Lost Dog Lived By Himself In The Woods For Over A Year

“When we first got him to the rescue he was so exhausted ... His eyes started closing and he just fell asleep.”

In October 2016, Bandit the black Lab escaped from a vet’s office in Gardiner, New York.

After traveling 10 miles from where he had originally escaped, Bandit settled into a dense patch of marshy woods near Walden, New York — where he’s lived ever since.

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Bandit spotted in the woods on March 25 | BDRR

Aside from a few spottings, the 3-year-old dog lived mostly under the radar for a year and a half — until last month, when a motorist spotted him standing by the road at the edge of the woods. He was still wearing the collar his family gave him.

The motorist called Nicole Asher of Buddha Dog Rescue and Recovery (BDRR) right away.

“We went and set up a trap and surveillance camera in the woods immediately,” Asher told The Dodo. “When I heard he was wearing a collar, I couldn’t wait to find out who he really was and where he came from. I was hopeful we could reunite him with his family.”

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Asher, who specializes in capturing lost dogs, carefully watched Bandit for days on the surveillance camera and returned frequently to bring him more food, toys and bones. After a few days of no luck with the trap, Asher set up a large, fenced enclosure with treats inside that would hopefully lure Bandit in.

“He was very skittish, so everything new we’d introduce to his area would spook him,” Asher said. But after five days of getting used to having the enclosure there, Bandit finally started crossing over the doorway to the enclosure little by little — and it was clear he had a playful side.

“Watching his antics on video were a constant source of amusement,” Asher said. “He would chase the critters away from his enclosure, play with toys that we left for him and play bow and do his little playful dance in front of the enclosure.”

Every so often, a fox or raccoon would sniff out some of his food — but Bandit knew just how to take care of them.

“He’d stand there barking with his chest puffed out and tail high,” Asher said. “He was always so proud that he chased them off. You could tell he was such a character.”

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A fox seen wandering into Bandit's camp | BDRR

By the end of March, just when Asher thought Bandit would never fully enter the enclosure, he finally gained enough courage to hop inside. Asher rushed to the site. She was elated to finally meet him in person and called the number on his name tag right away — but his family didn’t have good news.

“Their lifestyle had changed and they just couldn’t take him,” Asher said. “They surrendered him to us right away. Apparently this wasn’t the first time he’d ran away for a long period of time, either.”

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Bandit after finally entering the enclosure | BDRR

Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge, a shelter partner of Asher’s, offered to house Bandit and get him checked out by a vet and provide any needed treatments. Luckily, he wasn’t very skinny since he settled in an area where hunters often dropped off unwanted deer carcasses — but he was terrified.

“Living out in the woods he was always on the lookout,” Asher said. “If so much as a twig snapped, he knew it. He’s spent half his life fending for himself, so it’s going to take a lot of time to get him used to being in a home again.”

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Bandit on his car ride to safety | BDRR

Aside from needing treatment for two tick-borne illnesses, Bandit is in good health — so for now, the rescue will be working with him daily to get him more used to being around people.

He’s also taking the opportunity for some well-needed nap time, since he was always sleeping with one eye open when he was out on his own.

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Bandit settling into the rescue | BDRR

“When we first got him to the rescue he was so exhausted,” Asher said. “His eyes started closing and he just fell asleep.”

While he’s still a bit on edge after the whole ordeal, Asher is confident he’ll start showing off the goofy, playful side she so admired when she watched him through the surveillance cameras in the woods.

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Bandit outside at the rescue with a volunteer | BDRR

“You can tell that he is a silly, lovable boy on the inside,” Asher said. “His story is amazing and I think he’s given a ton of people hope who have lost dogs out there. They’re very resilient and smarter than we give them credit for.”

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If you’re interested in adopting Bandit when he’s ready, you can learn more on the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge website. To help more pets find their way back home, you can make a donation to Buddha Dog Rescue and Recovery.