Dakota, lucky dog, meets Phil Holderman, officer of the year

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Dakota the Great Pyrenees rests comfortably in  Tina Kuetemeyer's lap after being treated for a broken femur.

When Tina Kuetemeyer saw a car hit a dog on U.S. 70, she called the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department not knowing who would show up.

Luckily for her - and for Dakota the Great Pyrenees - who showed up was deputy Phil Holderman, who is known for helping people and animals in need. Holderman, a Swannanoa Valley native, had recently been named the sheriff department’s officer of the year.

Deputy Phil Holderman talks about the May 29 rescue of Dakota the Great Pyrenees, hit by a car on U.S. 70 in Swannanoa.

It all started about 6:15 p.m. May 29, in the rain. Kuetemeyer, an emergency room nurse at Mission Hospital, was driving west on the highway when she saw a big, white dog running in and out of traffic. She  called the sheriff’s department and began trying to divert drivers around Dakota, who had been spotted around the Swannanoa Valley for weeks.

Black Mountain resident Tina  Kuetemeyer, pictured here with her dog Rizzo, worked with Buncombe County Sheriff deputy Phil Holderman to rescue a stray Great Pyrenees May 29.

“Then a car came flying,” Kuetemeyer said in a recent interview. “It almost hit (Dakota) head on, but he jumped out of the way at the last second and still was hit really hard.” The car didn’t stop.

Dakota went over an embankment, and minutes later Holderman, who regularly patrols the Swannanoa Valley, arrived. The 23-year law enforcement veteran knew about the Great Pyrenees - he had tried catch it days earlier. Social media had been buzzing for days with reports from people seeing the dog and hoping to reconnect it and its owner.

“It looked like a big, white bear,” Holderman said. “When I got the call that a dog had been hit, I immediately knew it was him.”

Crouching down beside the whimpering dog, the deputy and the nurse tried calling the number of Dakota's tag; no one picked up. Holderman asked Kuetemeyer if she thought she could help him get the 120-pound dog to his patrol car. She said yes, so they carried Dakota to the deputy’s vehicle on a heavy canvas seat cover the nurse keeps in her car for her own dogs.

Dakota, wet and injured, rests in Phil Holderman's patrol car May 29 after the deputy and Tina Kuetemeyer rescued the animal on U.S. 70.

Holderman and Kuetemeyer took Dakota to the nearby fire station to wait for an animal control officer.

“There is no way I could’ve helped that dog without him,” Kuetemeyer said of Holderman. “His willingness to help in that situation was incredible. It was one of those situations where it was the right people in the right place at the right time.”

The "right" person certainly seems to describe Holderman. The 1992 Owen High graduate pursued a career in law enforcement specifically to help people, he said. He is "the type of guy who always goes the extra mile," his wife Tonia said. "That's one of the reasons he was chosen as officer of the year."

Holderman received the award in April during the organization's annual awards banquet. During the presentation, he was recognized for assisting in a property crime case in which an elderly resident was targeted. 

"I look at it as though it's my job to offer whatever resources I can to the community," he said. That's why he was willing to do whatever it took to help Dakota, lying by the highway soggy and injured.

Holderman tracked down Dakota's owners and found out he was a farm dog who wandered into the Valley from Barnardsville. The deputy learned the owner was not willing to pay to repair the dog's broken femur (the surgery would cost $5,000, Kuetemeyer learned later). Dakota was taken to the Regional Emergency Animal Care Hospital in Asheville.

“He was going to have to be put down if he didn’t have the surgery,” said Kuetemeyer, who followed Dakota to the animal hospital. “I asked the vet about his prognosis, and he said it would be a good one.”

She created a GoFundMe account and posted it on social media, where many were familiar with the large white dog that had been roaming the Valley. The crowdfunding effort raised a little over $1,800 within a few hours and more than $5,300 in two days. Kuetemeyer contacted the Carolina Great Pyrenees Rescue out of Charlotte and found that they would happily accept Dakota.

“I was blown away by the support of the community,” she said. “I expected there would be some help, but the amount of people who were willing to help out was overwhelming.”

Holderman is not surprised that the community he grew up and works to keep safe would jump to help Dakota.

“I see this community step up to help each other out all the time," he said. "They help people in need and animals in situations like this where they need it. It's part of what makes this community so great."