By J.O. Parker
It’s a story of how Montezuma residents opened their hearts and ignited the faith of a stranger. It’s a story that will never be forgotten by those touched by a dog named Millie.
It all started on Christmas Eve. Annie Pitkin was traveling from Tiffin to Pella for a family Christmas gathering. She stopped in Montezuma to gas up at the local Casey’s.
Nestled in the kennel in the backseat was Annie’s dog, Millie, a mini-pinscher and pug mix that she calls a “Muggin.”
“She was whining,” recalled Annie. “I decided to let her out of her kennel to go potty. It was dark out so I couldn’t see Millie’s harness very well. I thought I hooked her leash to her harness, but I must have clipped her leash to the flimsy metal ring of her rabies’ tag.”
Excited to be free from her kennel, Millie was running back and forth with the cars, all while Annie was holding on to the leash.
“I pulled the leash back to me,” said Annie. “Then, Millie tried to run after something and pulled and ripped herself off the leash from the rabies tag ring. She took off.”
Not knowing what to do, Pitkin stood at the corner of Casey’s for the next hour calling for Millie, all for nothing. She called her parents and siblings, and even the sheriff’s office. Her family drove from Pella to Montezuma and everyone canvased the town until 7 p.m. before giving up the search.
“I was currently fighting off the flu, and my family had Christmas Eve to celebrate” she said.
Once at her parent’s home, Annie tried to get added to any and all community “for sale/swap” Facebook pages with a Montezuma connection to get the word out about Millie.
“My cousin printed off flyers with Millie’s picture and my contact information to post,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone in Montezuma, so I was trying to get the word out in all ways possible because I was desperate to get my Millie back.”
Every day Annie drove from Pella to Montezuma to search for Millie.
“I spent hours driving slowly around town, in the daylight and at night, yelling Millie’s name, but no sighting,” recalled Annie. “I rescued Millie from an Iowa City animal shelter in August of 2019, so I’d only had her for a little more than four months when this occurred.”
Jacki Bolen, a Montezuma business owner and newly elected mayor, saw Annie’s post on Facebook and knew how desperate she was for help in finding her beloved Millie.
“We decided to see if we could get a bunch of people together and go searching,” said Jacki.”
Jacki, her husband, Bill, and a host of other volunteers met at the Montezuma Fire Station on Sunday, Dec. 29. The group spread across the community and within an hour, Bill spotted Millie near Malcom Lumber.
“We were all very relieved that she was alive and appeared to be healthy,” said Jacki.
Unfortunately, Millie had more energy than the group did.
“She was running like the wind,” said Jacki. “By days end, we had approximately 30 people walking and driving in hopes to find her again and catch her. No luck that day.”
“When I heard that Jacki was organizing a search, I was blown away by her kindness and the willingness of the town, who did not know me, to give up their Sunday afternoon,” said Annie. “I joined in on the search, but once again, I never saw Millie. When I heard Bill saw her, I was given a little hope back.”
Millie comes home
It was 9 p.m. on New Year’s Day, eight days after Millie was lost. Annie said the phone rang and it was Montezuma resident Lucas Hawk who called to say he had caught Millie.
“Lucas told me he had recently moved to Montezuma in the last six months, but had remembered me driving around looking for Millie,” recalled Annie.
After talking with Lucas, Annie called Jacki and asked if she and Bill could meet him that evening while she drove to Montezuma.
“Jacki and Bill were there to hand Millie back over to me,” said Annie. “It’s the best way to start 2020!”
“The reunion was very emotional,” added Jacki. “It was clear they were both happy to be together again.
There were lots of people keeping an eye out for her during those eight days.”
“I'm overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation for the entire town of Montezuma, as well as my friends and family from around Iowa who drove down and selflessly gave up their own vacation time to look for Millie,” said Annie. “The people of Montezuma didn't know me, and didn't have to help me in any way, yet they did. They helped with the flyers, sharing my Facebook post, and the countless messages I got on Facebook from strangers telling me, "I went looking for Millie today.” To say I feel blessed by their selflessness and kindness is an understatement. I grew up in a small town, so I understand the sense of community. But for that sense of community to extend to a complete stranger - there are no words to express how blown away I am. I won't ever be able to repay their selflessness and kindness!
“I told people on the search crew that I was so blown away by their kindness that I was going to move there - especially since Millie really enjoyed Montezuma,” said Annie with a chuckle. “But what I want Montezuma to know is they instilled my faith in the goodness of people. The news is overwhelmed with divisiveness, and seems to help people justify separation from others, but Montezuma showed me the opposite. They showed me, a stranger, love, compassion, selflessness, empathy and a sense of "we're in this together.” My faith is super important to me, and I feel God used this to remind me how we need to support and love one another. I feel like Millie and I are honorary Montezuma citizens and almost family.”
“The residents of Montezuma always come through when someone needs help,” added Jacki. “It was a happy ending.”
“Millie is doing great,” said Annie. “She's back up to her weight before her wilderness venture, and she's been her spunky and cuddly self since her return. I had to tell her she lost all her privileges and will be on a leash for everything now. She's has herself a new harness as well.”