PRATT COUNTY -- Buck, a black lab companion dog owned by Billy Studer in Pratt County, doesn't understand social distancing. In a time when people are supposed to stay home because of coronavirus concerns, Buck has been known to go sit on U.S. Highway 61 just a quarter of a mile from his home near Natrona, waiting for someone to stop by and visit with him.
"People pick him up all the time," Studer said. "He knows just where to sit so that he won't get hit, but so that people will stop and pet him. Sometimes they take him for a ride."
Studer has learned, after experiencing 25 or more of Buck's escapades, that those who stop on the highway and pick up his dog eventually read the name and phone number on Buck's collar and bring him back.
"He always comes back, whether it is by way of someone dropping him off, or he just shows up on the yard again," Studer said. "I try to keep him home, but he is very strong willed. If he wants to go, he finds a way to do it. He has always come home though."
When Buck didn't come home for several days two weeks ago however, Studer became frantic with worry.
"That dog is my best friend," he said. "I try to keep him home, but there is something about the highway that draws him. Maybe it is the sound of vehicles on the rumble strips near the turnoff there, maybe he just likes meeting new people. I don't know what it is, but every now and then he just takes off."
On day one of Buck's most recent disappearance, Studer, who is in his 80s, walked his property looking for tracks or any sign of his dog. He was worried, but thought, like other times, Buck would soon reappear. Maybe someone picked him up on the highway again. Maybe his dog went visiting.
On day two, Studer called the local newspaper, The Pratt Tribune.
"I'm getting really worried," Studer said. "I haven't seen hide nor hair of my dog, Buck, and I need to put out an ad in case someone has him so they will bring him back."
Studer checked in with the dog catcher in Pratt and at the Pratt Area Humane Society, but neither place had any notices of a friendly black lab that might have been picked up northeast of Pratt. The Pratt County Sherif''s Department knew all about Studer's dog Buck, but this time no one had any idea where he might be.
"This time he has done it," Studer said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."
On day three, with no sign of Buck, Studer took a lonely walk around his farm.
"I just happened to go around the back side of my shop building," he said. "I don't usually walk there, but I heard something. I went around to the front and opened the door and Buck shot out of there like a rocket! He had been right here all the time I thought he was lost."
Studer and Buck were overjoyed to be reunited. Studer said he did not even mind that Buck went into overdrive piling sticks and limbs on his back porch deck.
"He thinks I clean up the trees just for him. He is always bringing branches bigger than even him up on to my deck," he said.
According to Studer, Buck must have been chasing a rabbit around the shop the day he went missing and it went in when Studer opened the hydraulic doors on the east side. He must not have noticed Buck go into the back part of the building and the doors automatically shut after him when Studer went out.
"I'm just glad he is back," Studer said. "I know where to look for him next time. He's never done that before. Life is just not the same without him."