CALUMET TOWNSHIP | It was a labor of love suggested by a stranger.
Kandi Sickles, a small band of women and one bassett hound set out at 2:45 p.m. Thursday in the bitter cold to find the two purebred dogs that escaped the Monday night blaze that destroyed Sickles’ home and killed six other champion show dogs.
“I saw The Times story online yesterday and I said, ‘Someone has to organize a search.' My dad called me last night and I told him, ‘I have to do something,'” said Susan Dziczkowski, of Valparaiso.
She found Sickles’ contact information on Facebook and suggested a thorough search for Woody, a 1-year-old Chinese crested hairless variety, and Paige, a 1-year-old Shetland sheepdog.
Dziczkowski brought along one of her four dogs, Duey, a basset hound, to help track any scents left by Sickles’ two dogs.
Temperatures hovered in the low teens and a sharp west wind blew as the group set out to search a wooded area between 45th and 49th avenues. Two sets of small paw prints found in the snow buoyed their spirits, but a fenced-in area prevented the searchers from going farther.
As darkness fell, neither Woody nor Paige could be located.
“I’m going to be out here all night,” Dziczkowski said. “I’ll take Duey home and come back.”
Sickles said she welcomed the help from friends and fellow dog-lovers.
“I haven’t eaten. I haven’t slept since Monday,” she said. “The ‘what if’ is worse than anything.”
Sickles’ friend, Joyce Smith, of Hobart, said nothing could have kept her away from the search.
“Two of the dogs (killed in the fire) came from my breeding (business),” Smith said as tears ran down her cheeks. “She was helping me with one of my dogs when the fire started.”
Smith called Sickles on Monday evening to help take care of one of her shelties, who is dying from liver problems.
“She went to the store to get me some beef broth to feed my dog,” Smith said of the errand that took Sickles out of her house before the fire started about 9:30 p.m.
Pam Grass-Dow, of Hammond, also joined the search after learning about it through social media. She brought along a large green blanket to wrap the dogs in if they were found.
“We just need to find them,” she said.
Before reporting for her shift as animal control officer with the Griffith Police Department, Sandi Litke came to the search scene hoping to help.
“I was here Monday night during the fire,” Litke said.
She suggested starting a search in two directions to corral the dogs.
As part of the championship show dog circuit, Sickles has gained moral support from dog owners all around the nation.
She lost all her possessions in the fire, and a fund has been set up at Centier Bank to help her recover.
“A woman from North Carolina also saw information on Facebook about the fire and set up a separate fund using Pay Pal,” said Vee Gallagher, Sickles’ mother. “I suggested that she link it to the Centier account.”