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‘I’m not going to give up on him’: Montana man searches for missing dog in Casselton

FNS Photo by Dave Wallis Posters alert the public to be on the lookout for John Kellems’ dog Oliver, who was ejected from a truck during an accident near Casselton.2 / 3
John Kellems wears a tag similar to the one his missing dog Oliver is wearing. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 3

CASSELTON — When Oliver came into construction manager John Kellems’ Montana-based life, Kellems was not interested in having the tiny cream-colored pooch as a friend.

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Kellems, an Army veteran, never wanted a small dog and, frankly, didn’t think the Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix fit around his fellow burly-men type of friends.

“I tried to ignore him,” Kellems said.

But Kellems’ attitude didn’t deter Oliver. The would-be PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) service dog followed Kellems around, sat by his feet at work and at home, eventually pawing his way into the heart of Kellems, an Army medic during Operation Desert Storm.

“He never gave up on me,” Kellems said Wednesday through tearing eyes. “And I’m not going to give up on him now.”

Kellems has been looking for his companion since Friday. Kellems, his girlfriend, Candice Howard, and Oliver were driving from their Great Falls, Mont., home to Illinois for a “small vacation” when their truck rolled on Interstate 94 near mile marker 332 about 10 a.m.

The truck was totaled and Kellems and Howard suffered minor injuries. Their main concern, though, was Oliver, who was ejected from the truck and was missing.

Kellems has vowed not to leave Casselton until he finds Oliver and has rented a Casselton hotel room indefinitely.

Kellems said that since Oliver, who will turn 5 years old Feb. 17, came into his life, the two have never been apart.

“Oliver keeps me in control,” Kellems said. “As a medic, you run into other situations where you are helpless and you think you can save people, but you don’t in the end. Oliver has really healed me. He makes a difference in my life every day. I really owe it to him for everything he has done for me.”

Oliver was last spotted near the Tesoro convenience store along the interstate over the weekend. Oliver was likely scared when he was spotted, Kellems said, and took off running northeast toward a small farm.

Since then, Kellems and Howard have spent the days — which have dipped to brutally cold wind chills —scouring the Casselton area looking for any sign of the roughly 4-pound Oliver.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kellems drove past a hydrant where he hung a sock — one of about a dozen items with Oliver’s scent that Kellems has left around town in hopes it will attract Oliver.

Kellems believes Oliver is likely in the area near a farm. Because Oliver is so small, he is not likely to create tracks in the snow-covered fields. Kellems hopes Oliver found some kind of shelter and has hunkered down.

With a warm front on its way, Kellems thinks the above-zero temperatures will help draw out Oliver or provide clues to his whereabouts.

“It’d be really nice to get that proof of life,” he said.

Word about Oliver is spreading through social and local media, prompting strangers from across the country to send their support. Kellems has seen fresh vehicle tracks from area residents who are crisscrossing the outskirts of town looking for his dog.

Jen Stock of Buffalo who works at the Tesoro near the interstate, said it has been heartwarming to see so many talking about Oliver and offering to help search.

Howard said the help is appreciated, although they don’t want to intrude on anyone’s property and have encouraged everyone to ensure there is no trespassing on private property when they look for Oliver.

At Casselton Veterinary Service, one of the many signs posted around town that offer a $500 reward hangs in the main entry.

Staff there helped looked for Oliver and hold out hope, but veterinarian Dave Calderwood said due to the extreme cold, Oliver’s best chance of survival is if someone has found him and is keeping him safe and warm.

Calderwood said the recent bitter cold will cause severe frostbite and would likely not stop predators such as coyotes, eagles or hawks from hunting.

Offers to help search have poured in through a new Facebook page Kellems created titled, “Have You Seen Oliver?” In an effort to do an organized search, Kellems and Howard plan to meet volunteers at 10 a.m. today at the Tesoro convenience store near the interstate.

As time stretches on, Kellems knows he faces a grim reality about Oliver’s fate and may one day have to return to Montana without his friend.

“It’d be nice, if he has met his maker, to have that closure,” Kellems said. “I know the realities, but we’ll keep looking until that time comes. I owe it to him to keep going until I at least utilize all my resources and then it will be time to go home.”

For more information about Oliver, visit

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and and at CBS Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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