On Friday, it will be 16 days since Autumn went missing, and Dorene Bankester can't help but wonder.
How long can an old dog, with bad eyesight and almost no hearing, trudge around unfamiliar territory, bewildered and alone?
Jackson County is full of posters like these, featuring the 14-year-old Autumn, a 40-pound lab/greyhound mix with the distinctive brindle stripes and four white paws and a white tail tip.
Lots of people, maybe even hundreds, have joined Dorene and Phil Bankester in the search since Autumn escaped from a Cobden animal boarder on Sept. 5. At first the sightings came rapidly, indicating the dog was heading north, sticking relatively close to Old Route 51 and following power lines. But now the sightings have tailed off.
No one is giving up. On Tuesday evening, residents along Old Route 51 set up 10 grilling stations, hoping that the aroma of cooking bacon would prove irresistible to the lost dog.
Of the $800 reward being advertised, only $100 comes from the Bankesters. The rest is from people pressing money on them to offer a bigger reward. When the funds hit $800, Dorene and Phil quit taking it.
"This community is making me cry," Dorene said this week. "People are looking for her, I don't even know them."
A week ago Thursday she was seen crossing Old Route 51. That same afternoon she approached children on the Unity Point School playground, to get a little petting.
That's fully 7 miles from her starting point in Cobden, and Lisa Thompson, the rescue coordinator for Union County Animal Control and a friend of Dorene's, is impressed.
Thompson, who also founded Howlin 4 Hope in Southern Illinois on Facebook, said she thinks Autumn at first intended to find her way home, to the west side of Carbondale. Now, however, she believes Autumn is in survival mode, which means she has turned nocturnal and the sightings will be rarer.
"She's lost her way," Thompson said. "Now, she's just wandering aimlessly."
Shelters as far away as the St. Louis area have been alerted. The Illinois Department of Transportation has notified all their work crews in the area.
Thompson believes Autumn is alive, and that it's possible someone has taken her in. They know of at least one occasion where she showed up at a house. The resident, not realizing she wasn't a feral, refused to let her in.
Dorene Bankester is beating herself up for neglecting to attach Autumn's rabies and address tags to her pink flea collar. Autumn is up to date on all her shots, and her only health condition is being heartworm positive, for which her next treatment is due in early October.
But mostly, Dorene regrets trying to board Autumn at all, only two months after adopting her from Thompson. Thompson fostered Autumn after she and about 180 other dogs were saved from a Pulaski County rescue organization that could not keep up with their care after the organizer died.
Phil and Dorene brought Autumn home in June. She was sweet, social and gentle, but shy. At first she retreated into her crate, coming out only for meals. Dorene and Phil took their time and eventually coaxed her out for longer periods. After nearly two months she rewarded their patience with her trust.
"We'd take morning walks, where she'd trot, gallop, grin at me, come over for a treat," Dorene said. She started sitting at Dorene's feet next to the recliner and jumping up beside her on the couch.
"We were just getting to know each other," she says, holding back tears.
Then, she and Phil arranged to fly to Florida, to be with a close friend who was having surgery.
On Sept. 5 they bundled Autumn, their siamese cat and Shih Tzu dog (all rescues) into the car and drove to the Cobden boarder, who they have used for five years. Only four hours later, Autumn disappeared.
"I think when I dropped her off, she freaked out," Dorene says, frankly.
The Florida trip was canceled. Phil and Dorene searched that first night til 11:30 p.m. The next days were a blur of all-day searching. On Saturday, they went into the lowest point in the holler and made piles of cooked bacon and sausages, hoping she would be drawn by the aroma.
The raccoons were grateful but Autumn did not appear.
Based on the daytime and early evening sightings, Dorene suspects the dog is roaming the pocket between Unity Point School and the Illinois Small Business Incubator. Thompson said lost dogs typically stay in one general area or make a circle pattern.
A woman who adopted a kennelmate of Autumn's drove in from several hours away with her dog, just to walk around the area, hoping the dogs would find each other. People call the Bankesters just about every day but the sightings have become less reliable.
Dorene and Phil have done nothing but search, all day every day.
"We're getting weary, physically and emotionally," Dorene admits.
Thompson, meanwhile, said dogs in survival mode no longer respond to their names, and forget their previous life, concentrating only on food, water and shelter. Right now, she probably wouldn't even recognize Dorene.
Autumn is not feral, Thompson explained, just focused. She might show up at your door or your car, asking to come in.
If she does, "Take her in," Thompson said, "Then call the Bankesters or call your local county animal control."
If you see Autumn, call immediately, she added, since in 20 minutes, the dog will have moved on.
Dorene has made Autumn a promise.
"If I ever get her back, I'm never leaving her again," she said.
"My daughter said, 'Mom, you can't live your life for the dog,' and I said, 'Watch me.'"