It was tracking dogs, on the scent, that finally found Frank.
The end to the search was heartbreaking – but at least it was an answer. David Scherff and a friend, Fernando Montalvo, had spent the better part of a week in Katy, Texas, looking for the dog.
Scherff, 35, is a native of Buffalo's West Side, a graduate of Starpoint High School. In the first days after the dog was lost, Scherff continued to help with rescuing stranded families in the weary community, then he'd spend whatever time was left searching for Frank, his bulldog. The animal fell off a boat and was swept away in floodwaters more than a week ago, after Hurricane Harvey overwhelmed greater Houston.
A small group from San Antonio, including Scherff, had made a spontaneous decision to drive to Houston, to do whatever they could to assist. While Scherff was helping with rescue efforts, his fishing boat hit an object hidden in the murky water. The dog was thrown in. A fellow rescuer, Tim Donovan, risked his life trying to save Frank.
Donovan, a former Marine, plunged into the torrent. He was swept under two bridges and pounded by debris. He survived only by clinging to some trees.
Scherff – who initially feared Donovan had died – made it clear that his greatest concern was both for Donovan's safety and for the vast human dimension of the tragedy in Houston, where more than 60 lives were lost, where thousands upon thousands were forced from their homes by the storm.
Yet Scherff, who runs a San Antonio automotive parts store, stayed in Katy for much of the week and kept looking for his dog. Sometimes he and Montalvo slept in Scherff's truck, parked in a McDonald's parking lot. Media accounts turned the search for the solitary bulldog into a kind of national social media phenomenon. Jim Price, a Katy resident, allowed Scherff to use his home as a staging point.
More than 2,600 people followed a Facebook page dedicated to the dog. Around the nation, followers scoured photos from the flood and reports from animal shelters. They passed along every account of a white bulldog that somehow survived.
In a city of Houston's size, there were a lot of white bulldogs.
As for Scherff, he retraced the route of the floodwaters that surged through Katy. He found a patch of woodland where he'd heard some lost dogs were running the trails. An animal control specialist saw prints that looked as if they came from a bulldog's paws.
Scherff used special cameras to monitor those trails at night. They set out cat food, hoping Frank – if traumatized and alone – might be attracted by the scent. A friend tried to scan the area with a drone. For a time, Scherff felt a trace of hope.
Homeowners, the Katy police, animal specialists ….
"It was just thousands of people pulling together for this one little dog," Scherff said.
That ended Monday night. A volunteer brought tracking dogs, and they sniffed at some of Frank's fur from the truck – the dog always rode alongside Scherff – and then took off. They found Frank's remains, almost hidden by other debris from the flood, near the place where the torrent roared on the night when Harvey was at its worst.
Scherff and Montalvo quietly wrapped up Frank and put him in the truck. Late Monday, they drove the dog back to San Antonio. They also contacted Donovan, 38, who was the last person to see the dog alive.
He'd nearly been killed when he plunged into the flood to try and save Frank. He saw the dog in front of him, swimming in the flood, but they were separated when they were sucked under the bridges.
The next day, after the water receded, looking at the jagged metal and debris lodged in the same spot, Scherff marveled that Donovan survived.
Monday night, Donovan showed up at Scherff's store with his wife, Ashley, and their sons Timothy and Padraig. Donovan, his ribs still bruised from being dragged through the water, grabbed a shovel and helped to dig a hole for the dog on Scherff's property.
"Frank being home now allows us closure," Donovan wrote in a text. "We can stop worrying if he is cold and hungry and lost." He believes the dog commanded so much attention because Frank was a symbol of "what is good in the world," one small totem of the legion of men and women who turned out to help their neighbors amid the flood.
He'd like to think that's why so many people cared about Frank.
"I wish I jumped harder and swam farther," Donovan wrote. "But I'm glad Frank is home."
Late Monday, after the long drive back to San Antonio, Scherff said he knows there are countless animals that need homes in the wake of Harvey, but he plans to give himself a little time. "Those are pretty big shoes to fill," he said of Frank, a rescue dog he found on Craigslist not quite three years ago, a dog that came to him malnourished and mistreated, a dog that turned into a beloved presence at both his store and his home.
Scherff again expressed concern about everyone who's suffered tremendous loss in the flood, and he repeated his gratitude for everyone who helped with the search, and he did his best to give his dog one last, best place to rest.
He buried the bulldog not far from the front door, near the spot where Frank often looked toward the world.
Sean Kirst is a columnist for The Buffalo News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or read more of his work in this archive.