March 25, 2014
In my last blog post, I wrote about what it felt like to lose a pet and how Mary, my partner, and I made it through with our sanity. But I left you all wondering: how did we actually find Ryan, the moving needle in the haystack of Chicago?
We chased her until her trail went cold. Ryan can run fast when she wants to, so Mary quickly lost sight of her. People outside pointed us west, south, then east. The last sighting we had of her that day was at a grocery store parking lot about ten blocks away. People were trying to catch Ryan but couldn’t.
Social media gave us access people quickly and that’s essential when time is a factor. Our posts, when shared by our friends and their friends and so on, soon reached hundreds of thousands of people. If you lose a pet, I still encourage on-the-ground searching, especially if you’re not far behind them. I also recommend having someone hit the internet quickly, especially if your pet is shy or fearful.
My tip for you: keep things short when you post on the internet. Include a picture or two, identifying information (markings, size, weight, microchip #), and phone numbers. You could also include the area from which the pet was lost and important info such as “Shy, do not chase!” Stress that people call immediately with any information. These posts can be shared instantly so if someone comments with important information, you could miss it. Here are some of the places we posted: our own Facebook pages; Facebook pages of local pet businesses, vets, and rescues; Lost Dogs Illinois; Craigslist; EveryBlock; our local Patch; petharbor.com; petamberalert.com; Center for Lost Pets; fidofinder.com.
Then use the same information to make a flyer in PDF form. Include the word “REWARD.” Many people really don’t expect a reward, but physiologically things feel more urgent. Circulate the flyer via e-mail to your friends, networks, local businesses, shelters, vets, and rescues. Alert your local animal control that your dog is lost. Contact all the emergency vets in your area, in case someone brings your dog in injured. Dog walkers are an especially great resource! They’re out all day with dogs, and may be equipped to grab your pet if they can. Many loose dogs will approach another dog, even if they won’t approach the person walking it. I know this firsthand.
Each person knows plenty of compassionate people willing to help in any way they can. Enlist those people for on the ground searching, post sharing, calling and e-mailing helpful leads in your city, visiting animal control, and flyering. Listen to their good advice, encouragement, and accept their positive vibes.
Any time we received a tip, we updated our posts and contacts, asked people to flyer in that area, and rushed out to search.
My tip for you: verify sightings as much as possible. “Shepherd mix” is a broad description, and our minds can warp our memories. Ask people about identifying markings, size, and behavior. Dogs are capable of traveling twenty miles or so per day, so pinning your dog’s location down can be maddening.
And we couldn’t pin Ryan’s location down. For three more long days, we had sporadic tips and sightings of other shepherds. Finally, five days after she went missing, a call came in from a woman on Goose Island. She saw our dog in a bus maintenance center amidst a large industrial area. She hadn’t seen any posts about Ryan, but she knew to search Lost Dogs Illinois. She even snapped a picture of her running around!
Mary and I rushed down there and searched the bus yard and a security guard gave us a crucial piece of information: he’d seen Ryan the day before near the boat yard, she wasn’t straying far. Mary stayed down there, searching with a friend, while I rushed back home to update our network online. People flooded the area with flyers, promptly flooding our phones with incoming calls. It turns out, Ryan had been in the vicinity for three days and a lot of people saw her but we hadn’t targeted that area online or on foot. Since she was missing her collar, many just didn’t know what to do.
The next three hours were a series of serendipitous events mixed with hard work and sheer luck. A worker in the area saw her flyer at a pizza place nearby. The flyer had to have been put up within 10 minutes of him going to lunch. He recognized Ryan as the dog that had been terrorizing the geese near his work for the past 3 days. In fact, his coworker (whose name is Ryan!) had just called animal control at the insistence of his boss, since apparently she had been driving everyone there crazy with her goose-directed barking. Ryan (the human) had been trying to capture Ryan (the dog), and had put off calling animal control for fear she was a stray and would be euthanized. Between Ryan, his coworker, and several awesome people who showed up to help, our dog was kept in sight and Mary could be directed to her. In the final moments, I heard the tearful reunion and excited cheers of everyone there from Lindsay’s phone. Mary called to Ryan after locking eyes with her, and they ran along the iron gate between them and met on the other side. You guys, it was like a movie.
Ryan was shaken, but okay. She went right to the vet, where she received fluids for dehydration. After running around on asphalt for five days, her paw pads were worn raw, so she gets a soak twice a day and wears ridiculous rubber booties when we take her outside (on leash!). I think the sores on her paws were part of what slowed her down and kept her in one spot for those last days. She had lost about five pounds but, and I say this in the most loving way, she needed to lose that weight anyway. The poor thing was so exhausted, she could barely keep her eyes open. It took her a couple hours to reconnect with Surf, probably because she was just so tired and it’s possible she had to compete with other dogs for resources recently. After plenty of happy tears and love, I bathed her in the tub. She had no energy to protest.
Ultimately, our story has a happy ending. Ryan wasn’t badly injured, nor was she even gone that long, relatively. She settled right back into the routine and in many ways it’s like she was never gone. In fact, I’m convinced she had the time of her life barking at geese, rolling in goose poop, and running free to her little heart’s desire. I’ve heard of more happy reunions than I have tragedies, but that doesn’t mean Ryan wasn’t in serious danger every unsupervised second of those five days. I wouldn’t wish the stress, heartache, and exhaustion of losing a pet on anyone. I only hope that by sharing my story, someone else will have the tools to be reunited with their beloved pet as quickly as possible.
Lynda manages our dog walking team at Rover-Time. Her career focus is on dog training and behavior and her approach is based on science, positive reinforcement, and humane methods to improve relationships between humans and their pets. She’s also an assistant trainer at Animal Sense in the evenings and co-parents her own dogs, Surf and Ryan, with her other half Mary.