News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 31, 2013

Stray dogs still adapting to new owners

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Both Ben and Jade have run away from home — Ben for several weeks, and Jade for a half-day romp around her Youngstown Meadows neighborhood.

But the canine couple whose undying puppy love brought them much attention, from near and far, are still together and living with owners Jason and Courtney Lawler and their son, Peyton, who will be 4 years old in February.  

“It’s been fun,” said Courtney. “We’ve had to deal with Jade’s chewing. We’ve lost quite a few pairs of shoes.”

As long as the Lawlers keep a supply of rawhides and bones in stock, that staves off Jade’s shoe craving.

Both dogs are former strays. Ben is about 51⁄2 years old and around 70 pounds, while Jade is about two years old and a German Shepherd mix.

On Tuesday, the pair huddled in a corner of “their room,” a supply of toys and chew bones close by. The former strays are still shy animals. “Jade has improved the most,” Courtney said.  

If Jade is approached by one person at a time, she’s fine, Courtney said. If the Lawlers are walking the dogs and several neighborhood children get too close, both Ben and Jade will “back off.”

But for Ben, “I think the trust issues are way too deep,” Jason said. Ben’s behavior indicates he was once abused, and he remains timid.

For a long time, Ben and Jade were strays living near Fruitridge Avenue and Fort Harrison Road, where people made sure they were fed. When Jade got pregnant in summer 2012, the dogs were trapped and taken to the Terre Haute Humane Shelter, where it was clear they were “a bonded pair.”

Initially, the Lawlers adopted Ben, but not Jade, but they soon learned the canine couple was inseparable.

One year ago, the newly adopted Ben ran away from the Lawler’s home in Youngstown Meadows; traversed 10 miles across busy streets, railroad tracks and lonely fields; braved the cold and his own hunger; and somehow, some way, in about 24 hours, found his way back to the Terre Haute Humane Shelter.

There, he eventually rejoined the love of his life, his soulmate and the mother of his children, Jade.

While he wanted to be with Jade, he did not want to get caught, and it took shelter workers and volunteers two days and an epic effort to finally capture him — which they did on New Year’s Eve 2012.

The Lawlers realized the two former strays would not be happy without each other and adopted both — and the arrangement is working.

“Ben is my buddy,” says Peyton. “Jade is mommy’s girlfriend.”

At one point, Peyton put sunglasses on Ben, who didn’t fight it.

The family walks the dogs at least three times a day. “They love snow. Oh my gosh, do they love snow,” Courtney said.

There have been some challenges this past year.

Late last spring, Ben got away and took off for about a month or so. “He got loose on me while I was walking him. Something just spooked him, I don’t know what,” Courtney said.

He stayed in the neighborhood for about three weeks, hiding in a patch of woods or between neighbors’ homes. Each morning, he would come up to the house, sit in the yard and stare at the window. Jade would get agitated and bark — but the Lawlers couldn’t get Ben to come in.

Eventually, he fled — and the Lawlers lost track of him. They later learned he was hanging out near North 25th and Locust streets and had become somewhat of a nuisance at one residence, where he dug holes. “I think he just went to what he knew,” Courtney said.

With the assistance of the city animal control office and volunteers  — and a dart gun — they eventually tracked Ben down.

“We had to follow him until he slowed down,” Courtney said. They eventually caught up with him off North 25th Street. It had been raining and “we trudged through mud and muck for about two hours to find him,” Jason said.

They took Jade along with the hopes she would lead them to Ben, but instead, she spent more time splashing in mud puddles. “It took two of us to carry Ben out,” Jason said.

A few months ago, Jade made her own attempt at a getaway. Courtney was running late for work so Jason was going to walk Jade, but as Courtney walked out the door, Jade “zoomed out,” Courtney said.

As the Lawlers chased her, “She went our normal route around the neighborhood,” Courtney said. “She kept so many feet in front of me so I couldn’t get her.”

Jade made it all the way back home, but wouldn’t go inside; then, she took off. “I didn’t think she was ever going to come back,” Jason said.

Later that day, after Courtney had finished work, Jason said to her, “Look out the window.” Sure enough, Jade was sitting by the porch steps. The Lawlers opened the door and Jade “comes right in and goes to her corner  — like, I know I did bad,” Courtney said.

Jade laid down and fell asleep.

As the family and canine duo went for a morning walk on New Year’s Eve, Jade eagerly took the lead, her tail up high. She’ll run, bark, play and growl. Timid, gentle Ben stayed a safe distance behind, his tail down.

It’s been a year of adventure with Ben and Jade, but the Lawlers have no regrets. “It definitely takes patience and you definitely have to be up for it,” Courtney said. “Some people might not have had the patience to deal with them like we did this year.”

All in all, life with Ben and Jade “is working out pretty good,” Courtney said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812)-231-4235 or