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Dog found 9 days after Parkersburg twister
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Posted at 04:05 on 06/09/2008
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Parkersburg, Ia. - There's a story people tell in Parkersburg about a dog and its family.

It's a story that has become an Internet sensation and one that stands out among Parkersburg's stories of survival and loss.

It's a story that circles around a frisky yellow Labrador named Chance, a fitting title for a dog who was lost after last month's tornado, but sniffed his way to their car nine days later.

He belongs to Dan and Pam Bleeker of Parkersburg. Dan, originally from New Hartford, married Pam in 2002 and moved into her modest, tan-colored house on Iowa Highway 57.

Their lives changed after an EF5 tornado destroyed their house and hundreds of others. Their losses weren't only material ones: Dan's 71-year-old mother, Leasa, died in her New Hartford home during the storm.

As the couple try to stitch their lives back together, Chance has become a bright yellow spot in a grim story.

"It's nice to see a little bit of life come back, you know?" Pam said.

Dan crouches near Pam on her parents' front porch as he helps recall the story.

They ran for the house once they saw the massive wall cloud that birthed one of Iowa's deadliest tornadoes.

Pam took Andrew, the couple's 5-year-old grandson, straight to the basement.

Dan stayed in the garage and tried to coax Chance and Buddy, the family's Rottweiler mix, inside.

Neither dog budged. Dan had to leave them and barely got downstairs in time.

The family emerged after the twister to a changed world.

In the chaos, the couple didn't immediately realize Chance and Buddy were missing.

"I wasn't even thinking about the dogs," Dan said.

Flying debris had cut Pam's foot badly and forced her to seek medical attention. Dan wandered around Parkersburg in a daze, stopping to help anyone he could.

Pam got the worst news while she was headed for the hospital: Her sister called to say Dan's mother had been killed.

Dan doesn't want to talk about his mother's death.

"I'd rather have her back than the dogs," he said.

The couple eventually moved into Pam's parents' intact Parkersburg home and tried to get their lives back together.

Pam did what she could despite a cumbersome protective boot on her injured foot.

Dan assisted with Parkersburg's cleanup efforts by helping cap the dozens of damaged gas lines.

Then the Bleekers' insurance company called Pam on Tuesday afternoon to say a salvage worker had found a yellow dog in one of the Bleekers' vehicles.

The remnants of the family's vehicles were in a group of ruined cars lined up near Parkersburg's fire station.

Pam called Dan, who hitched a ride from work to the fire station to investigate.

Sure enough, he found Chance seated quietly behind the wheel of Pam's white Pontiac Bonneville.

The dog wasn't "having anything to do with anybody," Dan said, until he called the dog's name.

The yellow Lab saw his best friend and went crazy.

"He jumped out of the car, and he was all over him, just all over him," Pam said.

Chance was fine, except for a couple of sores on his face. He'd lost 12 pounds during the nine-day ordeal, "but he needed that," Pam said.

Nobody knows the details of Chance's adventure, such as how he survived and found Pam's car hundreds of feet away from the remnants of his home.

"We don't know if (the dogs) got taken away by the tornado, or if everything came crashing on them and they took off, or what," Pam said.

Russ Stickley, the veterinarian at Parkersburg Veterinary Service, where Chance is now staying, is pretty sure he saw Chance running near the totaled vehicles a week after the storm.

Stickley said some people tried to catch him, but Chance would have none of it.

Two weeks after the tornado, Parkersburg is gradually rebuilding.

Buddy, the Bleekers' second dog, is still missing. Pam's phone rings every now and then with a call from someone who might have seen or found the dog.

The Bleekers continue to hope the second dog will come home.

Having one of the dogs back, however, has helped the couple as they work to start over.

"We've lost a lot in the past year," Dan said. "You just gotta keep rollin' on. Nothing more you can do."
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