GLADSTONE, N.D. — "She looked so peaceful. She looked like she was sleeping."
That's how Yolanda Martin described how Sami, her family's dog, looked as she was lying deceased next to the Heart River in western North Dakota.
It's not the ending to Sami's story that anybody was hoping for.
In these trying times, especially, a happy ending would've been much appreciated.
I seriously considered beginning this column like this: "Just what we needed. More crappy news."
Sami, a blind white Labrador retriever who went missing Feb. 11 from the Martin home near Gladstone, was spotted on the bank of the river by a canoeist Monday, March 23. He alerted Yolanda and her husband, Kurt, who had the dog's body retrieved. Sami's remains were cremated Tuesday.
"It's so hard to say goodbye," Yolanda said during a phone conversation Wednesday, March 25, crying often. "I can't believe it."
If you don't understand Yolanda's emotion, you've never owned a dog.
The search for Sami garnered statewide coverage because the Martins took out full-page newspaper ads in a half-dozen dailies, including The Forum, asking for the public's help in locating their dog. A column I posted at InForum.com about Sami on Feb. 21 was shared more than 16,000 times on Facebook.
The column also ran on the websites of the Dickinson Press, the Grand Forks Herald and the Jamestown Sun. All, like The Forum, are owned by Forum Communications Co.
The Martins hired an airplane to search the area around their rural property near Gladstone, which is east of Dickinson in Stark County. They used drones, drove hundreds of miles and used every means available to try to locate Sami, who was believed to be about 10 years old and was left blind since 2016 by a cataract surgery that went wrong.
They put up a $1,000 reward for tips leading to Sami's whereabouts and a $3,000 reward for finding and returning her to the Martins.
As it turned out, Sami was about a mile-and-half from the Martins' home. Yolanda said Sami's body was intact and there were no signs of trauma.
"She must've fallen down the bank next to the river and couldn't get back up. It was a pretty steep, high hill there. She was lying on a shelf next to the river," Yolanda said. "She looked really, really peaceful."
If you combine the mainstream press coverage with social media, Sami's story reached tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people. Many readers contacted me over the last month to see if there was an update on Sami. All, of course, were hoping for the best.
Instead, it was the saddest ending.
The Martins still have Cody, another white Lab, who was Sami's companion. But Yolanda isn't sure she and Kurt will get another dog.
"I'm getting up there in age," the 70-year-old chuckled. "If we get another dog it will probably outlive me."
The positive to take away from this story is how the public responded when the Martins asked for help looking for their dog. Everybody and anybody, it seemed, was willing to lend a hand in some way.
"I just want to give a big 'thank you' to everybody. I am just amazed at how many people called in and that so many people came to look. We had so many people we didn't even know just driving around looking for her, people offering to help however they could," Yolanda said. "It was an amazing response. I'm thankful that so many people called me to try to help or offer me advice. Thank you, everybody."