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Panicky pooch runs into arms of rescuers

Julie Buntjer/daily globe Teresa Hieronimus of Worthington holds onto Chili, a Lhasa apso-cross dog who ran away from his truck driving owner Friday noon at the Travel Plaza and was rescued by local dog lovers.

WORTHINGTON -- He may be known as Chili to his owner, but for a handful of rescuers, a lost Lhasa apso-cross canine who will soon be reunited with his truck driver companion should have the spelling of his name changed to Chilly.

A hint of frostbite on his tail and a timid look in his eyes help to tell the tale of what this little dog has been through over the past several days.

On Saturday afternoon, with temperatures hovering in single digits and the wind making it feel downright frigid, Chili wandered onto a rural Worthington home -- some three or four miles from the truck stop where he got spooked and fled from his owner Friday afternoon.

Heidi and Jarett Hanten were just about to leave their farm yard when they noticed an unfamiliar lump on their front steps and decided to check things out. They were glad they did.

There, huddled up in a ball, was a pretty little pooch who certainly wasn't meant to be an outside dog. The Hantens, who live near the Interstate 90 weigh station east of Worthington, feared they were too late, but then Jarett -- thinking it may have been the neighbor's dog -- called out the name Butterscotch.

An ear perked up, and the Hantens went into rescue mode, getting the dog into one of their portable kennels and coaxing him to eat some food.

"I'm kind of flabbergasted that he made it as far as he did," said Heidi, adding that the dog could have followed I-90 or traversed cross-country through farm fields and along Okabena Creek.

"He was pretty cold and had icicles hanging from him everywhere," Hanten said.

The Hantens put the pooch inside their heated garage and then called Heidi's sister to see if she could take him. The dog had a collar, but no tags.

"We didn't want a house dog -- we have outside dogs," Hanten said.

By Saturday night, the dog had been picked up by Robin Ober and her son, Cody, of Rushmore.

"We tried petting it so it wasn't scared," said 15-year-old Cody. "We had sweatshirts and bundled it up in those."

The Obers didn't have room for another dog either, so they delivered Chili to Teresa Hieronimus in Worthington. Hieronimus is known to take in strays and find good homes for them -- when she can't find the owner. Over the years, about 350 dogs have passed through her East Avenue home.

With the holiday weekend, Hieronimus had few options for solving this canine conundrum quickly. Since it had a recent haircut, her first move was to call the dog groomers she knew in hopes that his description would jog someone's memory of the owner. After each call led to a dead end, Hieronimus tried to reach city dog catcher Virgil Veen, but he wasn't able to respond.

With few options left, Hieronimus and Chili made a trip to the Veterinary Medical Center in Worthington on Monday. That's when they discovered the dog was implanted with a chip near its front shoulders.

The VMC tracked the information to a Humane Society in Wright County, Iowa, and on Tuesday, the Humane Society called Chili's owner, Matt Humfry of Luverne. A long-distance truck driver, Humfry had hoped to be back in Worthington to get his dog on Wednesday, but a late dispatch had him going to Sioux City, Iowa, first. He now hopes to be reunited with Chili later tonight.

"I've missed my dog -- he's my travel buddy," said Humfry late Wednesday afternoon.

Humfry adopted Chili from the Wright County Humane Society about a month and a half ago.

"I figured (Humfry) had to be a truck driver," Hieronimus said, adding that when she went to take Chili to the vet, the dog jumped right up into her vehicle. "That's the most comfortable place for him."

On Wednesday morning, Chili was standing in a kennel in Hieronimus' home, separated from the other five dogs she owns. He hasn't quite adjusted to having other dogs around, which means he will be one pleased pooch when his truck-driving companion comes to retrieve him.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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