Montgomery County’s No. 1 dog license issued this year went to Duke, a cane corso feared lost but reunited with his owners Semico and Anthony Harden more than four months after they were separated by a Memorial Day tornado. The dog and its owners from Trotwood are seen at an event Wednesday promoting the sale of 2020 dog tags, which go up in cost after Jan. 31. CHRIS STEWART/STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Dog lost in tornado nearly 5 months granted county’s No. 1 license

The tornado tore apart Semico and Anthony Harden’s house in the Westbrooke Village neighborhood and ripped apart the fence surrounding their backyard, where they had last seen Duke, their cane corso, before the storm.

“We don’t know if he actually ran off, or if the storm carried him off,” said Semico Harden. “But he wasn’t there.”

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Walking the Path of the Storm

Duke and two other dogs were presented with the first three tags of 2020 by Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith at an event Wednesday to promote the sale of dog licenses, which will double in cost after Jan. 31.

Licenses through the end of the month are $20 for dogs spayed or neutered, $24 for those unaltered.

Keith said about 23,000 licenses have been purchased or renewed this year. The number is expected to arrive at about 60,000, typical for a normal year. But estimates based on census figures suggest the number of dogs in the county could be double that, he said.

“We think we are licensing a little more than half,” Keith said. “So about half the dogs are typically going unlicensed.”

About $1.34 million in license revenue accounted for roughly 38% of the Animal Resource Center’s total 2019 revenue of $3.53 million, according to the auditor’s office.

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Purchasing a tag is one way to ensure lost pets are returned to owners, said Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman.

“This is truly your dog’s ticket home,” she said. “If they are separated and they have their tag we are going to find where they go right away.”

Beginning last year, Montgomery County animal care and control officers were equipped with tablet computers able to access animal owner information in multiple databases from the field, said Robert Sexton, animal care and control officer supervisor. Each officer also has a scanner to pull microchip data, technology also integrated on the tablet.

“Our hope is that we would not have to bring it back to our facility. We want to get the dog home,” Sexton said. “We don’t want to bring them in. It’s stressful on the animal, it’s stressful on everybody all around.”

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Sorely missed

The Harden family searched day after day, month after month for Duke, who is two and half. With their home nearly destroyed, the family moved to a rental house in Vandalia, making the search for Duke more complicated.

Duke was sorely missed by the Hardens, their 17-year-old son and infant daughter, Semico said.

“He’s a family dog. He’s really, really friendly. He’s extremely good with children,” she said. “Although he’s really, really big and mighty, he’s completely harmless. He’s just a lovable dog. He’s a big Teddy bear.”

The family posted Duke’s picture online and put fliers on posts around town and in businesses.

“We plastered signs all over the place trying to find him,” Semico said.

Calls came in of potential sightings: Duke was possibly spotted along Main Street; seen roaming along Germantown Street; living in the woods near Shiloh Springs and Olive Road.

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When it wasn’t raining, Anthony searched and left food at the reported sites.

“I really hunted him down,” he said.

Another caller saw Duke’s picture up at a laundromat. It looked like the same dog he had seen earlier, also in the woods near Shiloh Springs and Olive Road.

Anthony raced out to investigate. It was the second tip reporting the same location.

“I saw some paw prints,” he said. “I knew it was my dog from the prints.”

He retrieved a T-shirt and a pair of shoes from home and and set them out at the woods’ edge.

“The next morning Duke was laying right there at the T-shirt and the shoes,” Anthony said. “He just ran and jumped on me. Like he was happy.”

It was Oct. 18.

“He was only like five minutes away from our home, but he was missing for four and a half months,” Semico said.

MORE: What we learned walking the path of the storm

Anthony said Duke shed some of his 150 pounds through the ordeal and possibly sustained an injury to his hind left leg.

“He lost a little weight. He had a limp that he didn’t have before. Maybe during the tornado something might have hit him,” Anthony said. “You can’t tell when he’s running.”

The family was out of their home until just before Christmas. Earlier this week a new fence went up for Duke and his companion Duchess.

Duke was unlicensed, said his owners. Though it’s unclear if a tag would have brought Duke home quicker, the Hardens say it might have greatly improved the odds.

“Getting tagged like that is extremely important,” Semico said. “Had he had a tag and collar we probably would have gotten him back a lot sooner than we did.”

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