MONTPELIER, Vt. - Rotisserie chicken, bacon, dog toys, more than a dozen volunteers and even a psychic have not been enough to find Murphy, an elusive golden retriever whose owner's five-month search for the beloved animal has captivated one mountainous area of Vermont.
Neighbours have pulled together to try to find Murphy since he was spooked by a car accident and ran off June 29, going door-to-door with posters, looking for tracks and setting out food and traps.
He's been spotted numerous times, in backyards and on trail cameras in Waterbury Center, about 8 miles from the crash. But any time someone gets close, the 3-year-old cagey canine darts off.
"I definitely think he's still in the fight-or-flight mode because he seems to run from everybody," said his owner, 24-year-old Kirstin Campbell, of Morrisville.
Campbell had Murphy with her when her vehicle went off the road and hit a tree in Stowe. She let the dog out after the crash and he ran away, traumatized. He was seen around the resort town in the summer but ended up venturing south to Waterbury Center, apparently along the one main road between the towns.
The search has gotten the attention of local media and members of a popular online community forum where Campbell's grandfather Ed Hamel, 63, has posted weekly since Murphy disappeared.
"We did the old, you know, put the clothing out, put the towels out, food out, treats out, walk around and walk around, leave our scent everywhere and that didn't do any good," said Hamel, who describes Murphy as "the best dog in the world."
At one point they enlisted a Massachusetts-based pet psychic who claims to be able to communicate with animals. The psychic told them by phone that Murphy was on a parallel path to a road where they had just lost track of him and that she was seeing his name. A tipster then reported seeing Murphy at Murray Hill Farm in Waterbury Center, Campbell said.
After Murphy was spotted in August, one woman drove about 30 miles from Burlington every night to keep a look out for him in Waterbury Center.
And town resident Lisa Lovelette has helped check the traps for Hamel, knowing he couldn't come twice a day.
"I just thought about how I would feel if it were my dog and I lived 30 miles away," she said. "So I've just been doing what I can to kind of help him out."
At the end of October and in mid-November, Murphy was spotted on two trail cameras in Waterbury Center, giving Campbell hope that he's still out there and they're on the right track.
Now one homeowner nearby has been setting out food to lure Murphy back for regular feedings until he can be caught — before winter really sets in.
But Hamel and Campbell urged people not to chase the skittish pooch, just to report where they see him.
"I miss him like crazy," she said.