A three-day search for a missing Texas woman led to her rescue thanks to a goofy — and heroic — Labrador retriever.
On May 3, Sherry Noppe leashed her black Lab, Max, and they headed out for an afternoon walk from their home in Katy, Texas. When they didn’t return, her husband and adult children grew concerned — particularly because the 63-year-old had recently been diagnosed with dementia.
They contacted law enforcement and the community quickly mobilized. Volunteers with the nonprofit Alpha Search and Recovery deployed search dog teams while those with Texas EquuSearch set out on horseback to comb the area. Thousands of people pitched in to help.
On May 5, two search dogs alerted to her scent. Searchers that evening picked up from where the dogs left off. Hours later, as they neared a thickly wooded area in George Bush Park in Houston, they heard a dog barking.
It was Max.
In the wee hours of the morning on May 6 — two days before Mother’s Day — Noppe’s younger daughter Courtney grabbed her phone as it rang.
“Someone that was out there called me around three in the morning and said that they had found her,” Courtney Noppe, 34, told TODAY. “I asked if she was alive and asked, ‘Send me a picture.’" Once she saw the photo, Noppe started calling family members
The Noppe family is elated to be reunited with Noppe and Max, who both received medical care before a joyous Mother’s Day celebration together, according to Jessica Noppe, 39.
“My mom is doing great,” she told TODAY. “She had a bunch of cuts all over and she was suffering from dehydration, but at this point, she’s back to normal. Everything’s healed up really well. She’s in good spirits."
Max is also doing well, she said. "He just has a little bit of a scab around his nose and he had a cut on his foot that’s healing up well.”
Max, 3, is typically a fun-loving, friendly, energetic “goofball,” according to the sisters.
“He sees you and he’s like, ‘That’s my friend!’ — jumping on you to greet you,” Courtney Noppe said. “He loves everyone and everything.”
But he transformed into a brave protector during the ordeal, which included days filled with heat and rain.
“Where they were located, there’s lots of wild hogs out there. And snakes,” she said. “It was his bark that they heard, and as they got closer, he kept on barking at them.”
Once safely back home, Max took a nap that lasted almost an entire day.
“We feel like he was awake out there the entire time for three days — wide awake, protecting her,” Jessica Noppe said. “When they left, he had a leash and collar on. And when they came back, his leash and collar were both gone. So he stayed with her the whole time with no leash and no collar on.”
It's unclear why Noppe removed his collar — “We’re still trying to learn about Alzheimer’s and dementia ourselves. We’re learning that sometimes episodes can happen and we are not sure she really understood what was happening at that point,” as Jessica Noppe explained. But it’s crystal clear that Max is a hero to his family and everyone in the community.
“So many people have been so generous, dropping things off for him: cookies and treats. A barbecue company brought a huge ‘dino bone’ and he got to eat that,” she said. “He is living his best life. He’s getting everything — tons of love, tons of treats, tons of toys.”
The family is thrilled to have Sherry Noppe back home and, of course, Max himself. He started out as a hunting companion to one of Noppe’s sons, who passed away in 2019.
“My parents inherited him as the last thing that they had from their son,” Jessica Noppe said. “We’re barely still trying to get over my brother. So to lose not just my brother, but then, a couple years later, my mom and then the only thing we had left of my brother would’ve been devastating to our family.”
Instead, they are filled with gratitude to all the people and trained pets who helped bring their mom and her dog home just in time for a very special day.
“It was a miracle. This was my first Mother’s Day as a mom," said Courtney Noppe, who celebrated with her daughter. "So for her to come back to us after that long out there and the conditions was a miracle.
"I’ll say this: My brother was watching over all of us to make sure both her and Max came home to us. So it was the best first Mother’s Day I could have asked for.”