GLADSTONE, N.D. — Kurt and Yolanda Martin are sparing few expenses as they search for their beloved white Labrador retriever, Sami, a blind dog that apparently wandered away from the Martin's rural home in western North Dakota on Feb. 11 and hasn't returned.
"She's worth it," Yolanda says. "Every penny is worth it."
The Martins have even taken out advertisements in a half dozen daily newspapers in North Dakota and Montana, including The Forum and The Dickinson Press. In the Friday, Feb. 21, edition of The Forum, an ad with the headline "Please help find Sami" covered half of page C2. Half-page ads are not inexpensive.
The ad included a photo of the beautiful 85-pound dog, sitting in a chair like a queen, and her story, from being born in a puppy mill to finding a perfect forever home to being blinded in a surgery.
The Martins also hired an airplane to search the area around their home. They've used a drone, they've driven countless miles, they've scoured acres upon acres of land on a four-wheeler, they've stuffed flyers in mailboxes, they've posted on social media. They even alerted companies like UPS, FedEx and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to ask their workers to keep a look out.
They've 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.
Yolanda and Kurt just want to find their dog, who they believe is 8-10 years old.
(The Forum page that carried the advertisement to help find Sami.)
"We've even driven to Bismarck and back on the freeway a few times, just to see ...," Yolanda said, her voice cracking. "Maybe we'd see her in the ditch or something. Maybe she got to the freeway. I don't know. I don't know what to think."
The Martins live four miles southeast of Gladstone in Stark County, just south of Interstate 94 about 12 miles east of Dickinson.
The newspaper ad tells the story of why Sami is so special.
In 2013, Yolanda saw a white lab along I-94 between Gladstone and Dickinson. After coaxing the dog into her car, Yolanda brought her home and learned through the local newspaper that somebody was missing a dog that fit Sami's description.
Turns out the man looking for the dog was watching her for a vacationing friend. Yolanda convinced the man to let Sami stay with the Martins until the dog's owners returned.
"While in our care Sami bonded with our other two labs, Molly and Kodi," the ad said.
When the owners returned to pick up their dog, they told Yolanda that Sami was one of the last few dogs from a puppy mill in Hebron, N.D., that shut down in 2011. When Sami showed some reluctance in leaving the Martin home, Yolanda told her owners the dog could stay.
Sami's owners declined the offer then, but about a week later called Yolanda and said the Martins could take the dog.
From there, Sami thrived. Timid and not well-socialized at first, likely because of her time spent in a cage at the puppy mill, Sami bonded strongly with the Martins and their dogs. She eventually became comfortable around new people and in different surroundings. The Martins built a home outside Gladstone on a 480-acre property along the Green River, a dog's dream.
In 2016, Sami went to a veterinarian in Colorado to have cataract surgery and things "went horribly wrong," Yolanda said. Sami was left blind and her eyes permanently shut. She adapted, as dogs do, using her senses of smell and hearing to get around. She was a loving and happy dog despite the challenges of being blind.
"That's what makes this worse for me is that she's blind," Yolanda said. "She gets around OK despite that, but she's out there and she's blind."
The last time Yolanda saw Sami was at about 9 a.m. on Feb. 11. The Martins allow their dogs a way in and out of the house, even when people are not there, and when Yolanda returned at 1 p.m., Sami was gone.
"There's been no sign of her. Nothing," Yolanda said. "We thought maybe we'd see a clump of fur or something where she tried to go under a fence or something. But there's been nothing. We've tried everything to find her. I just don't know what to do next. I pray every night that she's safe."
If you have information, contact Kurt Martin at 701-290-0640 or Yolanda Martin at 701-590-9801 or 701-483-3478.