On October 20th, 2009, I responded to Beacon Hill to search for Don Julio, a missing iguana.
By this time it had already been three days since he had left his outdoor perch and scooted out an open gate. Back on October 17th when Don Julio escaped his guardian, Peter, launched an immediate search of the neighborhood. It was pouring rain but ten minutes into searching the area Peter saw an Animal Control Officer. Sure enough, someone had reported seeing an iguana leaving the roadway and walking on a sidewalk towards the I-90 foot path near 17th Ave South, just 1/2 block north of Peter’s home.
Peter spent the next three days searching the trees in that immediate area. This wasn’t the first time that Peter had to hunt down his prized lizard. On the first escape, he climbed up a tree in Peter’s front yard. On the second escape, he climbed a fence and ended up inside a tree one block west of Peter’s home. But after scouring the area trees, Peter found me. He wanted to know if I could bring a tracking dog out to track his lost iguana.
I responded with my bloodhound Zeke, but didn’t hold out much hope that my bloodhound could crack the case. Zeke was dynamic on lost dog scent but had never trained on iguanas. It was worth a shot, and I was willing to give it a try. I took a sterile gauze pad and crushed up shed iguana skin and used this as Zeke’s scent article. I started Zeke in the back yard where Don Julio was last seen. He picked up a scent trail and worked north up to the area of the sighting. He seemed to lose the scent out on the I-90 trial. To be honest, because Zeke was a green rookie, I wasn’t totally convinced that he was ever working the trail in the first place.
I switched tactics. I loaded Zeke back into my truck and pulled out my binoculars. Peter and I spent the next hour searching the tree tops in the immediate neighborhood. Peter had looked in these trees but not with binoculars, so when he used mine he realized that he needed to invest in a pair. We didn’t have any luck finding Don Julio, but I recommended that Peter post giant, florescent posters, put a listing on Craig’s List, and to keep searching the trees.
Four days later, Peter e-mailed me. He had found Don Julio! Peter had invested in a pair of binoculars and had continued to search over and over and over again those same trees in his immediate neighborhood. On October 24th, Peter was looking up in a tree with his new pair of binoculars when he spotted what looked like a tail. Look at the photograph up above and see if YOU can spot the tail! Peter took these photgraphs when he first saw Don Julio. Perhaps this will give you a better appreciation for how difficult it was to find an iguana in a tree!
The photo above was taken with the zoom, enabling you to see some of the pattern on Don Julio’s body. But still, it is pretty amazing that Peter was able to see the iguana–at least until you understand the concept of “Search Probability Theory,” a principle used in finding lost people. We teach this to pet detectives and it goes like this: you’ll have a higher probability of finding what you are searching for (missing person or missing pet) if you only focus your search efforts in the locations where the subject (missing person or missing pet) is most likely to be. Since Don Julio (and all the other iguanas I’ve ever searched for) have been found up trees, that was where Peter should have focused his search efforts.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what Peter did. He conducted a sustained, patient search of the high probability search areas (the tree tops in the immediate area) with his binoculars. Don Julio was in a tree that was only 15 yards from where that witness (who called Animal Control) last saw him. It was a tree that Peter and I had searched. In spite of the fact that Peter had already searched that tree several times, he searched it again with an understanding that his iguana could be up there.
A positive mindset is critical to the success of recovering a lost pet. Just ask Peter and Don Julio!