Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lost and Found

Over the last several months we've been involved in several missing dog searches. Losing a dog is one of my worst nightmares. I've been meaning to write a blog post about some of the things I've learned, but could never seem to find the time. But last month I met Amanda, whose resolve and determination to find her dog Clyde inspired me to get off of my duff and write this post.

Clyde's Story

On December 2, Clyde was out for a walk with his mom in Richmond's Fan District when he slipped his collar. He was gone in an instant. His mom, Amanda, started posting signs, contacting neighborhood groups, and using social networking sites to quickly spread the word about Clyde.

Amanda’s search turned into days, then into weeks. She received dozens of reports of Clyde sightings, and an unfortunate pattern began to unfold. Clyde was reported north and south of the spot where he went missing, and some of the reports were within minutes of each other. Clearly, there was more than one dog, and neither dog (one of which closely matched Clyde's description) would approach people. Amanda continued to pursue every lead, although more and more sightings were coming from the southern direction.

Three weeks into to the search, Amanda decided to place traps in the hopes of catching Clyde. She made a decisive decision to concentrate her efforts to the south, in the Byrd Park area. A homeowner provided hopeful news of multiple Clyde sightings in her yard, where he'd repeatedly nabbed bits of trash and carefully placed dog treats. (The homeowner said she’d call for her angels to look after Clyde, thus earning the nickname Angel Lady.) Amanda moved one of the traps to this location.

In a remarkable coincidence, Clyde was caught on film in Byrd Park, thus validating that Amanda was searching in the right place. An animal tracker helped to identify places Clyde inhabited, including the yard where he’d been spotted numerous times. And on January 3, after being missing for 32 days, Clyde was captured in the trap placed in the Angel Lady’s yard.

Amanda's story is so inspiring, mostly because of her amazing efforts, but also because of the outpouring of volunteers who reached out to help bring Clyde home. Amanda posted hundreds and hundreds of signs, which were instrumental in getting the reports she needed to isolate Clyde's location. Volunteers combed neighborhoods, parks and used their electronic networks to spread the news of Clyde.

Clyde is also amazing. This guy weathered bitter below-freezing temperatures, snow storms, and avoided traffic in one of the most densely populated areas of Richmond. Curious about coonhounds (Clyde's a mix), I looked up their breed characteristics and read this:
"It is in a coonhound's nature to constantly figure out ways to outwit his prey, so he often does the same with people. In other words, following commands blindly is not part of a coonhound's genetic makeup. Put yet another way, coonhounds can be very stubborn!"
I believe Clyde lived up to that description, surviving on his own and waiting for the right rescue opportunity so he could be reunited with Amanda.

Now that you've read Clyde's story, I hope you'll read on as I share some of the things I've learned about bringing a lost dog home.


THINGS TO DO NOW - There are many things you can do right now to prevent or prepare for a lost dog situation.

Tag Collars. Use a break-away tag collar to hold your dog's tags and your contact information. This should be different from the collar he wears on walks, which you can leave attached to the leash. Always leave the tag collar on, and if your dog slips his collar while on a walk, hopefully the tag collar will stay with him.

Microchip. Microchips are great (all of my dogs have them), but be aware that they only help if the dog is found and taken to a vet. Microchipping is very inexpensive, so it's worth the peace of mind.

Proper collar fit. Make sure your dog's collar can't be easily pulled over his head. If your dog constantly pulls, consider using a harness. (And please, don’t use a retractable lead.)

Prepare a lost dog sign. If your dog goes missing, you'll likely have little time to fuss with a sign. Prepare one now, and save the file to your phone and send it a family member or friend. Your sign can be simple. A brief description, date missing, contact information, and your dog's likeness. If your dog is a Greyhound, you can use a Greyhound silhouette instead of a photo. An example of my sign is below (if you'd like the template, please email me).

Contacts list. Make a list of contacts and join your neighborhood and community online forums. Email resources are invaluable, and homeowners have the best opportunities for sighting stray animals. Creating a list of local vets and animal shelters now will save you time when you have little time to spare.

Lost Dog Kit. Keep a bag of items in your car. You'll never know when you can help with a lost dog search. Keep a spare collar, a leash, a bag of unopened treats, and for Greyhound folks, a turnout muzzle. Also, an extra pair of sneakers, blanket, and flashlight.


Reach out. Reach out to everyone you know, and don't worry about the time of day. Your family and friends love you and will want to help. Immediately contact your rescue or adoption group.

Signs, signs, signs. Ask your friends to start posting your lost dog signs. Put your signs in plastic sleeves and post them using a staple gun. Use a map to identify a perimeter, and post them first to main cross-streets, then post them along side streets and alleys. Post them wherever there are sightings.

Spread the word via social networks. Use Facebook, and request that friends and friends of friends share your posts. Use Twitter and email. Email your neighborhood group and ask others to cross-post your message to other neighborhood groups. Attach your sign to all messages and emails. Get in touch with anyone who may have a media contact.

Contact Animal Control and rescue groups. Contact Animal Control, adoption groups and other breed rescue groups for help and ask them if they have access to traps or tracking experts. People who love animals will want to help.

Search with a dog. Ask people to take a dog with them when they search. If you're searching and don't have a dog, ask to borrow one. A dog will alert you to scents, cue you to sounds, and stick their heads into places you may not (like hedges). Also, the lost dog may pause instead of run if he sees you with another dog. Your dog partner may act to comfort the lost dog and will help protect you while you search.

Skittish dogs. Unfortunately, your dog may not allow himself to be caught. Greyhounds are notoriously skittish from the moment they go missing and may continue to run out of fear. Some dogs, like Clyde, go into survival mode. If this is the case, try to gain access to a live animal trap. Traps can be placed in the location of sightings, and a dog will likely enter the trap to reach food. (See a trap in action here.)

If you're a searcher of a skittish (xenophobic) or survival mode dog, please abide by the owner's instructions. It's tempting to call after the lost dog, but that may drive them further away. If you sight a dog that's known to run, it’s best to drop to the ground, phone the owner and try to keep the dog in your sights. These dogs may take days, weeks, or months to catch and their capture may require help from an expert.

Stay calm. Here's some great advice from Amanda - When people call in sightings, stay calm and allow the caller to describe the dog. Sometimes people aren't really sure what they saw, so it's best to let them tell you what they remember. Try and get as much information as possible. Even if you receive a call for a dog that closely matches the description of the missing dog, continue to follow all leads.

Remain hopeful. It's very difficult to remain positive and hopeful, but remember that dogs are very resourceful. And as Clyde proved, dogs are smart. They will do what instinct tells them to do to stay safe and alive.

I hope you've found some of the information here helpful (links to additional info are below).

Hugs to your hounds, whatever type they may be. And to Amanda, you are a hero to dog lovers everywhere.

Tips from Petfinder
Tips from the Missing Pet Partnership
Tips from FidoFinder
Greytalk – Greyhound Amber Alert Forum

One last note, Clyde was caught in a trap loaned by James River Greyhounds (thank you).

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Terrific post, and as one of the greyhound owners for whom You were "the angel lady," I agree with every word!