The Third family from Brooks, Alberta is whole again after welcoming Vader, who was found near Steinbach, Manitoba, back into the fold.
On the morning of September 28, Jim Third went to clean weeds and brush from a field adjacent to the family’s property with Vader, the family’s two-year-old ranch dog.
Third says he was working near the Trans-Canada Highway while Vader scoured through a weed patch filled with rabbits and rodents.
“He’s usually really good. He stays within a 100 yard radius,” said Third. ““We saw him at 11:30. At 12:00, we went to go for lunch and he was gone.”
“I started walking the ditches worried that he’d gotten clipped by a vehicle.”
Third’s search was unfruitful and he returned to the spot several times in the days that followed, spending hours searching for Vader. The family also visited local veterinary clinics, animal protection societies and their neighbours. “I even went to Volker Stevin, the guys that look after the highway, and let them know., see if they saw a body,” said Vader. “The kids were really good. We made up signs and we posted them all over.”
The family expanded their search to Facebook and a woman from Saskatchewan, who has helped many owners reunite with their pets, assisted the Thirds. “She gave me a lot of direction and helped me post it in the proper places.”
Numerous Vader sightings were reported and Vader would make the trip in the hope of finding the family’s beloved dog. “There’s so many dogs that come close to (Vader’s) description,” said Third. “You get your hopes up and then your hopes are down.”
As Vader’s disappearance entered its fifth week, the family started to lose hope. “We had thought stolen or dead by vehicle.” Third started to plan how to break the news to his children that Vader would not be coming home.
Unbeknownst to the Thirds, the woman from Saskatchewan who had helped with their Facebook postings had posted Vader’s picture and description on a page for reporting stolen dogs in Brandon, Manitoba.
“Someone saw him and posted on Facebook and then they got a hold of us right away,” said Third. ““I tried not to get too excited, and I was out of province at the time so it took a bit to get the pictures, but as soon as I got them I knew.”
Vader had been spotted near Steinbach, Manitoba, roughly 1,200 kilometres from his home and a team of Good Samaritans started the process of getting the dog back to Alberta.
According to Third, animal control staff and volunteers searched for and located Vader. On November 3, the dog was transported to a local kennel that offered to care for him, free of charge, until a ride to Alberta could be arranged.
“You’re watching all this and they’re keeping you up-to-date and you’re patiently waiting,” said Third. “You know you could drive out there or your friends are close by, but there’s so many people involved that you want them to go through the excitement. It was awesome.”
On Thursday night, a transport truck pulled into a parking lot near Brooks where the Third family anxiously awaited a reunion with their dog.
"Maggie’s truck showed up and we knew it was her right away because they described it to us,” recalled Third. “The kids’ faces just lit right up.”
“You could hear her let the dog out and as soon as he came across the corner we knew right away.”
The Thirds eagerly embraced their dog who was healthy, well fed and had a clean coat. Vader’s return filled a void that had lasted 42 days. “He’s a member of your family and he was gone that long. You don’t realize what a good dog you have, or a good anything, until it’s gone.”
Third suspects that someone drove the dog to Manitoba and panicked after discovering the stolen dog posts on social media. “It’s frustrating that people would just take a random dog. There’s not many people that don’t treat a dog like part of the family. It’s like kidnapping but different. It’s a furry kidnapping.”
Despite the prolonged absence, Third said he never considered replacing Vader.
“There’s no way I’m going to go through a new dog again. This one was just too perfect.”
With files from CTV's Jordan Kanygin