HEWITT, Texas (KWTX) Wednesday marked the one-year-anniversary of the end of one of the biggest dog chases Central Texas has ever seen.
(Photo by Rissa Shaw)
On Sept. 12, 2017, Gus the Basset Hound, who had alluded police and search groups for weeks, was finally captured after 52-days on the run.
"I don't know how we did it," said owner MarLee Riel. "It was hard and sad, and so now we freak out anytime he gets close to the door."
Gus ran away last July when he was accidentally let out by maintenance workers at the rental home MarLee and her husband Bobby were living in at the time in Hewitt.
"He was with us when we got married, he was on our wedding invitations…everything,” said Riel. “I mean...he's our baby.”
Despite people telling them to move on, the Riel's never gave up hope; they hired a pet detective and professional rescuers out of Dallas, used drones, and enlisted the help of dozens of volunteers who spent many days and nights trying to track down the dog.
"I never really thought it would get as big as it did," said Riel. "The community of Hewitt just grabbed our hands and really helped us, and we are extremely blessed and thankful for that."
Regular ‘Gus sightings’ and failed attempts to get the stubborn dog to ‘come’ drew more and more interest and help, and as a result, the dog’s location was pin-pointed to a large, overgrown field off Ritchie Road: although it was technically in Waco’s jurisdiction, neighboring Hewitt Police got involved with the search, in part to protect the property owner as well-intentioned citizens were coming on the private land day and night in search of the lost pup.
After setting up traps night after night, animal control officers eventually caught Gus, luring him with food in a large trap they’d placed underneath an open barn on the property.
Reflecting back on the event, Chief Jim Devlin said it was one of the ‘wildest’ events he’s ever been a part of.
“This was probably one of the craziest animal issues that we've had or I've ever had in my career,” Devlin told KWTX Wednesday. “If he'd stayed out there probably much longer…he would have died or been struck by a car trying to cross the road, so it (catching him) was a 'win win,' and I'm glad we actually put forth the effort to get it done.”
After he was caught, officers took Gus to the vet to be checked out: he was underweight, dehydrated and tired, but in decent shape considering he was alone in the wilderness for seven weeks without a stable food source.
A year later, the Basset has bounced back: he looks healthy and is back to his normal, stubborn self.
While he remains the same loveable “grouch,” a lot has changed for Gus since his homecoming: his parents purchased their first house which they moved into a few days ago, and he isn’t the only hound of the house anymore…he has a new, four-legged little brother named Woodrow.
"Woodrow absolutely loves Gus, but Gus absolutely hates Woodrow,” said Riel.
Reminiscent of Gus but on a lesser scale, the Riel’s adopted the orphaned Basset Hound after he too was on the loose, spurring a search in Waco in which ended when a firefighter found the dog’s head stuck in a fence.
To ensure their two escape hounds stay put, Riel’s husband Bobby hand built a fence in their new backyard.
"Now he’s getting his doggie door installed,” said Riel. “We’re just hoping he stays in the backyard.”
Devlin had a similar message for the dog on his “Gus-iversary.”
"Make sure you stay home Gus...don't come back out,” Devlin laughed. "I mean I like him, but I don't think he likes me very much, so I just want him to stay where he is and make sure we put a GPS collar on him."
Nicknamed the “Houdini Hound,” Gus might now be the most famous (and famously stubborn) dog in Central Texas.
Since the story came out last year, Riel says they've been sent paintings, post-cards, even pillows with illustrations of Gus on them.
"We had a garage sale, and people came to our garage sale and they told us they were just coming because they knew we were Gus' parents,” said Riel.
The adventure inspired a movement called “Team Gus” and a resulting fundraiser to get the City of Hewitt its own thermal drone for future pet and people searches.
A Hewitt woman helped raise half of the money for the drone by selling T-shirts and koozies with Gus' likeness on them.
Hewitt PD has budgeted to pay for the other half.
Devlin said they’ve contacted a vendor and the drone should be up and ready to go by the end of the year.
He says they’ve already thought of a possible name for it – “Gus One.”