Two weeks ago, Lost Dogs Illinois received an email from a woman located in Seattle, Washington who needed help in capturing her shy, scared and confused dog named Jimmy. We exchanged emails several times giving advice and suggestions. We asked her to share her story. Welcome Home Jimmy!
At the end of July 2015, I got two little dogs who had been rescued from a puppy mill: Ladybug, a rat terrier breeder (who was due to be euthanized by the breeder because she was too old to have any more litters); and Jimmy, a one-year-old toy fox terrier (TFT). I have had a lot of dogs, but they have all been big, bouncy, confident dogs (mostly mixed breeds). Having small dogs was a new experience for me but, by Thanksgiving, I felt like both dogs were really integrated into our family.
The night before the holiday, I took both dogs with me to visit a family member who lived in an apartment about five miles away from my home. I couldn’t find a leash for Ladybug in the house, but knew there was one in my car. At the last minute, however, I wound up riding with someone else and forgot to get the leash. I was a little concerned, but Ladybug always stays close to me when she is off leash (which is only when we are going from the front door to the car or vice versa), and even if she goes sniffing around the driveway, she always comes immediately when I call. So I figured it would be okay. Let’s call this “Big Mistake #1.” ALWAYS HAVE PROPER RESTRAINTS ON YOUR DOG WHENEVER YOU TRAVEL ANYWHERE.
We got to the apartment without any mishaps and spent a couple of hours visiting and making appetizers for the next day. The dogs seemed happy scrounging for scraps under the kitchen table. I was feeling a little lazy and the apartment was a second-floor walkup, so I asked my hostess if she would take the two dogs for a pee break. Big Mistake #2. NEVER ASSUME THAT YOUR DOG WILL BE COMFORTABLE WITH ANYONE, EVEN SOMEONE THEY ALREADY KNOW.
I asked if we shouldn’t put the harness on Jimmy, instead of just a collar, but my hostess thought it would be okay. Big Mistake #3. A FRIGHTENED DOG CAN GET ALMOST ALWAYS GET OUT OF A COLLAR. MAKE SURE YOUR DOG IS SECURE.
As they were leaving, it was clear that the dogs didn’t want to go with my hostess. They were obviously distressed, but after a few seconds, she seemed to have them under control, so I was relieved and let them go. Big Mistake #4. LISTEN TO YOUR DOG – IF HE DOESN’T WANT TO GO WITH SOMEONE, DON’T MAKE HIM! (I now realize that my dogs were thinking – “they are trying to take me away from my human,” so of course they were scared.)
After a few minutes, we thought we heard my hostess shouting outside. One of the other guests went down to the street, but didn’t see anything and came back up. We waited for them all to come back, but they didn’t. At some point we realized that our hostess had left her cell phone in the apartment (can we say Big Mistake #5?). IF YOU HAVE A CELL PHONE, KEEP IT WITH YOU WHENEVER YOU ARE WITH YOUR DOG OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOUSE OR YARD – YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU MIGHT NEED HELP (ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE NOT IN YOUR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD).
After about 45 minutes, our hostess appeared, breathless and upset. She said she had lost both of the dogs and we should come look for them. As we arrived at the front door, Ladybug appeared. Our hostess took her upstairs and the rest of us went looking. Needless to say, we couldn’t find Jimmy anywhere, although a couple of people reported seeing him running. We gave up and went back to the apartment. Jimmy was lost.
We spent the next three days looking for Jimmy. There are plenty of resources that can tell you how to conduct a successful search, but please let me summarize our actions and tell you what worked the best.
- Wednesday night, we put a posting up on craigslist (we got two reported sightings from this posting)
- I also started posting Jimmy’s picture on Facebook and Twitter and people started re-posting the notice
- Thursday morning we printed off some posters with Jimmy’s picture and posted them on telephone poles and in a 24-hour vet clinic in the area (we got two sightings from posters)
- Friday I went to the neighborhood and sat in my car and called Jimmy from two locations – this was wasted effort
- There is a lot of foot traffic in this neighborhood, so Saturday morning, we ran off some quarter-sheet flyers so we could give them to people
- We also set up a public Facebook page to coordinate information and invited lots and lots of people to “like” the page (according to FB metrics, this page reached more than 350 people; although it didn’t make a lot of difference in finding Jimmy, I started getting hundreds of messages every day from people who wanted to show their support – that made a big difference in keeping me going and not just sitting around being depressed and guilty about losing my dog)
- Saturday, we got a call for a sighting in an area about six blocks away from where Jimmy was lost – we focused on handing out flyers to people in the street and putting them on parked cars
- Saturday night, I went back to the area and just sat in my car for about five hours – mostly so I could just be in the area and again this was wasted time and energy
- Sunday we went back to handing out flyers and found out that the Saturday sighting had pointed us in the wrong direction – we had focused on the blocks east of the sighting when we should have gone west – we went back and started passing out flyers
- Almost immediately, I got a call from someone who said Jimmy had been hanging out in yards on her block (on both sides of the street) – we went to visit the person and learned that he had been hanging around since Saturday – Jimmy was found!
Around the time we tracked Jimmy down to one small area, someone sent me the article on Shy and Elusive Dogs. I sent an email using the links on the website (lostdogsofamerica.org) and received a response from the Director of Lost Dogs Illinois. I finally understood that calling Jimmy was not going to make him come running. Jimmy was viewing humans – all humans – as predators, so we needed to let people know that they shouldn’t try to call him or coax him or catch him.
The neighbor who had first contacted me said that Jimmy had mostly been seen in three yards on the other side of the street. She suggested that we set up a feeding station for him in the middle house and I went and met the homeowner. He had seen Jimmy coming in and out of his yard and had already put out food. By Sunday evening, the food and water were in the yard, tucked away under a bush.
Monday morning I dropped off some food from home and a well-scented blanket. During the day, our volunteer advisers from Lost Dogs of America sent me text for people in the neighborhood and I created this flyer. After work, I went and handed it out to each house on the block and talked with as many people as I could. I stopped off in the yard with the feeding station and saw that the homeowner had also put out a small dog carrier and put the blanket inside of it.
Thank you Lost Dogs of Wisconsin. This letter has been used in several lost dog recoveries both in Illinois and Wisconsin.
Tuesday, I got a call from the homeowner. He had seen Jimmy quite a few times and it looked like someone had slept in the carrier. He also said that there were little paw prints all over his porch and that Jimmy had popped on the welcome mat. He took this as a sign that Jimmy was feeling a little more secure in that yard. I also got a call from the neighbor across the street, who was going every day to put wet food on the ground near the feeding station. We all agreed to just keep up the feedings. I also contacted our City Animal Control department, which is able to set humane traps to catch elusive dogs. The trapping officer only works Wednesday through Saturday, so I left a message for her to contact me.
Wednesday there were more sightings in the three yards. One person said Jimmy had actually gone up onto her deck for a little while. I was glad to hear that he seemed to be staying put, but I was also really missing my pup and kept thinking about him getting hit by a car. It was a hard night.
Thursday morning, I decided that I needed to try to make contact, so that at least Jimmy would know that I hadn’t abandoned him. I took the day off and got to the yard with the food around 9 a.m. I bundled up in another funky blanket and lay down on the porch. I had only been there a few minutes when Jimmy appeared. I ignored him and he paused when he saw me on the porch, but went on to grab some food and left.
I stayed buried in the blanket and peeked out. He kept coming back every few minutes. I decided to cover my head too so I wouldn’t be tempted to make eye contact. After about ten minutes I heard a little whine and when I peeked out, Jimmy was very cautiously approaching me. He was obviously frightened, so I didn’t do anything except lift the blanket in a little bit. He snuck in and kept sniffling. By the time he was all the way under the blanket, he knew it was me.
I let Jimmy lick my face for a few minutes and then made him put on the harness I had ready. That’s pretty much the whole story. He was a little skinny, but checked out okay when I took him to the vet. I feel extremely lucky, knowing how many lost dogs never make it home. You can believe I will be putting all the lessons I learned into effect and remembering all of my Big Mistakes. Thankfully, while we were looking for Jimmy, someone sent me the article from the Lost Dogs of America website about shy and elusive dogs, or I don’t think we would have successfully recovered my dog.
So Jimmy’s owner sent this last tip to me: We have never used this before – but whatever it takes……..About scent marking for a stray dog: It’s standard advice to scent mark in the area where the dog has been seen, especially if you have set up a feeding station. I’ve see suggestions to use a dirty piece of clothing or a blanket from home. Personally, as I tend to think like a dog, I believe that urine is the best scent marker. Just pee into a disposable cup and then transfer the urine to a little dropper or squirt bottle – the kind that eye drops or nose spray come in is perfect (then put the filled dropper bottle inside a Ziploc bag in case of leaking). It only takes a few drops in different locations in the area where the dog has been sighted — try to renew the markings once a day. Just make sure that the drops form into a “trail” leading back to the yard where the dog is being fed. You may think that the dog doesn’t know what your urine smells like, but you’re wrong. Your dog’s nose will tell him that you have been there.