To say Thomas McLeroy had a tough week is an understatement.
The trouble started on Saturday, Feb. 8, when his white-furred Golden Doodle, Lennon, went missing.
McLeroy and some friends had been staying at a cabin near the town of Ninety Six, spending time in nature, when Lennon scampered off and got lost in the wilderness.
McLeroy immediately went searching for Lennon, but the trees were too dense to even see through. He spent all of Saturday night and all day Sunday searching the woods, which left him with cuts, scrapes and welts all over his face.
Still no sign of Lennon.
Realizing he needed to change his strategy, McLeroy drove fifty miles to Columbia, which was the closest place that had a copy store, and he printed out lost-dog flyers.
On the way back to Ninety Six, close to midnight, McLeroy suddenly crashed his car into a deer that had leaped out into the middle of the road.
“I was just like… no way. You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said.
There he was in the middle of the pitch-black woods, his car smashed to pieces, his dog gone.
And it wasn’t even Monday yet.
McLeroy somehow managed to navigate his mangled car back to Ninety Six and spent the rest of the night posting flyers all over town, hoping to catch the attention of the morning commuters.
What followed was a community-wide effort to help find Lennon.
Hundreds of Facebook messages from Ninety Six residents began to pour in. People called and texted his phone at all hours of the day, offering tips and help wherever they could. The folks who’d rented McLeroy and his friends the cabin said he could stay there for free until he found Lennon. One woman, a nurse, came out with her own dog to help search the woods with him, despite having just come off a 12-hour shift at Self Regional Healthcare.
“I was so amazed by that,” McLeroy said. “A lot of times we’re so caught up in our own world we don’t even consider other people. But here they were doing so much for me.”
The residents of Ninety Six had no way of knowing just how much this all meant to McLeroy. For him, Lennon was more than just a pet. He had gotten the dog shortly after his divorce, and Lennon helped McLeroy find happiness again.
“When you’re going through a depression, you need someone there,” McLeroy said. “Lennon was always smiling, he got me out of the house, he got me back to living again. He was always there for me.”
Those cold nights, out with a flashlight in the woods, exhausted and scraped to pieces, McLeroy refused to give up, because he knew Lennon was the one in need of help now.
“I had almost lost hope. If it hadn’t been for the support of everyone in Ninety Six, I don’t know if I could have made it this far,” he said.
On Thursday morning, five days after Lennon went missing, McLeroy finally got a phone call that he’d been praying for:
Lennon had been found safe and sound – albeit a little muddy and tired from his time in the wilderness.
“I was so ecstatic, tears of joy,” he said. “It was so surreal to have this community of people all be so nice to me. At that point I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t care about my car. I didn’t care about the money I’d spent on flyers, or the time I’d missed work, or that I hadn’t slept, or any of that. Lennon was all I cared about.”
When the news was posted on Facebook, hundreds of people from Ninety Six left comments celebrating Lennon and McLeroy’s reunion.
As for McLeroy, the week might have been tough, but he and Lennon both made it out of the woods.
“My faith in the goodness in humanity has been restored,” McLeroy said. “I honestly can’t thank everyone enough.”