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How an Orchard Park family helped Bills' Dion Dawkins find his lost dog

Sean Kirst

Dan Merkel was walking toward his minivan early Tuesday, preparing to leave for work from his Orchard Park home, when he noticed a frightened young dog trying to scramble across Milestrip Road.

Fearing the dog would get hit in busy traffic, Merkel paused to call to the animal, a young female who immediately ran to him. He brought her into his home, where his wife, Kim, had just started her summer break from teaching algebra at Chesterton Academy of Buffalo, in West Seneca.

"She's adorable, very friendly," Kim Merkel said of the dog, whose barking woke up their 16-year-old twins, Reagan and Alyssa, also off for the summer after finishing their sophomore year of high school at Chesterton. Two older children, Grant and Katherine, were not at home.

The dog wore a collar and had clearly received good care, and the twins understood all too well the worry that the owner was undoubtedly going through. Their 14-year-old labradoodle Coal died in December, and the family still feels the loss. So mother and daughters went to work, trying to help the dog find her way home.

They had no idea this dog was named Cami, and lives with a Buffalo Bill.

Dion Dawkins, a dog-loving Bills offensive lineman, was looking for his dog amid what had already been an emotional week. Monday, he joined hundreds of volunteers in packing children's backpacks donated in honor Ezra Castro, often known as Pancho Billa, the legendary symbol of the #BillsMafia who died of cancer last month, in Texas.

Yet a worried Dawkins, on Tuesday morning, posted a tweet seeking help from the community:

Dawkins said the dog is about 11 months old, named "Cami" because her fur resembles camouflage. He said the dog is so gentle and well-behaved that he had fallen into the habit of opening his front door to let her out for a few minutes, early in the morning, right after he gets up.

Tuesday, she surprised him by taking off. He believes she must have spotted an animal that might have drifted out of some nearby woods. Dawkins started driving around the neighborhood, looking for Cami, until he ran out of time and had to go to work. His girlfriend, Daiyaana Muhammed, continued the search, while Dawkins hoped his tweet would get results.

"I was a nervous wreck," Dawkins said.

Still, his strategy worked. The Merkels took the dog to their veterinarians, the 5 Corners Animal Hospital, to see if the animal might be embedded with a digital chip. While there was no chip, one of the vets "must have seen the tweet," Kim Merkel said, and somehow made contact with Dawkins.

An appreciative Muhammed stopped by the Merkel home to pick up the dog, while Dawkins came by later, once he had a chance. "I was extremely happy and extremely thankful," he said. He and the Merkels theorized that Cami traveled through some woods between neighborhoods to reach their home, where Dan's quick intervention kept the animal from running into traffic.

"No more free range," Dawkins said, referring to the pup's usual morning sabbatical, and he also said his first order of business is putting her tags on her collar.

As for the role played by Kim, Dan and the twins, Dawkins said he will make sure they have four tickets to the Bills home opener in September, the game at which Castro's memory will be honored. In gratitude, Dawkins tweeted out a message of thanks Tuesday, with his arms around Kim and her daughters.

Kim Merkel said the ticket offer is gracious, but her family would have done the same for anyone. She and Dan, who works for Honeywell in Buffalo, have attempted to raise their children with a simple ethic.

"We try to help when we can," Kim said.

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at or read more of his work in this archive.

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