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CASEY: Mystery of missing pups hounds New Castle family

CASEY: Mystery of missing pups hounds New Castle family

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Where are Max and Sadie?

That’s a question that’s captivated a veterinarian in Huntington, West Virginia; a fast-food customer in Charlottesville; a professional animal tracker from Winchester; and most recently, a tipster from Wytheville.

The 8-year-old brother and sister dachshunds disappeared from their owners’ farm in Craig County on Nov. 13. Since then, Lanier Frantz, who’s 92, and his wife, Thecla, 81, have left few stones unturned in a search for their beloved pets.

The couple live on a 1,400-acre farm off Virginia 311 just two miles south of New Castle. You may be familiar with that location — it sports a grass airstrip known as the New Castle International Gliderport. Since the late 1960s, it’s hosted pilots from around the world for soaring competitions.

The two dachshunds disappeared on a Wednesday afternoon, between 1 and 2 p.m., Thecla Frantz told me last week. They got out of the couple’s home after blowing winds opened a door with a tricky latch, she said.

It wasn’t the first time the two pooches, who love to chase rabbits and deer, have taken off on a woodsy adventure. In the past, those other frolics lasted for hours, or as long as a couple of days. But unlike on the other occasions, Max and Sadie didn’t eventually return home this time.

The Frantzes are heartbroken, and they’ve spared little expense in trying to find their pets.

“They’re just an integral part of our family,” said Cole Frantz, the couple’s daughter, who lives in another house on the farm. “They’re the other kids.”

The Frantzes hired Carmen Brothers, a professional animal tracker from Winchester, who has traveled the United States seeking lost pets. Brothers and her tracking yellow Labrador, Magic, have made three visits to Craig County.

On the first, less than a week after the dogs vanished, Magic followed Max’s and Sadie’s scents on a winding 4-mile trek through hilly woods. After nearly three hours, Brothers told me, Magic lost the trace along Virginia 311, near where the Frantzes’ driveway intersects with the road.

That meant the pooches had to cross Craigs Creek, somewhere that, to Cole’s knowledge, the dogs had never before ventured.

On another occasions, the Frantzes retained the services of an “animal communicator” — a psychic who uses a process called “map dowsing” to help find lost pets. He suggested a few places he said were worth checking in the area.

“He gave them three or four different landmarks — like, ‘white house with a red door’ or ‘old, rusted-out truck,’ ” Brothers told me. She returned with Magic, but, “We were not able to pick up scents there.”

“That was nonproductive,” Cole told me.

The Frantz family has put up dozens of signs along Virginia 311, from Hanging Rock in Roanoke County to nearly halfway to Paint Bank, on the other side of New Castle. No luck.

They’ve stationed motion-activated cameras in different places on their expansive property, trying to capture photos of the dogs. Those yielded many pictures of raccoons, deer and opossum, but neither Max nor Sadie.

A $1,000 reward the Frantzes have offered via a Facebook post has been shared more than 12,500 times.

“We’ve had lots of leads, but no confirmed sightings,” Cole said.

One took the Frantzes to a park in Radford. Another came from a customer of a veterinarian in Vinton. In Rocky Mount, “Someone saw two brown dachshunds in the woods,” Cole said. “We visited the area twice and finally met the dogs and their owner.”

One tip came in from Charlottesville. A customer at a Chick-fil-A there believed she had seen Max and Sadie in a car at the restaurant’s drive-through.

Problem was, there are four Chick-fil-As in Charlottesville, Thecla said, and the tipster hadn’t specified which one. Eventually she figured out the correct restaurant and phoned it.

“The manager was wonderful in looking at the [security] tapes to see if he could find them,” she told me. But that was yet another dead end.

Other tips have come in from Elliston, Culpeper, along Bradshaw Road in Roanoke County, and from as far away as a dog pound in West Virginia. In most of the cases, the Frantzes were able to rule them out for a variety of reasons.

The Frantzes bought Max and Sadie as puppies from a woman who lives outside Lynchburg, Thecla told me. They have pampered and spoiled the pooches ever since. They were usually inside but the Frantzes have a doggie door that allowed Max and Sadie free access to a large, fenced-in yard section.

At the time they disappeared, Max weighed about 25 pounds and Sadie weighed 20 pounds. He is neutered and she has been spayed. Max had a collar with his name and the Frantzes’ phone numbers on a tag. Sadie was collarless.

The two dogs are close and would remain together if they had a choice, she added. But they have different personalities.

Max is the clever and mischievous one. Despite his diminutive stature, he can jump up more than three feet to snatch a fresh-baked loaf of bread off the kitchen counter. Outdoors, Sadie is faster on her feet.

“She’s the leader when they get out hunting,” Thecla said. “She likes to run the most.”

Both dogs, whenever they heard a passing fire engine or ambulance, would bolt out their doggie door and howl along with the sirens.

Brothers, the animal tracker from Winchester, told me the Frantzes “are doing everything right” to try to find their lost pets. Although nearly two months have passed since the dogs’ disappearance, Brothers said, she’s worked cases in which pets were gone much longer before being reunited with their owners.

One was a lost dog in Prince George’s County, Maryland, that turned up an at animal shelter a year and a half after it disappeared, Brothers said. So, there’s plenty of hope left for the Frantzes.

Thursday, Thecla drove to Wytheville — the one-way distance is 88 miles — based on a tip texted to her cellphone at 3:30 that morning. Someone saw what might have been Max and Sadie near a church. But she struck out again.

“She spoke to some people and put up some posters, but that’s about it,” Cole said.

It pains Thecla to imagine that someone picked up the dogs on the side of Virginia 311 on Nov. 13, and later separated them from each other. Whatever happened, “I just hope they’re warm, and loved,” she told me.

“But I also want them back,” she added.

Lanier and Thecla Frantz are offering a $1,000 reward for the return of their pet dachshunds, Max and Sadie. If you’ve spotted the dogs, you can contact the couple on their landline, 540-864-5542, or on Thecla’s cell, 540-676-1716.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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