Lost woman’s dog bites her rescuer
When a chain came undone and two of Vina Kaspereit’s dogs disappeared last week from her home off County Road 803 north of Gainesville, she went into the woods looking for them. Luckily, she carried with her an inactive phone that she used mainly as a watch. The battery was almost dead, but she didn’t think she’d be gone long.
“When the dogs didn’t come home, I knew there was a problem because usually they don’t leave the property,” Vina, 73, told the Times Monday.
She wandered through the woods for two hours that frigid Tuesday evening, Jan. 29, one of the coldest days of the season, fighting through thick briars and brush. It was late afternoon, and she knew she needed to be back home by 4:30 or so to put her ducks and geese in the henhouse “or else they would go out into the tall grass and hide,” she said.
Also, she said, she has three parrots in her house, “and they have to be warm at night.”
Tired, weary and anxious about the ducks, geese and parrots back home, she was almost ready to give up when, finally, she heard barking.
She struggled through more brambles until she spotted one of the dogs, Toby, in the distance. “At first he didn’t recognize me, but then you could see, when he recognized me, he was so relieved,” she said.
Toby and the other dog, Penny, are 5-year-old, German shepherd-Australian shepherd siblings. “Toby has to go everywhere Penny goes,” Vina said. “And he won’t go anywhere without her.”
Penny was dragging the chain that had connected the two dogs in Vina’s yard. “I’ve tried every clip they make, and they don’t make any that will last long at all with Penny,” she said.
As the two dogs ran through the woods, the malfunctioning clip on Penny’s trailing chain had gotten caught on a fence, and loyal partner Toby stayed next to her.
Tangled in briars
Vina had finally found her dogs, but she didn’t want to go back home the way she had come, through all the briars and brambles. “I thought I’d go a better way, but I had ended up in a neighborhood in the forest I wasn’t familiar with,” she said. “I tried two ways, walking along the creek and then going back up and staying on top, but I couldn’t figure it out.”
And besides that, she was back in the briars and brambles, tangled up and frustrated. “I wasn’t afraid, really. I’m not scared of the dark,” she said. “But the overnight forecast was really cold – I’d heard one that said 9 degrees, and another that said 4.” Watching the sun drop lower in the sky, she remembered the phone she was carrying in her pocket. Even inactive phones can call 911, and that’s what Vina did.
Ozark County Sheriff’s Dispatcher Curtis Ledbetter took the call at 4:52 p.m. – and immediately paged out any available emergency personnel.
Tecumseh Volunteer Fire Department chief Nathanael Winrod was in Gainesville, picking up his kids from basketball practice, when he heard the call on his radio. He and at least eight other volunteer firefighters from Tecumseh, Lick Creek, Pontiac Price Place, Gainesville and Timber Knob responded to the call and converged on a staging area on County Road 809, off Highway 160 west of the Gainesville Livestock Auction, according to this week’s sheriff’s report (see page 8). Ozark County Ambulance also responded.
Good guidance from the dispatcher
Winrod and Pontiac / Price Place VFD chief Art Streigle were two of the first ones there. Ledbetter had the geophysical coordinates that were automatically transmitted from Vina’s cell phone, and he had checked that location on Google maps, Winrod said. Winrod opened Google maps on his phone, and the two men looked at the aerial photos and discussed where Vina might be.
“I had really good guidance from the dispatcher,” Winrod said. “He was looking at Google maps, and he described a clearing in the trees. I looked at Google maps on my phone, and I thought I knew about where she was. Art went toward another clearing.”
Winrod drove to the end of County Road 809 and continued on through an open gate and into a field. “I drove as close as I could and then got out and ran about 300 yards toward the area the dispatcher was describing. I hollered for her but never heard her,” he said. “But I kept going, and when I got real close, I heard her talking on the phone. By chance, I had gone straight to her.”
It was 5:29 p.m., less than an hour from the time Vina first called 911. But it was getting dark.
Winrod asked Vina if she was OK. “It was cold, and the temperature was dropping,” he said.
She told him, “I’m hung up in the briars. I’m fine if I could just get out of the briars.”
Biting the rescuer
“She had the two dogs on the leash, and she had briars all stuck to her back,” Winrod said. “I walked to within 6 feet of her and was talking to her. When I stuck my hand out to help her, I guess that was a sign to the dog that I was a threat.”
Toby bit Winrod on the leg, right above the knee.
“It poked a hole in my jeans and broke the skin,” Winrod said. “I told her she would have to get herself out of the briars.”
Vina said later, “It was the whole set of circumstances. Toby was already scared and stressed, and here [Nathanael] was in that bright orange coat, coming at me. So when he put his hand toward me, Toby snapped at him.”
After she managed to extract herself from the briars, Nathanael walked ahead of Vina and the dogs, leading them back to the pickup. He helped her load Penny into the truck bed. “The other dog knew it was in trouble,” he said. “I didn’t mess with it.”
The next day, Winrod went to the medical clinic for a tetanus shot. The dog bite was reported to the Ozark County Health Department, which has specific procedures to follow in such cases to ensure the animal doesn’t have rabies – or, when the animal can’t be found, to urge the bite victim to begin the rabies innoculations, said Craig Fox, the department’s environmental public health specialist, adding that rabies is 100 percent fatal – “or at least 99 percent.”
Fox said he couldn’t discuss any individual cases, but Vina confirmed that OCHD employees “came out and asked me to keep Toby chained, which I do anyway.”
Vina told the Times she vaccinated her dogs herself, to save money, and that Toby had had a rabies shot.
Meanwhile, Winrod said Monday, the bite is healing and is now mostly a big bruise.
A second rescue
Ironically, this is not the first time he has helped rescue Vina. After her house burned in November 2016, Winrod was one of a group of Tecumseh-area residents and firefighters who built her a small, new home on the same site. The effort, led by Steve Ator, now the Ozark County emergency planning director, was described in a Jan. 18, 2017, story in the Times.
Vina said Monday, “I really appreciate how fast they got to me. It took less than an hour. It was so strange to see that so many people turned out.”
She said that when she was a little girl her father had taught her, “no matter how bad anything gets, always look for the good of what God is trying to teach you.”
The good thing about getting lost last week was that “I know I’ve got good friends. And I think Toby and Penny have learned not to take off so fast.”
In the future, she said, “if anyone goes missing, I have a bag of plastic ribbons, and before I head out I’m going to grab that bag and tie the ribbons as I go, so I can find my way home.”