By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN It was an early Christmas gift for the Phil Lachermeier family of Winsted when they were finally reunited Dec. 18 with their dog, Max, who had been missing for five days.
The Lachermeiers Phil, wife Jennifer (Schott), and their two children Taylor, 14, and Ben, 8 had been searching for Max since the foggy morning of Dec. 13, soon after Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school had announced a two-hour late start due to the weather.
It’s Ben’s job to take Max, a shih tzu, pomeranian, and chihuahua mix; and the family’s other dog, Mia, a papillon pure-bred, outside each morning before school to have a little break before the dogs are put in their kennel.
Instead of leaving the dogs outside for five minutes, which is what Ben normally does, with the excitement of having a late start to school, the dogs were forgotten outside.
When it came time to get ready to go to school, Jennifer told Taylor to put the dogs in the kennel, but the dogs were no where to be found in the house.
“When I called for them, they didn’t come, so then we went looking for them outside and they weren’t there,” Taylor said.
The family, minus Phil, who was out of state on business for Tetra Pak, began driving around town, frantically searching for the two dogs, beginning first in their own neighborhood of Pheasant Run.
Jennifer and Ben continued their search, after Taylor caught the bus for school. They found Mia on George Avenue but Max was no where in sight.
It was getting late, so Jennifer dropped Ben off at school, and she headed to work at Presbyterian Homes in Spring Park, after making a quick call to Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich in case someone found Max and contacted him. She also texted Phil, letting him know the dog was missing.
The exhausting search for Max continued after school Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday evening leading to a lot of family stress, tears, and even crutches for Jennifer.
In addition to driving up and down every street in Winsted (a total of 13 miles according to the odometer on Jennifer’s car), all of the vet clinics in the area were contacted, flyers were handed out on door-to-door visits, and Jennifer posted the missing dog on Facebook.
By the third morning of the search, Jennifer was finding it difficult to deal with her own feelings, let alone those of her children, who were very, very sad about not finding their Max.
“Ben asked me to call Santa and have him cancel his list (of Christmas presents),” Jennifer said. “I asked him, ‘Why would I do that?’ and he said, ‘I don’t want anything for Christmas, I just want Max back.’”
Thursday morning, on a tip from someone on Facebook who had seen Max on Zion Avenue, east of Winsted, the family was back out looking for Max again.
“It was, like, 6 a.m. in the morning and I just grabbed the kids out of bed and we went looking for him,” Jennifer said. . . “I made them go in their pajamas.”
But still no Max. And things got even worse when later that morning, Jennifer fell on some ice while going door-to-door, trying to get the word out about Max.
“When I slipped, I ended up spraining my whole left leg,” Jennifer said. “I went to the doctor and they put me on crutches for a couple of days.”
But Thursday night, Jennifer was ready to search for Max once more, crutches and all, this time with the help of her friend, Theresa Wemhoff of Winsted.
“I drove, and Theresa, Ben, and Taylor handed out more fliers all over Winsted,” Jennifer said.
Reinforcements for the hunt came Friday morning when Phil arrived back home, and immediately began searching for Max.
“He got home about 2 a.m., and went looking for him,” Jennifer said. “He hadn’t slept at all.”
On Saturday, Jennifer’s mom, Cindy Emery of Garrison, joined the search party.
Finally, some encouraging news came when people began contacting the Lachermeiers with sightings of Max. One Winsted resident had seen Max down by the creek that runs along the north side of Pheasant Run and empties into the northwest side of Winsted Lake.
“I was starting to give up the day we found him,” Taylor said. “People said they saw him and we found footprints, but it was like, where is he?”
Sunday, at about 5 p.m., just when it was beginning to get dark, Taylor was the first to see Max as he was walking across a bridge over the creek.
“I saw him and I told mom to stop the car. I jumped out and we started to coax him to us. He was scared and started running away toward the other side of the woods,” Taylor said.
Phil was on the other side of the creek.
“When he got to dad, dad was kneeling on the ground,” Taylor said. “Max kind of ran to him, but then backed off a little like he was apologizing for leaving.”
There was a lot of excitement when Phil finally had Max in his arms.
Both Jennifer and Taylor were crying, so relieved the hunt for Max was finally over.
“I couldn’t believe it when we found him,” Jennifer said. “He was so muddy and mucky and raggedy-looking. He had a great big cocklebur in his tail which looked like one big rat’s ball,” Jennifer said.
The first thing the family did was get in the car and go see Ben who had been taking a break in the search for Max to help John and Brenda Lachermeier on their farm in Mayer.
“When Ben saw him, he was very close to crying,” Taylor said.
“I got in the car and he was all over me,” Ben said.
Later, Jennifer took Max to the vet.
“He has a lot of cuts on him,” Jennifer said. “You can feel them when you pet him, but other than that he got a clean bill of health from the vet.”
The family has taken steps to ensure Max doesn’t get lost again. Each morning when he is left out for his morning break, he is put on his chain.
“He was supposed to have been put on his chain that morning, but school was late and everyone was rambunctious,” Jennifer said.
Max also has a new ID tag with his name and the Lachermeiers’ name, address, and phone number on it.
“It took a lot to find him,” Jennifer said. “If we hadn’t gone door-to-door and talked to people, we never would have found him.”
“He (Max) was very lucky because one night when we were looking, I saw a huge raccoon walking along the creek, and there is an eagle that lives close by,” Jennifer said. “Mike Henrich was saying there are foxes and coyotes, too. He said a lot of people weren’t expecting us to find him alive.”