WHITEFISH — She has been known by a number of different names: Gypsy, Copper, Hobo and Shelly. But despite the many identifiers, ask anyone along Edgewood Drive in Whitefish or in the BNSF Railway yard about the “little red dog,” and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
For nearly six months, a small 2-year-old corgi mix called the railroad yard home. The canine used parked rail cars for shelter and befriended enough railroaders to get three meals a day. But Kim Christian, a 13-year BNSF employee who helps switch cars, and others realized that a busy rail yard — with massive trains coming and going at all hours of the day — was no place for a little red dog.
Christian first noticed the dog over the summer. Initially she thought it belonged to a resident along Edgewood, but soon after she noticed it was living in a culvert near the Wisconsin Avenue overpass. Feeling sorry for the pup, Christian and other yard workers frequently shared their lunches with her, although she rarely let any human get closer than 20 feet. Christian said eventually the dog started following her around the yard as she drove her ATV.
Some of the yard employees decided to pool their funds to buy dog food for the animal. Christian said she would normally leave food out for the dog at the beginning and end of her shift and sometimes stop by partway through the day with treats. Unknown to the railroaders, residents along Edgewood also took notice of the dog and started feeding her, too.
“She was a well-fed dog,” Christian said.
Christian said she reached out to the local animal control officer, but the officer was unable to find the dog and didn’t have a spare trap to catch her.
In October, knowing that winter was around the corner, a neighbor called a friend at the Flathead Spay & Neuter Task Force to inquire about trying to catch the pooch, and volunteer Bonnie Hodges, who also works with KittyMOM’s Rescue, went out to the yard with an oversized cat trap.
“It was so scary knowing that dog was living in that railroad yard with all the freight trains coming and going,” Hodges said.
As Hodges set up the trap alongside the rail yard fence, Christian guided the dog inside the fence. Then they waited. After a few weeks of no luck, however, Hodges secured a coyote trap from a friend at ASAP Wildlife Control. But as October turned to November, Christian and Hodges realized they had to stop feeding the dog to encourage her to get in the trap.
“She wasn’t dumb and she didn’t want to get into the trap,” Christian said.
In early December, as the days got colder, the dog’s food was cut off. Although it was hard not to feed her, everyone agreed it was the only option left. For three days, Christian checked the trap but came up empty each time. Finally, when she and the others had almost given up, she checked again and found the little red dog. Christian said she nearly cried.
Christian took the dog home that first night so it could warm up and enjoy a meal outside the trap’s confines.
While a number of BNSF employees expressed interest in the dog, she eventually went home with Ted and Jackie Cuffe, a local couple with two other rescue dogs. They settled on the name Shelly and took her to the vet, where they found that she had been micro-chipped and was previously living at the Thompson Falls animal shelter. No one knows how she got to Whitefish.
“It was a community effort to catch her,” Hodges said. “I think the story about the little red dog is a good reminder that good things still happen and that there are good people all around us.”
Editor’s Note: The story was updated to note the dog was re-named Shelly.