Copper
Dana Harlow holds his 8-year-old beagle, Copper, in his Brownsville home Thursday afternoon. Copper ran away over three years ago, and the two were reunited recently after a hiker found the beagle in McDonald Forest in Corvallis. (Jesse Skoubo/Gazette-Times)

The tail of Copper the beagle isn’t very impressive right now. It’s missing a lot of hair and wags timidly, shyly.

But the tale of Copper the beagle? Now, that’s something else.

Copper is about 8 years old. She came to Oregon as a puppy from Washington, where she was born. Her owner is Dana Harlow of Brownsville, who named her after the dog in his favorite Disney movie, “The Fox and the Hound.”

About a week ago, Copper was found wandering in McDonald Forest in north Corvallis.

Harlow, now 21, hadn’t seen her in three years.

A cry in the forest

Marsha Swanson of North Albany was hiking in McDonald Forest with her friend, Julie Hockensmith, on Feb. 6 when they heard a dog howling.

“It sounded terribly in distress,” Swanson said.

As they continued walking, the sound got louder, but they couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Swanson started calling to the animal, and eventually a dog emerged from the forest and came over to her.

The dog, a beagle, was anxious and seemed to have a destination in mind.

“She was clearly upset and distraught, but she wanted to get to where she wanted to get to,” Swanson said.

As it happened, Swanson’s dog had briefly disappeared in the forest the week before. She wasn’t about to leave this dog alone. Swanson put a leash on the beagle and began to lead her back to the road.

The beagle looked neglected. Its skin was swollen, and its toenails were so long they had started to curl under. Even sitting, the dog could hardly bear to put weight on her front feet.

“She was just in really sad shape,” Swanson said.

Connection

Swanson took the dog to River’s Edge Pet Clinic in North Albany.  The dog had a bad case of fleas, some growths and ear infections.

The office scanned for a microchip and got a hit: Karen Ridley in Brownsville.

Ridley is Harlow’s mother, and she was the one who answered the phone. When the voice at the other end said they’d found Copper, “we were in complete disbelief,” Harlow said.

Ridley cautioned Dana against getting their hopes up. But when they walked in and saw the dog — even though years had passed — they were sure.

“It was pretty obvious that it was her,” Harlow said.

Harlow and Ridley were excited, but Swanson was wary. She didn’t know it had been three years since Harlow had seen Copper and was concerned about the dog going back to its owner. Wanting to prevent further neglect, she called the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.

Harlow didn’t expect to have to talk to a deputy, but he had no problem explaining the unusual situation.

Swanson was relieved to discover Copper is back where she belongs: “I’m really happy to hear the real, right people are getting the dog.”

Escape

No one’s sure how Copper got to the woods, but the journey began when she ran away from Brownsville.

Three years ago, Harlow also had another beagle, Trapper. Trapper and Copper were best friends. They also were masters of escape.

The property had underground electric fencing, but the clever dogs figured out that they could get just close enough to make the warning sound go off, which eventually would kill the batteries.

“They’d be out there just waiting for the batteries to die,” Harlow said.

And once they got out, they exhibited the classic beagle behavior; they followed their noses. So when Copper ran off one day in 2007, Harlow assumed she’d come back sooner or later. But she didn’t.

“I figured I’d never see her again,” he said.

Mystery years

What exactly happened to the little dog in the three years between her escape and return is a mystery.

“We’re guessing that she was probably living with someone,” Harlow said.

When she was found, Copper wasn’t skinny, and she had a growth on her neck that looked like it had swollen around a collar.

Harlow wonders if someone picked her up around his house. That might explain how Copper managed to end up across Interstate 5 and the Willamette River from Brownsville. But clearly, whoever took Copper in finally decided they couldn’t or wouldn’t care for her any longer.

Recovery

Copper’s health issues are being addressed. She’s been to the vet — Lebanon Animal Clinic, the same place she went before her disappearance — and is expected to make a full recovery.

She does have some bald spots on her back and tail, but the hair is growing back. As soon as her skin is better, she’ll have surgery to remove the benign growths.

Harlow is not sure she recognizes her name, but she remembers some of her former life. When she first came back, Harlow said, she bee-lined for his room, which is where a kennel/crate had been set up. She waited patiently for Harlow to set it up again, then went inside and took a nap.

Copper still is shy around people, but she does cautiously wag her tail when greeted. She’s walking around and even runs and plays a little with the household’s chihuahua.

New  tags for Copper’s collar are on their way. They’ll go well with her latest accessory: a leash.

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