For 19 days this December, the Carmichael family anxiously searched and waited for news.
During a family road trip, their 2-year-old German Shepard, Max, had bolted at a Columbia River Gorge rest area, been hit by two vehicles on the freeway, and then seemingly vanished.
As time wore on, their search seemed more and more hopeless. But, assisted by a persistent Oregon State Police trooper, locals in Wasco County as well as a community of animal lovers they connected with online, the Carmichaels refused to give up on Max.
“We will continue to search for Max until we find him one way or another,” Matt Carmichael, the family patriarch and the chief of the University of Oregon police department, wrote on the ‘Bring Max Home’ website he created. “Not knowing is the toughest part.”
Then on Dec. 21, Carmichael received a shocking text from the OSP trooper, Michael Holloran. Three workers for the Oregon Department of Transportation — Taylor Stafford, Lewis Alvarado, and Daniel Lopez — had located a dog lying on the gravelly side of a canal. It was Max, emaciated and injured but alive.
In 2020, a year that’s contained so much bad news and pain for everyone, the Carmichaels and the strangers who’d helped search for him had received an unexpected blessing: Max would be home with his family for Christmas.
“As much as this was a search for Max, for me, it was more of a story about people,” Matt Carmichael added. “All these people who didn’t know us, working together and wanting to help. They kept Max on their minds. So, in the end, it felt like kind of a win for all of us in what’s been a really difficult year.”
When the Carmichaels pulled into Memaloose rest area on Interstate 84 about 20 miles east of Hood River after several hours of driving, Max did something he’d never done before. He took off.
Almost immediately, he was struck by a diesel truck on the highway off-ramp. Shaken but seemingly uninjured, Max bolted again. The family frantically chased and searched for him around the rest stop and the highway, where another driver who had stopped her car and told them she’d hit Max as well. Thankfully, neither collision caused an accident and the drivers was uninjured.
“At one point, Max stopped and looked right at me,” Angelica said. “But then he ran. He had to be still in shock.”
The family searched for Max in the rugged terrain around the rest stop along the bank of Columbia River from noon until nightfall that day. Because of the collisions, Matt Carmichael said they expected that they would be collecting his body. But nothing turned up.
“How does a dog survive being hit by a big truck and then by a big SUV?” Angelica said.
Eventually, the family made the heart-wrenching decision to leave as darkness fell and to continue home. Madison, the Carmichaels’ teenage daughter, felt tremendous guilt because Max had jumped out through her open car door, escaping her grasp as she tried to grab his tail.
“I kept replaying it in my mind,” she said.
Holloran, the OSP trooper, assisted with the search that day and promised to alert the Wasco County Sheriff’s Department, the local Humane Society and the Oregon Department of Transportation to be on the lookout for Max.
The Carmichaels returned the next day and several additional times in the following weeks. The area was large and much of the terrain steep and rocky and, unfortunately, its colors were easy for a tan dog to blend into. At night, the temperature would drop below freezing.
The family also tried to connect with and get the word out to local community members and pet rescue groups on social media. There were a couple of reported sightings of a loose dog in the area in the days that followed, but nothing ever concrete.
The Carmichaels used every trick they could think of, including binoculars, an infrared scanner, and the offer of a $400 reward. Two fellow UOPD officers, one of whom owns Max’s sister, made a surprise trek to the area with her in hopes she might attract him.
“He was just nowhere to be found,” Matt said. “We searched that area up and down, over and over.”
Then the text from Holloran arrived. Three ODOT workers had spotted movement in a canal near their worksite. One of them had heard about Max and called out his name. A Wasco sheriff’s K-9 officer was able to retrieve the dog and rush him to a veterinarian in The Dalles.
Unsure whether the rescued dog was really Max, Angelica and two of the Carmichaels’ children rushed north that evening. Driving through torrential rain, it took them four hours to arrive.
Angelica remembers thinking, “If this isn’t him, what will I say to the kids?”
But Max strode out to meet them. His ribs were protruding but he wagged his tail when he saw his owners in a reunion video posted online by Oregon State Police. He bonked Madison’s eye with his nose as he sniffed at her face.
“I thought, ‘Man, I’ve missed that,’” Madison said. “It was so crazy and overwhelming.”