collar she jumped away.

"Another time, my wife came running into the house saying Pearl was in our front yard. We grabbed a leash and chased her all over the neighborhood, but she always stayed just out of reach. She was quite often mentioned on the Pleasant Valley email group as well. Sort of the unofficial mascot of the Valley."

Pearl knew the tricks of living free. Each time somebody would see her, the report was the same.

"Everyone said she looked kind of chubby," Tom says. Teisher spotted her several times and said Pearl always seemed happy. Once, while Tom was driving down Manitou Avenue, Pearl darted in front of his car. On several occasions he saw her in the neighborhood.

Feeding a dog may be the quickest way to win its heart. He kept hot dogs, beef jerky and cheese sticks in the car, jumping out to throw them to Pearl. But she kept moving.

"I've never seen a pet owner go through what Tom went through to try to get her back," says Karen Kantor, a runner who spotted Pearl and chased her across the mesa above Garden of the Gods. "I think she was being fed and taking shelter in a construction area."

Pearl had gained some fame among Tom's friends, who chided him regularly. One Facebook meme featured a depiction of Pearl with the words "I Believe."

"I gave Tom shit all the time, and continue to do so," Teisher says. "Whenever I would see her on his side of 31st, I'd text him something like, "She's coming for you. You should probably get your family to safety."

Veterinarian John Sudduth says Pearl's behavior is common among some dogs.

"Dogs have unique personalities and temperament," Sudduth says. "Dogs and people bond strongly, but it takes time for that to happen. She may have at some point developed a mistrust of people, or never had a positive experience. When dogs get like that, they'll become scavengers, like a coyote. There have even been situations when they'll become part of the pack and run with the coyotes and become more or less semi-wild."

As it turns out, Pearl had made some friends.

"I have no idea how any people fed her, but I got a text from a woman who said she had put out food for her for a year," Tom says.

And then, as quickly as she left, Pearl gave up her life on the streets. Tom received a text in early February. Pearl had been spotted near Garden of the Gods. Later that evening she followed a neighbor's dog into their home and laid down on their dog's bed. Her odyssey had ended.

"She came home on her own terms," Tom says. "I think she had seen enough dogs going in and out of houses. She'd seen them sleep in warm places and get food. I think she told herself, I give up. We got her home and her collar was completely bleached and the tags were gone."

Pearl joined Tom and his daughter, Scarlet, on a walk in Rock Ledge Ranch two weeks ago. Pearl was peaceful on her leash, sniffing noses with other dogs who passed by.

"Who knows what she has seen? She is not beat up, never was attacked, so far as we can tell. A dislocated toenail is the only problem the vet could find."

She had lived on the streets for two entire Colorado winters. Surviving with instincts and a keen savvy.

"I really have to thank everybody else who saw her, chased her, fed her," Tom says. "Despite my best efforts, the closest I ever got to her was about 20 feet."

It seems the secrets of Pearl the wand'rin dog's adventure will remain known to only her.

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