What does it take to capture a dog who does not want to be caught? Well, Missing Pet Partnership (MPP) volunteers found out on Monday after we were called out to search for a missing Boston Terrier named Bitsy.
Bitsy (The Offender)
Bitsy’s owner was on vacation in Yellowstone National Park while her co-worker and friend agreed to pet sit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the only thing worse than losing a pet is losing SOMONE ELSE’S pet! When she called Missing Pet Partnership on Monday morning I knew that Patricia, the pet sitter/friend, REALLY needed our help.
Thankfully, this search was in Federal Way where we have the most number of volunteers with flexible schedules. Our expert dog tracker, Jim Branson, was able to respond with his tracking search dog Kelsy while I organized an “Intersection Alert” for that evening. Intersection Alerts have proven over and over again to be highly successful in attracting the attention of driver’s passing by. If you want to truly get the message out that a dog is lost, you must be willing to stand on a street corner, hold up a big hunking neon LOST DOG sign, and look pretty stupid. In some cases we’ve recovered the lost dog right then and there and in other cases, we’ve ended up with some fantastic leads.
So four of our MPP volunteers stood at the intersection of Military Road and Peasley Canyon Road, a very busy two lane roadway, for over two hours (4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.) holding up our neon LOST DOG signs. Note (in the photo above) that we blew up the photo of Bitsy (to 8 1/2 X 11) and used only a few words in giant letters (in the other sheet protector) to describe her. The neon color of the signs plus our standing there like protestors grabbed the attention so that nearly EVERYONE driving by got our message! Because of this effort, we developed two major leads: two different people saw Bitsy running IN THE ROADWAY down at the base of Peasley Canyon Road and someone in a white car was trying to capture her!
We were fortunate because Patrica came with her own group of volunteers. It turns out that Bitsy is an “office mascot” of sorts who is loved by many people who all wanted to do what they could to help her. So we gave them a big pile of giant neon REWARD LOST DOG posters and “tagged” their cars with neon markers so that they could drive around the immediate area and “mass market” the fact that Bitsy was lost.
The neon marketing WORKED! Early the next day, Patrica received multiple calls (based on the posters) that Bitsy was seen wandering around the area. Then, at around 2:00 p.m. she received a pivotal call: someone was calling from their cell phone and was behind Bitsy as she was trotting along the side of Peasley Canyon Road! Bitsy ran into the apartment complex (where Patricia lives) while the witness was still following her.
This was when MPP activated our Federal Way CERT-MAR volunteer team. Within twenty minutes we had three volunteers (myself with my magnet dog Kody, Brian Newsham, and Jim Branson with his search dog Kelsy). We surrounded the massive apartment complex and began a systematic search of the area. It wasn’t long before we had another sighting — this time by one of Patricia’s co-workers! Bitsy ran though the entrance of the complex but vanished again and we just could not find her. This went on for another hour. Patricia herself saw Bitsy but the little dog was so panicked that she continued to run and would not come to anyone.
We realized that we needed to change tactics. While we had tricks up our sleeve (throw net, magnet dog with a Snappy Snare) that have worked to capture skittish dogs like Bitsy, it was hit or miss as to whether we’d be in the right place at the right time if she came zipping by us again. Our “Plan B” was to set two baited humane dog traps in the areas where she’d already run through in hopes that we could lure her into a trap with the scent of food.
We called out two more MPP volunteers: Neil McLean and his wife Michele McLean. They were able to transport our large humane dog trap while I rushed home and picked up a smaller dog trap. Within thirty minutes, after lugging the biggest dog trap every made through steep terrain on the side of the apartment complex, Neil and I had the trap set up. Right as I was preparing to go and set up the smaller trap, a high pitched, excited voice came across the radio. It was Patricia and she was yelling that she had captured Bitsy!
Patricia had placed food and water outside her apartment door and when she opened the door Bitsy was right there and Patricia was able to pick her up! I was back at the apartment within five minutes and here is what I filmed with my Flip camera. The room was packed with volunteers and there was much hugging and crying and high-fiving, not to mention a great sense of relief that Bitsy was safe. The last I heard, Bitsy was back with her owner Katherine and settling into normal life. She had a good check up with her vet–a few scrapes and very sore muscles.
During the Intersection Alert that we did on this case I had a passerby who noticed all of our pet detective action walk up and ask, “All of THIS for one lost dog?” Well, sort of. All of “THIS” (our lost pet services) is not just about the lost pet. It’s also about PEOPLE who’ve lost an animal they deeply love and who need hope and help. But most of all, a majority of dogs and cats that are not found (when lost) end up in animal shelters (as “strays”). And many of them ultimately end up on death row because their families were alone and did not have good guidance in their efforts to find them.
Developing community-based lost pet recovery services to reduce shelter kill rates is a unique approach to solving the homeless, stray, and feral animal populations. But our work (searching for lost pets) here at MPP does not fit the mold of other animal welfare groups that receive funding for issues like spay & neuter, TNR (trap-neuter-return), or foster programs. For example, MPP tried to apply for a grant from one of the bigger animal foundations last year but we were denied because they said they were only funding “hands-on animal welfare groups” and that they did “not have funding for lost pet programs at the present time.” Well, if the work that our volunteers did on the Bitsy case was not “hands on” rescue work that is saving animals lives and worthy of funding from animal welfare foundations, then I don’t know what is!
Hopefully, one day the animal welfare community will embrace the concept of Missing Animal Response work and see the value in recovering lost dogs and lost cats before they end up in shelters. No one ever said that change is easy!