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BUTTE, Mont. • An Arizona man is ringing in the New Year with good news after a local animal warden found his dog — which had been missing for a month — near Butte.

Phil Nichols and his 6-year-old lab mix, Buddy, became separated in November while stopped in Dillon, he told The Montana Standard in a telephone interview Friday.

Exactly when and how Buddy jumped out of his camper, Nichols isn't sure.

But the news received this week that Buddy is alive — albeit thin, haggard and nursing a badly hurt back foot — has Nichols brimming with happiness.

The mutt wandered rugged terrain, endured freezing temperatures and BB shots — all with the lame foot — before being rescued this week near Buxton, southwest of Butte.

Animal control officer Charlie Dick said Friday that he is amazed the dog is alive.

"What a little survivor. He was out there a long time," Dick said.

Buddy's odyssey started on Nov. 28 when Nichols, 79, was driving back to Arizona in his pickup truck after visiting his daughter in Helena. Buddy rode in a camper in the bed of Nichols' pickup truck. Nichols recalls seeing Buddy in the camper while in Dillon to gas up.

But when he stopped again in Idaho Falls to let Buddy out for a quick walk, his dog was gone.

"I turned around and drove 150 miles back to Dillon to look for him," Nichols said.

He stayed in Dillon for a day and a half searching for his best friend, which he had adopted from an animal shelter.

Buddy was nowhere to be found.

With a heavy heart, Nichols finally called off the search and returned home to Arizona. He assumed Buddy may have fallen out or just got out of the camper through a small side door.

It turned out to be a lucky thing that Buddy wasn't in the camper, however. Nichols crashed near Pocatello, Idaho, when another vehicle cut him off. He hit a guardrail and rolled. Nichols survived, but the camper was smashed to bits.

Nichols suspects Buddy may have had a "sixth sense" about the accident and got out of the camper before it was too late.

"I think the dog has more brains than I do," he said.

It's not known if Buddy has a sixth sense, but he certainly has a survival instinct.

Animal services got a call about 8:30 a.m. Thursday of a wounded dog hanging around the Buxton area, about 10 miles southwest of Butte. Buddy had scratches on his face, a badly wounded right rear foot and was thin.

"He was just wandering around on three feet and was very skittish," Dick recalled.

It took Dick about 45 minutes to finally coax the dog toward him with treats.

Animal control people found Buddy's owner through a lost dog ad on Craigslist, which had been posted by Nichols' daughter in Helena.

Erin Wall, shelter director, said Buddy was recovering Friday at the Amherst Animal Hospital in Butte and appears to be doing well. She said it is amazing the dog managed to survive so long in his condition.

"They (dogs) have such an instinct to live and a homing drive to get home," Wall said.

She suspects Buddy found food and shelter in barns, because he was covered with hay. X-rays also showed Buddy was shot with a BB gun.

At the shelter, Buddy appeared in good spirits, but exhausted.

"He just sat down, then lay down and let out a big sigh," she said.

Nichols said he plans to reunite with his dog within the next few days — as soon as the vet says it is fine for Buddy to leave.

He wants to call the veterinarian hospital to let Buddy know he's coming.

"I just want them to put the phone to his ear and let him hear my voice," Nichols said. "I think that would make him feel better."


Information from: The Montana Standard,