A Butler County family has been reunited with their pet chihuahua, lost for 19 days in Warren County after a traffic accident.
Lilly, 3, ran off on Oct. 13 after the truck and travel trailer, carrying Veronica and Jim Rigsby and their three Chihuahuas home from a camping celebration of their 27th wedding anniversary, was knocked into the ditch at Ohio 73 and Oregonia Road in a 3-car crash.
The dog was returned to the Rigsbys on Friday, Nov. 1, after weeks of searching involving dozens of helpers — and a consultant.
“Every time we’d start to give up hope, someone else would see her,” Veronica Rigsby said last week.
“She’s our little miracle dog. It’s a miracle we’re alive also, without any major injuries,” she said.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Chihuahua rescued after 19 days on the loose after crash
On Saturday, Oct. 12, the Rigsbys camped at Caesar Creek Lake State Park and attended the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival, in nearby Waynesville.
The next morning, they headed back early to catch the preacher who had married them, Junior Pittman, making a guest appearance at Indian Springs Baptist Church, Hamilton.
“We hadn’t heard him preach in like 18 years,” Rigsby said. “We were excited to come home early that Sunday.”
According to the Ohio Highway Patrol investigation, as the Rigsbys entered the intersection of Ohio 73 and Oregonia Road, the driver of a Ford F150 pick-up westbound on Oregonia Road ran the stop sign.
The Rigsby rig was knocked sideways into the ditch by the collision.
The other truck, driven by Richard A. Miller, 60, of Huntington, W.V., continued across the intersection, spinning into a Nissan Rouge driven by Juanita Copas, 63, of Harveysburg, stopped at the southbound stop sign.
Chihuahuas Zoey, 5, and Sadie,4, wound up in the truck cab dashboard, as the Rigsbys tried to crawl out of the overturned truck, according to Veronica Rigsby.
His wife on top of him, Jim Rigsby was anxious to get out of the truck, in part due to concerns it was about to catch fire, his wife recalled.
“We realized instantly Lilly was gone,” Veronica Rigsby said. “We were worried she was under the truck.”
Both Rigsbys, Miller and Copas were treated at Atrium Medical Center, according to the report.
There were no life-threatening injuries reported.
“I felt God in the truck,” Rigsby said, pointing to the slogan on the t-shirt she was wearing, ”Jesus Take the Wheel,” as evidence of divine intervention.
Miller was cited for failing to obey traffic control devices.
MORE: Ohio pet rescues
In the chaos, Lilly ran off, sparking a search involving village and fire department staff and other residents in the Village of Harveysburg and Massie Twp., where the crash occurred.
“It was a big deal in town. A lot of people were out trying to help find her,” said Massie Twp. Fire Chief Don Fugate, also Harveysburg’s administrator.
Fugate said two firefighters drove up on the crash as they headed into the station and helped pull out the Rigsbys. The firefighters saw “Little Miss Lilly” run across the street as they pulled up.
“It got up in the woods,” Fugate added, estimating more than 30 people helped with the search.
Released from the hospital, the Rigsbys returned the next day and began searching.
“We went straight back up there to look for Lilly”’ and continued for more than a week, Veronica Rigsby said.
Jim Rigsby took a week’s vacation so he could search more.
Village, township, county and state staffers joined the effort.
The search for lost Lilly was posted on Facebook and reported by local media.
“We even had strangers showing up,” Veronica Rigsby added.
Organized grid searches and multiple sightings followed, including one time Lilly came within two feet of the Rigsby’s daughter before running away.
The Rigsbys were aided by Jordina Thorp, who helped rescue K-9 Karson after 63 days lost in Clinton County.
Thorpe said dogs like Lilly go into a “K-9 survival mode trance” and recommended calling off the searches in favor of handing out fliers and otherwise publicizing the search, Rigsby said.
On Friday, Nov. 1, employees of Tincher’s Welding in Harveysburg noticed Lilly go into abandoned warehouse, found Jim Rigsby’s number on Facebook and called.
Unable to immediately get away from work, he called his wife who called the Tincher’s employees.
With food and the sound of Veronica Rigsby’s voice over a speaker phone, Lilly was lured to rescue.
While on the loose, Lilly’s weight dropped from 12 to 7 pounds, and she was being treated for an apparently fractured hip.
“She was pretty skin and bones. He wants her to build her strength up,” Rigsby said in explanation of the delay in x-raying the injury.
So far, Lilly has been unable to get up stairs.
“She’s wagging her tail when the kids come in,” Rigsby said.
On Dec. 6, Lilly is expected to appear — and could even rival Santa Claus —in the annual holiday gathering at the Harveysburg Community Building.
“As long as Lilly is healthy enough,” Rigsby said. “That community searched so hard for her.”
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