Friends, neighbors and strangers join search for lost dog

Sue Modlinski with her 2-year-old German shepherd, Zeke, who disappeared into the woods behind their Gainesville-area home on New Year’s Day.

Sue Modlinski says Zeke "was telling me he wanted to go bed" when this photo was taken of him with his head through the stair railing. She added that it might not have been sleep Zeke was pining for, but rather the routine bedtime treat he usually got.

Gainesville residents Len and Sue Modlinski lost their dog, Zeke, last week. But in the process of searching for him, they found a renewed appreciation for their fellow Ozark Countians. 

Two-year-old Zeke, a skinny German shepherd, disappeared from the Modlinskis’ home on County Road 806, west of the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department, on New Year’s Day. “I took him outside, and there were eight deer in the front yard that I couldn’t see,” Len said. “Zeke ran after them. We discourage him from doing it, but he’ll still do it every once in a while. Usually he runs into the woods, and in five minutes or so he comes back. But that day, he didn’t come back.”

After a half hour or so, Len and Sue went into the woods on ATVs, calling Zeke. But he was nowhere to be found. They contacted their neighbors, who checked their properties and couldn’t find him. The Modlinskis were heartbroken. “Not knowing where he was, what was happening to him, it was really hard,” Sue said. “The pain of losing him didn’t go away, but I turned it over to God, as far as the outcome.”

Over the next few days, they searched the woods again and again and asked friends and neighbors to be on the lookout for Zeke. One of the friends they told was Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed.

“He knew what it was doing to us, especially to Sue,” Len said. “It was that uncertainty of not knowing where and how he was.”

Reed posted a photo of Zeke on his Facebook page, with its 2,300 followers, and asked anyone with information to call the sheriff’s office. The Ozark County Times, with its 15,000 Facebook followers, also shared the post.

Friday morning, the Modlinskis got a call from someone who lives on County Road 803C, which is off old Highway 5 in the area around Sims Cemetery.


Searching for Zeke

“He said he and his wife and father live there on 803, and they had see the dog Wednesday night. He said they have a big compost pile, and they thought he was eating out of that. They said he was clean and in pretty good shape,” Len said. “They didn’t see the Facebook post until Thursday night, and they called Friday morning.” 

Len had no idea where County Road 803C is, so he called Reed. 

“He and [Chief Deputy] Winston Collins took me out there. It was raining so bad that morning. We were in the woods, calling him, but got no response,” Len said. 

Len said it’s about a 15-minute drive from their house on the west end of County Road 806 to the site on County Road 803C where Zeke had been spotted. “But if you go through the woods, as the crow flies – it’s difficult terrain, and you’ve got to be a dog or a deer to do it – it’s not that far,” he said. He returned to the area Friday afternoon and spent the rest of the day there, searching and calling.

“I stopped at all the houses and talked to everyone,” he said. “People here are great. We’re both from Chicago, and we’re just amazed at how the people down here will band together and go out of their way to help other people.”

The Modlinskis do their own helping of other people. Saturday morning, Len was at Sampson Lodge in Theodosia to help serve the Masons’ regular first-Saturday community breakfast. Sue was out on County Road 803 with some flyers she’d made up.

“I know it’s illegal – I told her not to do it – but anyway, she was putting them in mailboxes,” Len said. “Then, later, the mail lady called Michelle Anderson, who’s a good friend of Sue. The mail lady said she was pretty sure the dog was there where they’re rebuilding the kingdom hall on Highway 160, but across the road. She told Michelle, ‘It looks like the dog.’”

Michelle called Sue, who was still out on County Road 803. As Sue was hurrying back into town and then west on Highway 160, Len, still at the Masonic lodge in Theodosia, got a call from Kevin Meek, who keeps horses on the Modlinskis’ property. 

“He and his wife, Chrystal, were at the sale barn on 160 and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got your dog here by the sale barn,’” said Len. 

Meek clarified: “I don’t have him. He’s on the other side of the road. But when Chrystal calls his name, he lifts his head up. And then he runs back into the woods.”

Sue got the word and joined the Meeks at the sale barn. They showed her where Zeke had gone into the woods. Then Robert Merriman, the Modlinskis’ neighbor, joined them. They all looked around the area, calling Zeke, but had no luck.

“Then Robert said, ‘You know, we’re fairly close to your house. He may be trying to get home. Someone should go check the house,’” Len said.

He did just that, and sure enough, “as I pulled up to the house, here he comes, walking up the hill to the front door. He saw me and the truck, and boy, he came running,” he said.


‘Everyone involved was so helpful’

Zeke was in “pretty bad shape” after his four-day backwoods adventure. “He’s not hurt or cut, but his feet are swollen, and he just wasn’t in good shape,” Len said. “We’re extremely lucky. I think if he had spent one more night out in the woods he wouldn’t have made it.”

   Len believes when Zeke first took off, he must have made it all the way to the home of the family on County Road 803C. “But he must have been disoriented, and that’s why he didn’t come right back. Obviously, by the time he was seen on Saturday afternoon, he was trying to find his way home,” he said.

The experience confirmed what the Modlinskis found when they first bought a home in Theodosia in 2007 while Len was still working as a commander in the Chicago transit police and Sue was director of a police dispatch center. They moved here permanently in 2009 after both had retired. “When we moved here from Chicago, we saw how nice the people are, and how wonderful it is to be here,” Len said. “This week, I was thinking about all the assistance we got from friends and from total strangers – the guy who lives out in the middle of the woods, his wife saw it on Facebook and he did what he could, put food out for Zeke. Totally, everyone involved was so helpful. And of course we have nothing but high praise for the sheriff’s department.” 

Len said he had thought of putting something in the Times, “But then I thought, we had a lost dog. When you compare that to all the stuff going on in the world today, it’s not really a big deal. But it was for us. It was our best friend, our family member, our protector. All those things. And the way people stepped up to help us was really special. We’re so blessed to live here.”

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423