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A loyal Arkansas dog left behind by her owner has been recovered after spending eight years alone in a nearby forest, and her rescuers say she was still trying to protect the property where she was deserted.

To see Willa perched on a chair taking treats in the comfort of a home, one would never guess that she had spent the last eight years alone in the woods. Suffering from an inherited eye condition, she wandered blindly for nearly three thousand days before she was recovered, and those who know her say she was just trying to stay at her post as a guard dog – even though her owner and the business she guarded have been gone for nearly ten years.

Willa was deserted many years ago at an area body shop. She was living in a patch of trees near the shop, but when a church moved into the building shortly thereafter, the trees were bulldozed. Willa found her way to a nearby forest, and churchgoers said she would return from time to time in order to guard her post.

“She can’t get very far being blind. I did get my hands around her once when she got tangled up in some briars, but I haven’t ever been able to catch her,” said Willa Everts. The dog was named after her by the Humane Society of Faulkner County.

Everts said she and another area resident have spent the last eight years trying to catch the disabled dog. They fed her regularly but could never catch her.

“Paulette Rice and I coordinated to feed the dog for about eight years. She would feed her in the morning and I would feed her in the evenings and bring her ice water. She would come running at the sound of my car and got to where she’d eat out of my hands but I never could get my hands around her to catch her,” Everts said in an interview with the Log Cabin Democrat.

Everts said several residents in the Southern Hills and Deer Field neighborhoods had made attempts to locate and capture Willa, but she managed to elude all of them – until now.

Humane Society employee Judy Standridge said Willa and her tale of woe were too heartbreaking to bear, so she made a resolution to find and rescue her.

To see Willa, the shepherd guard dog now comfortable and at home in an easy chair in front of a blowing fan, you wouldn’t know she had spent the last eight years alone in the woods.

For some time, she has wandered blindly, suffering from an inherited eye condition that if treated may have been avoided.

Those who know the dog’s history guess that Willa stayed at her post as a guard dog, though her owner and the business she guarded have been gone for almost 10 years.

When the auto repair shop vacated and a church moved into the remaining structure, the patch of trees Willa lived in was bulldozed. She moved to another wooded area across the road from the church on South German Lane, but would return when parishioners were not present, apparently to continue to guard her post.

“She can’t get very far being blind. I did get my hands around her once when she got tangled up in some briars, but I haven’t ever been able to catch her,” said Willa Everts, for whom the dog has since been named after by the Humane Society of Faulkner County.

Everts said she and another resident in the area of Appalachian Drive on the south side of Conway were able to at least see to it that the dog had access to fresh food and water each day.

“Paulette Rice and I coordinated to feed the dog for about eight years. She would feed her in the morning and I would feed her in the evenings and bring her ice water. She would come running at the sound of my car and got to where she’d eat out of my hands but I never could get my hands around her to catch her,” Everts said.

According to Everts, she was able to first bring the dog in to feed from her hands because Willa “had a cat” that led her.

“The cat would come up to me and that made Willa trust me enough that she’d come up and I could touch her,” she said.

Three years ago, the cat companion disappeared and Willa was left alone again.

According to Everts, several residents in the Southern Hills and Deer Field neighborhoods have known about the dog and have attempted to capture it.

Officials with Conway Animal Welfare have also used a trap to attempt to catch Willa the dog, she said.

Judy Standridge, Humane Society of Faulkner County volunteer, said the group has made its own attempts as well.

Standridge said the dog preyed on her mind, and as more people approached her about the “blind dog in the woods,” she resolved to rescue it.

“I thought again about the dog and so I went into the woods by myself and started trailing her with a catch pole. The woods are so dense in that area that I figured she would get tangled up and I’d be able to get her and she did. She was bumping into everything,” Standridge said.

Willa Everts accompanied Standridge and Willa the dog to Companions Spay and Neuter Clinic, the HSFC’s clinic that evaluates all animals entering the program.

“We sedated her and examined her and unfortunately that’s when we found out that she has heart worms and a tick disease,” Standridge said. “I want people to know that so many dogs enter our program with heart worms because of mosquitoes, and that they need to use a preventative.”

Willa’s conditions are treatable at a high price. She will start on her treatment in one week using funds from the HSFC.

Aside from being heart worm positive and carrying a tick disease, Willa was found to be in surprisingly good health, Standridge said.

“She’s going to be just fine, she just can’t see,” she said. “Willa is about ready to be adopted.”

According to Standridge, Willa needs a home with a strict routine because of her lack of sight. She has shown to be submissive to humans, but would thrive in a family without small children. Willa likes other dogs and cats, and has never shown aggression.

“Willa and Paulette’s commitment to taking care of this dog - if they hadn’t done this - I don’t know what would have happened to her,” Standridge, now Willa’s foster mom, said.