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Pictured are Ryan and Mara Frohling at home with their kids, Quentin, far left, Courtney, right, and Kaleb; with Maverick. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

Injured dog survives two weeks in icy ditch; Returns home to his Perham family in time for Christmas

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Meet Maverick, the miracle dog.

After being hit by a car at the beginning of December, this yellow lab lay in an icy ditch for nearly two weeks, freezing cold, a leg severed, while his worried family searched for him every day. When he was finally spotted by a passerby, he was desperately sick and skinny - but, amazingly, alive.

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It was a Christmas wish come true for Ryan and Mara Frohling and their three young children when, just days before the holiday, Maverick happily hobbled back into their home, minus a back leg but otherwise well on the way to complete recovery.

Gone from their lives for 13 days, he never left their hearts.

Every morning and every night while he was missing, the Frohling's called and whistled for Maverick around their rural neighborhood north of Perham, and they often drove around in search of him. They talked to their neighbors, and put up flyers.

But no one had seen Maverick. It was like he just disappeared. It wasn't like their good-natured friend to take off and not return home.

Mara and Ryan were beginning to fear the worst. But the kids weren't ready to give up hope.

Nine-year-old twins Courtney and Quentin, who got Maverick as a gift for their fourth birthday, and three-year-old Kaleb, who loved to chase the dog around the house and wrestle with him, all wished for his return.

Courtney wrote a note to Santa asking him to bring Maverick back, and added a heart to her Christmas stocking that said, "We love you Maverick. Come home."

Over the next several days, two responses to their flyer got the family's hopes up, but neither of those panned out.

Then, on Dec. 15, they got an unexpected phone call.

Someone who happened to be driving by the intersection of County Highways 60 and 51 - just a quarter-mile from the Frohling's house - spotted a yellow lab in the ditch, and reported it to a neighbor. The neighbor suspected the dog was Maverick, and called the Frohlings right away.

It was good news. The dog was alive.

With some trepidation, Ryan went to the ditch where Maverick was seen. The family had called and whistled for the dog many times before at this very same spot, with no luck. It was hard to believe he could have been there the whole time.

But there he was, hunkered deep down in the snow-covered cattails, barely visible.

Ryan called to Maverick, but at first the dog wouldn't move. As Ryan approached him, he started to bark and howl and back away. But once Ryan was about 15 feet away, Maverick changed course and made his way through the tall grasses, toward the man and voice he recognized.

Maverick looked shockingly thin and was obviously badly hurt, but Ryan and Mara hung onto hope as they rushed the dog to Lakeland Veterinary Clinic.

After first aid was administered, blood work was completed and x-rays taken, Dr. William Rose determined that Maverick's injuries were at least 10 days old. He was likely hit the night he went missing.

The accident had left the dog with a number of traumatic injuries, including the severed leg, which would require extensive surgery to be repaired.

He was severely dehydrated, anemic, had severe infection and was half his normal weight. They figured he had had no food and no water the whole time he was gone, other than the snow and ice around him. He couldn't lift up his head.

But Dr. Rose knew the dog could be saved, if the family was willing.

According to Mara, her husband told the doctor, "He survived 13 days in the ditch. He didn't give up on us, we can't give up on him now."

And that was that.

Ryan and Mara wanted to do whatever they could to bring Maverick home. For the next week, they regularly visited him at Lakeland while he regained his weight and strength and went through surgery.

His recovery went remarkably well. With his family often there to lift his spirits and urge him on, within three days, Maverick gained back 20 pounds, and just days after his surgery, he was wagging his tail and enthusiastically pulling the vet techs along behind him on his leash.

In a written statement to the Focus, Lakeland staff said the cold temperatures, while possibly giving the dog hypothermia, also likely saved his life. The cold caused Maverick's blood pressure to drop, slowing his blood loss.

"The reality of the endurance and courage of this family pet was apparent," wrote Lakeland of their experience with Maverick.

Nevertheless, Ryan said he's "Ninety-nine percent sure Maverick wouldn't have survived another night outside."

They were fortunate to find him when they did.

The Frohlings never got the name of the person who first spotted Maverick and took the time to report it to a neighbor, but the family is very grateful for the effort: "I wish we knew who saved him; who found him," said Mara.

"We really appreciate everybody that helped look for him," said Ryan. "We're thankful for caring neighbors, and everybody at Lakeland Vet."

The Frohlings were able to bring Maverick home Dec. 21, just one day before they were sent to travel to Nebraska to visit family for Christmas. Not wanting to waste a moment with their newly returned friend, they put him in their van and brought him along.

"Everybody was loving him up and petting him," laughed Mara. The kids were ecstatic to have him back, and "he was spoiled rotten by everyone."

As of Tuesday, Maverick was doing really well. His wounds were almost totally healed, he was chasing rabbits in the yard again, and "you would hardly know he's only got three legs. He's bounded back quick," said Mara.

He had just started getting up and down stairs again, but wasn't yet able to jump up on the bed to sleep with his buddy, Courtney, like he used to. So, some nights at least, the kids have been camping out on the floor next to him in their sleeping bags.

There are other minor differences in their lives, too. Kaleb is getting used to the idea that Maverick can no longer pull him on his snow sled. And he keeps counting Maverick's legs, to make sure all three are still there. The dog has also started a new habit of moaning along with Kaleb's harmonica music - as though he has a newfound understanding of the blues.

Otherwise, for the most part things are starting to return to normal at the Frohling household. But the family will never forget the events of this winter.

"It was our Christmas present," said Mara of Maverick's return. "It's amazing. Absolutely amazing... We're happy he's back. We're thankful he's back. Everything turned out great. We couldn't ask for anything better."

Kaleb summed things up well when he said of Maverick: "He's one cool dog."

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