This little dingus may look small and innocent, but she sent us into a tailspin for the last 4 days after she ran away from me while walking in Cox Community Park on the North end of the island last Friday. News flash: catching a dog that doesn’t want to be caught is damn hard!!
Friday morning I dropped J off at work at 11:45am, then took Suzie for a walk on the Yogi Trail in the North end. We walked up the trail we have taken a few times now, and then headed onto the River Place connector trail, which was new to us. Suzie and I have a good routine going, I let her off leash to run ahead of me a short distance, where she then stops and looks back as if to say “Hurry up!!” then runs back to me, and runs back up the trail a bit more. When she goes to far ahead I call her and she immediately comes back. She waits patiently at my side while I peruse the mushrooms and take photos for the blog, and never leaves my sight.
When we reached the very top of the River Pl. trail I stopped to look at some mushrooms and Suzie stood waiting for me. Then a cyclist came rushing up the trail (we usually don’t encounter many other people while walking as Gabe has soooo many trails to choose from) and before I knew it Suzie was running for dear life up the tiny hill and out of the park. The time it took me to get to the top of the incline (20 seconds, tops) she was absolutely nowhere to be seen. No tracks, no sounds, and when I called her name she did not come back. Hmm, this had not happened before! I stood for another half hour with no return, before heading back down the trail to get the car and come around via the roadways (actually a surprisingly large loop required here) where I then called her name another hour. Nothing.
Lucky for me, the island has a very active facebook group with almost 2000 members which acts as a community board for residents. I posted about Suzie being missing and within 5 minutes I had the islands Canine Search and Rescue Society as well as the Pet Find group calling me for details and sending people out to look. There was also an overwhelming response from residents who were willing to come and search for Suzie! We were really blown away.
We started receiving phone calls at 10:00pm Friday to report several sightings of Suzie, one reporting they saw her running out the bottom end of the trail (where we started) and along Taylor Bay Road. Then another shortly after reported her running down North Road to the ferry, past the post office, Woodfire restaurant and to the Skol pub. I was out until 1am looking but she did not come back.
The next day we heard almost nothing after a belated report of seeing what he later figured was Suzie (at the time he thought it was a rabbit!) running out of the campgrounds across the street from the entrance to the Yogi trail. Then we heard nothing for over 30 hours. We searched and searched both by foot and in the car, including a trip by myself down the trail in the middle of the night with only a flashlight which was my Blair Witch nightmare made reality, and no sign of her anywhere. We were really starting to fear that she had met a tragic end – while the island has no real predators (raccoon, mink, deer being the only real wildlife with the exception of an elusive cougar which may or not actually be here) there are many, many cliffs, dark bendy roads, and strange bodies of water that could easily befell a tiny pup with no outdoor experience. Late in the afternoon on Saturday I made my zillionth trip down the River Pl/Yogi trail and nearly pissed my pants when just beyond some ferns on my left 6 LOUD gunshots rang out as the landowner, I assume, shot some deer. I literally dropped to the ground thinking I was about to be shot, and then felt 10 times worse thinking that Suzie could also be injured by stray bullets, or at the very least be scared enough to run out into the road at the noise. Cue hysterical crying, which pretty much lasted the next 24 hours.
Sunday afternoon the sightings began to roll in, placing her in and around the campground. J dropped me off at the medical centre around noon, which has a trail that connects to the top of the River Pl. trail that Suzie may have used to get over to North Rd the first night. While I stumbled around back there, got lost myself, and discovered I am seriously out of shape, J called to say he had spotted Suze down by the campground, so I then made my way over to the River. Pl trail and back down to Taylor Bay Rd. By then she had run off again (she looked J right in the eyes then turned and ran in the other direction! What a jerk!). She was spotted again by some campers, and a third time at the top of the trail from the campgrounds to McConvey Rd, but she ran away from everyone and hid from us when we tried to locate her.
Working with the Canine Search and Rescue team we placed a humane live animal trap at the entrance to the campground and put a scrap of her blanket inside along with some treats and left it for the night (Saturday night we left her blanket at the base of the Yogi trail, but it was untouched in the morning. It was suggested we place some of our clothing to lure her back, but we didn’t even know where she was at that point so had no idea where to leave the items.)
The map above shows where Suzie took off (black star), the 9 reported sightings (red x) and finally the location she was found (black heart). She covered some ground on those short legs! The map below shows in green all the trails and roads we covered in the 4 days we searched. We had to fill the gas tank twice.
FINALLY this morning, Monday the 10th, I checked the trap on the campground and it was empty. Suzie was spotted a few hours later running around a house adjacent the campground, but by the time I got there she had vanished again. I then spied her looking at me from the other side of the property’s gate, but she ran off AGAIN the second I took one step towards her. I climbed the gate thinking “This is it! I just saw her!” but once again she had vanished like a puff of brown smoke or a doggie hallucination (not surprising, at this point). 10 minutes of my stealthiest bushwacking later my phone rings and a woman reported her running onto Taylor Bay road, nearly being hit by a car, then running back into the campground. My frustration level is at Mach 10 by this point, so I decide instead of chasing her I will let her come to ME. I parked my car at the top of the camp driveway and settled in to watch the entrance until she appeared again. Not 15 minutes later I hear the jingle of her collar come up the side of the vehicle. I lean over, open the passenger side door and she hops in right away like she hadn’t just traumatized me for 72 hours and looked at me as if to say “I’m ready now!”
I brought her home immediately, checked her over for injuries and found that, save for one tick on her belly (I yanked that arsehole out with some tweezers, nobody feeds on my dog!), she was totally fine. We brought her to the vet for a professional opinion and a deworming pill, gave her a bath at home, and now she is completely crashed out in a warm blanket and, I hope, happy to be home!
By the end of it, there are 174 comments on the Missing Suzie post, we had dozens of people out with their dogs both on foot and in their cars searching, we put up posters all over the trail and the village, and I received a dozen phone calls from people who reported seeing her. We also got a phone call from a woman who recognized Suzie’s picture online and called to say that she had adopted Suze’s brother from the SPCA at the same time we adopted Suze! (They were adorably named Mork and Mindy at the time). She made a special trip to the island with Mork to see if he could coax her out. A very lovely woman even delivered a piping hot burger from a local restaurant as motivation for Suzie to come out of hiding. All in all, we were astounded at the sense of community on our little island, and don’t even want to think about what would have happened if Suze went missing anywhere else in the world. The tight knit nature of this community worked wonders in bringing home our pup and we are eternally grateful for all the help we received… and I’m sure Suzie is too!!
If you find yourself in this situation, as cliche as it sounds, firstly don’t panic. Time is important, but it will also take time for the dog to figure out what is happening and what they want to do about it. Unfortunately you just have to roll with it. Secondly, get word out! Social media is a brilliant tool when it comes to reaching mass amounts of people. Spread your phone number like wildfire and hope that people will be willing and able to help your search. Posters are a tried and true method to reach people who aren’t internet savvy (sounds crazy I know, but they are out there). Third; try everything. We called her name over and over and over, though when we discovered that this was likely very overwhelming for Suzie, we began searching silently just to see if she would come out of her hiding place and we could place her location on a map, even if just for a second to confirm she’s still out there. This seemed to be more effective in our case as when we stopped calling her the sightings became more frequent. Approaching her made her run the other way, so all we could do was try to establish where she was spending the most time then place a trap she could make her way to. In the end this didn’t work, but it may have if Suzie became desperate enough. What worked best for us, apparently, was to simply be present in the area she was lost in and wait for her to feel comfortable enough to come to us. Very stressful for us, but probably less stressful for Suzie. Lastly, stay positive. It was amazing to walk down the trail again and again, meeting absolute strangers with their dogs who would greet me by saying “Have you found her yet?” Even when I was most freaking out, I felt surrounded by the support of the community and it worked wonders in preventing me from regressing into a shivering mass of anxiety on the bathroom floor. She was missing from 1pm on Friday to 1pm on Monday and spent 3 cold November nights alone in the woods, but fortunately was healthy and happy when she came back. Never underestimate the instincts of an animal, they are very clever beings.
This turned into a very long post, but my life has essentially been entirely consumed by the hunt for that silly little dog for 4 days and I am SO HAPPY to have her back! ❤