Cindy Tobias of Pekin petted Lucy Lu, her 3-year-old border collie mix quietly teething a toy ring at her feet.
“She’s got more gray,” Tobias noted, not surprised.
Lucy’s also lost 10 pounds, has heartworms and occasionally limps on her hind leg, which fractured and healed sometime since last June 23. She’s otherwise fine and frisky.
That’s one of the miracles, Tobias said Thursday, in the story of Lucy Lu.
One more came from the dozens of people, in East Peoria and elsewhere, who joined the network the Tobias family built to bring the story to its sweet end.
It spanned exactly 11 months between the night she ran from a home in North Pekin, where a friend was to keep her for the Tobias family’s out-of-town weekend, to the day last week when Lucy was humanely trapped and reunited with her family in an East Peoria backyard.
By late November, “I had given up hope” of fidning Lucy, Tobias said somberly. She and husband Don eased their loss by adopting Allie, a 7-year-old collie mix. But Cindy Tobias didn’t stop looking.
By Thanksgiving, the search network Tobias, her daughter Karen and friends had built, through Facebook pages and hundreds of fliers delivered door-to-door, began producing results.
People had seen Lucy in and around southern East Peoria along the Illinois River behind the Walmart Supercenter and near Bass Pro Shops.
At least once, last December, Lucy roamed into Peoria, probably across the Murray Baker Bridge, Tobias and Karen said. A woman followed as Lucy left Interstate 74 at Glen Oak Avenue “and tried to get her to come, but she ran,” Karen said.
Now, “We just hoped she’d make it through the winter somewhere,” Tobias said.
With each sighting, Tobias went door-to-door with her missing-dog fliers. A volunteer group called TRAPS (Trap and Recover Animals in Peoria) joined the search network, creating a map of each reported Lucy sighting.
Apparently, no one took Lucy in through the cold months. She had lost the collar and tags she wore when she bolted from the door that grandchildren of Tobias’ friend had left open that June night.
She ate well enough, Tobias surmised, likely from garbage.
Her hope flickered with no new sightings through January and February, until someone spotted a collie dog laying in grass near the Fondulac Drive bridge. In March, it may also have been Lucy near Carl’s Bakery and the Walgreen’s pharmacy on East Camp Street.
Tobias got permission to set up “feeding stations” near the properties, each with an article of her clothing for Lucy to recognize her scent. Nothing came of those tactics.
Then, in mid-April, a receptionist at the Fondulac Park District headquarters showed Tobias a photo she took of a dog on a steep slope near her home on Kerfoot Street.
“That’s my dog!” Tobias said. Lucy was indeed alive.
More sightings established Lucy was roaming through woods and yards between Bloomington Road and Meadow Avenue. In early May, a man found her sleeping in his yard off Elmwood Street, “like she would at home,” Tobias said. When he poked her “to see if she was alive,” she ran.
But Lucy returned to the yard. With the homeowner’s permission, Don Tobias set a cage trap, baited with food and scented clothing.
Late in the afternoon of May 23, the homeowner called. Lucy was in the trap.
Her family arrived. “I started talking to her,” Tobias said. “I put my fingers through the cage, hoping I wouldn’t get bit
“She looked at me, smelled my fingers, then she got what I say was a big smile on her face.”
Tobias said she can’t retrace all the walks she took to pass out fliers or return to every home she visited to thank those who helped find Lucy.
She wants them to know that, because of them, “Miracles do happen.”
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin