Over the past few weeks, I found myself following posts detailing the stories of two lost dogs – and the extraordinary lengths that people went to in order to find them. Yes! They were both found, and, weirdly, both were found on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! I don’t know what the odds are for all lost dogs being found, but I don’t think they are great, so these stories both made me very happy, and also, provided a great opportunity to share some pointers on what to do and what not to do when searching for a lost dog.
The first case was an 11-year-old Lab-mix named Lexi. The dog belongs to Brandi Solomon, a resident of Fairfield, Connecticut. Brandi and Lexi were visiting a friend’s farm in nearby Wilton, Connecticut, on December 7. As they walked around the farm, Lexi happened to touch her nose to an electric fence wire, and the shock made her bolt in fear. She ran quickly away and disappeared into the woods.
Since she doesn’t live in Wilton, and the dog was in unfamiliar territory, Solomon began to post “lost dog” notices on every social media site possible, trying to enlist people in the area around Wilton to keep an eye out for her dog. Fortunately, many communities today have any number of “lost and found pets” pages on Facebook, and Nextdoor.com, and for whatever reason, many people in the area got caught up in the search for Lexi. A number of Wilton residents banded together and offered their assistance to Solomon – including Pilar King, the wife of one of our publisher’s executives! King, an ardent dog owner herself and a long-time resident of Wilton, helped organize a small army of volunteers who put up “lost dog” fliers and went door to door, asking if people had seen the dog.
And many people had seen Lexi! There were numerous sightings of the dog, but every time she was spotted and people tried to call her or approach her, she would take off in a panicked run and disappear into the freezing, snowy weather again.
Finally, a group called CT Dog Gone Recovery Volunteer Network offered their help, and essentially told Solomon that while it was great she had so much engagement from the community, the people who were trying to catch the dog were going about it all wrong. Solomon was told to instruct people who wanted to help that they should not try to approach or call out to Lexi, but to take photos of the dog (if they could) so that Solomon could determine if the dog was Lexi, and try to keep the dog within sight while contacting Solomon, who would come very quickly.
They also recommended that if someone saw Lexi in a yard or near a house, to put a can of tuna or dog food or other pungent food for her outdoors and to retreat indoors. It was hoped that once Lexi realized that a particular location was a safe place to eat, she would return.
One Saturday, January 16, Jorge Velazquez, a resident of Stamford, Connecticut, was shopping when he took a flier from Robin Harrington, a volunteer from the CT Dog Gone Recovery Network, who was searching for Lexi there. Velazquez had lost his own dog for a few hours back in November and remembered how upset he was; he couldn’t imagine losing his dog for six weeks. He prayed for the dog’s return – and when he got home from the supermarket, there was Lexi in his backyard. He did what the flier told him to do; he backed away slowly and contacted Harrington and Solomon with a description of the dog. Because Lexi had been spotted nearby, traps had already been set up in Velazquez’s neighborhood. They came and set up a trap in his yard, and they baited it with a prime rib bone. Trail cameras were used to monitor that trap and the others.
On January 18, after 42 days on the run and over 100 miles traveled, Lexi entered the trap in Velazquez’s yard and began to bark in alarm. Thanks to the trail cameras, Harrington and Solomon learned of Lexi’s capture as quickly as Velazquez heard Lexi barking. Solomon came as quickly as possible – and said that Lexi recognized her within seconds and they had a joyful reunion. Lexi had lost a little weight and had some scrapes, but seemed otherwise unharmed.
After Lexi was found, Solomon asked for donations to CT Dog Gone Recovery Volunteer Network, as thanks for all their help and loan of trail cameras and traps. More than $6,000 has been donated to the volunteer group already.
Another crazy/lucky story
Here in Oroville, California, for the past week, I had been following another lost dog story. Lucy is a white German Shepherd Dog who had been burned in September’s Bear Fire. She had been found with burns all over her body in the fire zone by search and rescue volunteers, who took her straight to a veterinary clinic. She stayed at the clinic for months, recovering from the burns. Her owners had been found, but their home and property had been burned completely. When Lucy was well enough to be released from veterinary care, she had to spend a few weeks at a local animal shelter, as her owners were still working on making a secure place for Lucy and their other dog and temporary housing on their property for themselves.
The shelter staff saw that Lucy was responding poorly to spending time in the shelter; she was getting stressed and her condition started declining. The shelter asked the community whether someone could foster Lucy for a few more weeks, until her owners were ready and able to bring her back to their property. Chelsea Bornheim stepped up to volunteer, and was soon posting social media photos of a happy, relaxed Lucy reclining on her sofa.
But three days later, a new disaster: As Bornheim walked Lucy down her rural driveway to get the mail, two large stray dogs, escaped from a neighbor’s property, bolted out of the woods and attacked Lucy, who was wearing a collar and a harness. The foster person had Lucy’s leash attached to a fanny pack containing her phone and wallet. In the melee, as she fought off the attacking dogs (getting severely bitten on both arms), she released the leash and Lucy ran away in a panic, dragging the fanny pack and the leash behind her.
Animal control officers were summoned and the attacking dogs were found. (It turns out that they had a previous record of attacks and were supposed to have been in a locked enclosure. Following this attack, they were seized by animal control.) But Lucy was nowhere to be found. Anguished and injured, Bornheim immediately spread the word about Lucy’s escape on social media, and, as in Lexi’s case, over the following days, many people joined the search.
After someone boating on Lake Oroville spotted a white German Shepherd on the banks of the lake, a request was made for anyone with a boat who could help search miles of lake-front in the area. A local marina owner offered the use of his rental boats, for free, and a number of volunteers. Another area person who uses drones for search and rescue joined the search and spent days scrutinizing the area where Lucy had last been seen from the air. A helicopter pilot volunteered his time and craft for the search. Lucy was spotted a number of times, but in each case, she ran when she realized someone was trying to call or approach her.
Bornheim spent all day on MLK Day searching the woods and lake shore with other volunteers, and went home that night discouraged and exhausted. She took a shower – and when she emerged, she saw Lucy at her back door. Eight days after she had been attacked and had run away, she had found her way back to her foster person’s home! Bornheim feels it’s a miracle that the dog did this, considering she had been in Bornheim’s home for only three days before the attack. (Fortunately, Bornheim had left her yard gates open, in hopes that Lucy might find her way home.)
Like Lexi, Lucy had lost some weight and one of her bite wounds from the attack was infected, but she’s been seen by the veterinary clinic that nursed her burns and they think, with some antibiotics on board, she’s going to be fine. Lucy’s foster provider and her owners are all completely over the moon.
Tips for finding a lost dog
- Spread the word fast and wide. Get as many people you can get to help spread the word, too. Use fliers, and posters, but also, harness the great power of social media. Ask people to share your posts on every “lost dog” page in every online forum they know of. Give a good description of the dog and use a large, clear photo. Check the posts frequently as some people will ask questions or post news, rather than calling the search organizer. Put up new posts at least every few days, to let people know of any new sightings, so they keep looking.
- Ask people if they know of volunteer organizations who can help, too. Scout groups may be willing to help distribute fliers; church groups or youth athletic groups may want to help, too.
- Instruct people to not try to catch the dog. Many lost dogs are terrified and respond to the sight of a stranger trying to approach them as yet another threat. Some will begin to flee as soon as they see someone notice them. Tell people to not call the dog or approach it with intent, but to try to get photos or video of the dog (to confirm it’s the right dog).
- If the dog is lost in an urban or suburban area, ask people in the community to check their Ring or other security cameras for sightings.
- If the dog has been spotted and its identity can be confirmed, try to place baited traps in that area – with the caveat that someone must be near enough to quickly remove the inevitable raccoons, skunks, and other critters who may be caught in the trap before the dog is, and reset the trap.
- Don’t give up! Dogs are sometimes lost for weeks and months before they are found. There were many people who were dubious about an 11-year-old indoor dog surviving for long in a cold New England winter, but Lexi was gone for six weeks and hadn’t lost a dangerous amount of weight!