GOLD HILL — A wayward pooch who survived a house fire this summer only to spend a good portion of the winter bouncing around in local shelters has been reunited with his family thanks to his persistent owner.
Harley, the 10-year-old Lab mix, went for a neighborhood walkabout well over month ago as Kristi Oreb and her boyfriend, Archie Powers, were trying to salvage what they could of their former home after a September fire swept through and destroyed their Blackwell Road home, garage and vehicles — and claimed the lives of two of their five dogs, said Oreb.
Oreb, Powers, Harley and his two pals, "a wiener dog named Abbey and a Great Dane named Moose" escaped injury the afternoon a barbecue went bad.
But a 12-minute response time and whipping winds meant the house was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived. Smoke claimed the lives of two of the couple's dogs that panicked and hid under the bed.
Oreb feared Harley, too, was lost forever when he went missing a few months later.
"He took off while we were at the property," Oreb said. "I called animal control several times looking for him."
In fact, Harley was at the county shelter. But Oreb and staff members experienced a failure to communicate in their descriptions of Harley's physique, said Barbara Talbert, shelter director.
Staff members explained they had picked up a "very overweight" Lab. And Oreb apparently didn't view her pooch as portly, she said.
"That's why we always encourage people to come look," Talbert said.
Adding to the confusion, the shelter has been in the process of changing the way it posts photos of cats and dogs, Talbert said. The new shelter inhabitants' images are channeled through PetHarbor.com.
But the shift is a part of a larger software changeover that the county is engaged in, and Harley's image may have slipped through the cracks.
PetHarbor is a national database that uploads photos and information on dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, sheep and horses, parakeets and hamsters who are in local animal shelters run by the SPCA, Humane Society, county or city animal control and many private animal-welfare organizations.
The county hopes to have PetHarbor directly linked to its shelter website and its Facebook page soon.
"Our goal is to have the image uploaded within an hour of taking the animal in," Talbert said.
But, admittedly, the software setup is "a little clunky right now," she said.
"You have to put in your zip code and choose our shelter," Talbert said.
With Oreb thinking Harley wan't at the shelter, and no one else stepping up to adopt the older, black dog, Harley fit the profile of critters who are rescued by Sanctuary One, said Sansa Collins, animal care manager at the Applegate care farm.
"We focus on dogs who are elderly, and we also focus on black dogs, because they are more at risk for euthanasia," Collins said.
"There are so many (black dogs) genetically," she said. "And they tend to be passed over for adoption in the shelter system."
Harley, along with two other dogs teetering on the brink of euthanasia, were brought out to Sanctuary One a few weeks ago.
Finally Oreb managed to find Harley's image online, and she called right away, Collins said.
"She said 'That's my dog,' " Collins said.
Collins asked Oreb to supply them with a photo of Harley so that they could be sure she was the owner. Oreb explained about their house fire, and explained most of the photos of Harley had been destroyed. But she did describe one distinctive marking on her dog that "only a mother would know," Collins said.
Oreb drove to the Applegate to pick up Harley, bolting from the car before it stopped, she said.
Harley, who Collins described as a generally mellow fellow, was beside himself with glee to be reunited, she added.
"It was off-the-wall excited," Collins said. "Clearly they had a very loving relationship."
Talbert said she's glad to know what became of Harley.
"We are glad to know (Harley) is back with his family," Talbert said. "He came in when we were fairly full and was one of three dogs we know would be fairly hard to get adopted. That's when we start thinking about our partners (like Sanctuary One.)
Oreb said she is grateful to Collins and Sanctuary One for helping her reunite with Harley. She, Powers, Abbey and especially Moose are thrilled to have Harley back in the fold, Oreb said.
"Moose is the most happy," Oreb said. "They are running around together."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.