On Wednesday, May 12, my son Aaron’s and son-in-law Jeremy’s 18-month-old pit bull Stella, a sweetie, bolted from her dogwalker’s vehicle at 14th and Castro. A massive search operation ensued. Carolyn and I learned how little we knew about finding lost dogs.
At first, Carolyn and Aaron joined friends driving around Buena Vista Park. Then a social media post drew the attention of K9Reunite (K9Reunite@gmail.com), an all-volunteer group founded by Susan Packer. Susan coordinates the efforts of family, friends and dog lovers.
Critical: Posting street flyers. Susan designs them quickly and expertly. They include a photo of the missing dog and a phone number. The catch: Flyer instructions seem counter-intuitive. Don’t chase or follow. Don’t call or whistle. Do phone the number.
Susan also navigates social media, stays in contact with local animal control (in this case, SFACC), confirms sightings and tracks the dog’s movements. Some cases require humane traps.
Susan stayed in constant touch with Aaron from 6 am–10 pm daily while directing the team of volunteers.
Note: Stella wore a harness and dragged a leash. Afraid of people, she loves dogs and would approach dogs in the park. Her leash invited people to believe they could grab her. Others called out to her. But lost dogs go into fear-flight mode. You’re thinking rationally. They’re not. Hearing their name or seeing someone approach usually scares lost dogs away. This can prompt them to run further and faster—into traffic or far from the sighting.
Once, Aaron went to a “live sighting.” People carried on. Stella ran off.
Carolyn and I, and the rest of the team, posted flyers near Stella sightings, most in or around Golden Gate Park. Volunteer Veronica showed us how to flyer for maximize visibility. Rangers, gardeners, maintenance people and snack-bar personnel were on the lookout. Dog owners took photos of the flyer. When city workers took flyers down, volunteers re-flyered.
Jeremy stayed home should Stella return then joined Aaron in Golden Gate Park. They sat in one place, sunrise to sunset. They brought along rotisserie chicken—meat off the bone and in plastic bags—and their other dog, 11-year-old chihuahua Saffy. They used the wind so Stella could pick up their scent and come to them.
On Sunday, a sighting based on a photo of the flyer produced a call that Stella was seen in the backyard of a home near City College. That’s quite a run from Golden Gate Park.
Susan contacted the homeowner, who confirmed it was Stella. She had Aaron move to the location and positioned volunteers outside the open yard. SFACC officers came by as backup. The team slowly sealed off the yard opening while Aaron sat with the chicken. And waited. Even with a resolution at hand, do exercise patience.
After a while, Stella took a hesitant step forward. Then waited. Another step followed. Aaron stayed put. Stella then recognized Aaron and sprinted towards him. She’d found her home, her safety.
Now you know some of the do’s and don’ts of looking for a lost dog and the roles played by determined and disciplined owners, along with dogs’ incredible ability to cover major territory and survive. Observing this guidance can lead to happy endings. Given the challenges facing the nation and our communities, we can use some.
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