Dog survives 8 week ordeal

BY SARAH LAMONT
Last updated 05:00 14/10/2010
Lou Peterson
BARRY HARCOURT\The Southland Times
GOOD OLD GIRL: Lou Peterson is reunited with his 16-year-old labrador after giving her up for dead when she went missing for eight weeks.

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A 16-year-old labrador survived eight weeks trapped in a tunnelhouse by using her own body fat to sustain her and getting water from a hole in a roof.

Riverton man Lou Peterson said there were tears of joy when his old dog, Gail, walked up their driveway on Tuesday.

The family pet, who had been given up for dead, was found by a neighbour in an unused tunnelhouse across the road where she had survived one of Southland's heaviest snowfalls and spent the past eight weeks with no food.

"Its amazing ... I just cannot believe it."

Gail went missing on the opening weekend of the whitebait season, while her owners were away.

She had pushed the tunnelhouse door open, walked in and then the door had shut behind her, Mr Peterson said.

"What she went in for I don't know ... she never goes away as a rule."

Searchers did not think she would be inside because the door was shut and therefore did not look, Mr Peterson said.

"We hunted. We had the neighbours hunting and we were in touch with the ranger."

Gail was deaf, had a bad hip and did not bark, which made it harder to find her, he said.

There had been stories told about that breed of dog going away to die and they thought that might have happened, he said.

Expecting the worst, the family cancelled her registration and sold her kennel.

There was a hole in the tunnelhouse roof, so rain and snow would have provided some water, he said.

Gail, who was a healthy size before she disappeared, was now eating small meals to "bring her back quietly", Mr Peterson said. Yesterday had been a big morning for the dog, with neighbours and family members coming to see her, he said.

She would sleep in the garage on the carpet for the rest of her life, he said.

"I hope she's got a while in her after all of this."

VetSouth Ltd veterinarian Jeff Herkt said for a 16-year-old dog with potential health challenges to survive eight weeks without food was remarkable.

Not having any food would have been a significant stress on her and she would have had to rely on her own body fat to survive, he said. Dehydration was more critical than malnutrition, and without any water she would have lasted only about four days, he said.

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