For 30 years, 62-year-old veteran Rusty Reed lived like a loner. Aided by two donkeys, Reed traveled across the western United States, sleeping in tents and living off of the land.
But when his old knees gave out and his donkeys died, the veteran knew he needed to find a new way to travel. Reed now lives in a converted 1975 Ford F100, outfitted with a camper shell and a camouflage paint job.
In 2009, while traveling in Washington State, Reed ran into an acquaintance that owed him some money. The acquaintance gave Reed the choice between cash and a puppy. Reed chose the puppy, and man and dog have been best friends ever since. Timber, an Alaskan Malamute–German Shepherd mix, is Reed’s constant companion.
Three years later, Reed and Timber befriended a fellow traveler while staying in Flagstaff. Sue Rogers, a blogger, spent time chatting with Reed. She brought along her two dogs, Spike and Badger, and talked to Reed about what it’s like to live a nomadic life. Reed didn’t have much use for technology out on the road, but he did have a cell phone for emergencies. Rogers exchanged cell phone numbers with Reed, not knowing that their friendship would one day prove fateful four months later.
When Reed opened his camper door one morning to greet his dog, Timber was nowhere in sight. He’d broken free from his 50-foot leash and collar to go wandering in the southern Utah wilderness.
Heartbroken, Reed grabbed his cane and wandered the paths around his camper, searching for Timber. Wildfires raged nearby, but Reed pressed on, desperate to find Timber. Reed searched for days until the air filled with smoke so thick he could no longer breathe. Filled with grief, Reed threw away his beloved dog’s belongings, Timber’s food and toys. The only thing he couldn’t bear to part with was Timber’s walking leash, a reminder of all their journeys and hikes together.
For the first time since meeting Timber three years ago, Reed found himself unbearably alone. In need of a friend, Reed called Sue Rogers, the woman he and Timber had met four months earlier.
Rogers, who at the time had stopped off in Oregon, listened as Reed told her of Timber’s disappearance. Rogers wrote about Reed’s story later that night. “Rusty starts a tale I immediately sense is not going to have a happy ending,” Rogers recalled on her blog.
It was August 26, shortly after midnight when Rogers posted the story of Reed and his dog Timber on her blog. What happened next was something joyous and unexpected.
Rogers’ 450 followers began posting comments, many expressing their condolences to Reed for his loss. But one commenter, a retired police officer from New York, put her research skills to work. She began scouring the web for “found dog” posts, focusing on shelters and animal control facilities in southern Utah.
At 2:19 that afternoon, the commenter sent Rogers a report of a Shepherd mix found near the town of Loa, Utah. Rogers contacted the person who had found the dog, including pictures of Timber in her email.
When Daisy Pettem opened the email attachments from her house in Boulder, Colorado, she couldn’t believe it.
“Timber?” Pettem said to the skinny dog sitting at her feet. When his ears perked up, Pettem knew that the dog her father had found during a camping trip in Utah was Rusty Reed’s missing companion.
At 6:20 that evening, Rogers posted a victory message to her blog: “IT LOOKS LIKE WE MAY HAVE FOUND TIMBER!,” the blogger wrote excitedly.
When Rogers called Reed, the veteran was overjoyed. He could hardly believe that, after so much time, Timber was alive. He called Daisy Pettem and spoke to his long lost pup through the phone. Though his old Ford truck was busted, Reed vowed that he would use his military pension check to fix it up so he could make the 700-mile trip to reunite with Timber.
Reed finally made that trip Sunday, and he and Timber are on the road again, just like old times. “Rusty and Timber back together again,” Rogers blogged. “What a happy day!”