This week didn’t begin in the best of ways. On Monday morning I took Animosh, my happy but overly exuberant St Pyrenees, for a walk in the bush — on the leash as she’s prone to following anything that moves — and this morning was especially exciting because we’d had the first real snowfall. Little did I know that this would save her life. Outward bound she’d shown excessive interest in deer tracks crossing our path and I’d restrained her, but on the way back my thoughts were on breakfast while hers were still fixed on the deer. Without warning she pulled free, leash and all. She’s done this before and usually ends up bothering my neighbour’s horses or makes her way home within the hour so I was distressed but not worried. Above: the author at home with Animosh (photo Quentin Mawson)
I continued on my path, calling as I went. No dog rejoined me, there was no dog when I got home, nor within the hour. I alerted my friends with the horses and set out to track Ani through the bush from where she’d left me. Now this sounds like an easy job but there’s deadfall to go round, there’s snow on the branches to fall down your neck (you don’t want your hood up because then you can’t hear properly) and endless saplings to whip you in the face. Animals circle, they run back and forth across hillsides, climb ridges humans have to go round, and don’t seem to trip over the thousand things hidden in the snow. All in all, it’s very tiring work.
I tracked her as far as I could but came to three different tracks and couldn’t find Ani’s paw marks in any of the them. By this time I was seriously hungry and tired so I returned home and ate while posting on the Facebook group Barry’s Bay Lost and Found Pets. This is probably the most important thing I did: people pick up these posts very quickly and share, eventually it had 55 shares so word gets around. Almost instantly people offered help. Diana Chodocinskas, who lives quite close, immediately went out with her dogs along the road where I thought Ani was headed. She followed sideroads and paths for the rest of the day, updating me on progress.
My neighbours, Colin and Pam McCallum, downed tools to spend the rest of the day helping me search. I told them I was going back to where I’d left off searching and set out again after leaving messages with Animal Control and the SPCA. Pam stopped off at my place to put a dinner in my porch for when I returned (!) and then set out to drive down all the side roads that surround us. I walked back to where I’d lost the tracks to search again. No luck. I was getting very dispirited and tired and I’d fallen heavily, bashing my right leg and shoulder. I told myself, “Don’t cry, it will not help Ani at all,” when I heard Colin shout behind me. He revisited the tracks and set off down each in turn. At the third one, he thought he could see trails from the leash and we followed dog tracks up hill and down dale for a couple of hours. Eventually we reached Hopefield Road, but night comes early at this time of year so we set out for home, feeling crushed.
I hung coats outside, put a bed out for her, updated Facebook and ate Pam’s very welcome meal. And then spent a sleepless night with many checks outside. It was minus 9 that night and more snow fell. When the light was good enough, I walked up and down Hopefield shouting her name and looking for footprints. By 10 I was home rather lost as to what to do, when Barb Cardwell called. “I’ve done this before. Tell me what happened, where she ran off and the last sightings. Right, I’ll be over soon. Does your dog like other dogs? Rocky and I will be over within the hour.” And she was.
We went back to where Colin and I had staggered (well, I was staggering) out of the bush the night before, then Barb and I trailed up and down the opposite side of the road looking for prints. Within a couple of minutes Barb had found a dog print downhill of the crossing. She had come well prepared for bush tramping — high boots with trousers tucked in, snug fitting but warm clothing, a small backpack that didn’t extend beyond her shoulders — so she took me home and set off with her energetic dog, Rocky.
Rocky to the rescue
Within half an hour she’d called me at home with the wonderful news that she’d found Ani who seemed to be none the worse for her night in the bush and was setting off on a footpath that she hoped would lead to the road. It did and within another ten minutes Ani and I were reunited.
Rocky (photo Barb Cardwell)
Barb Cardwell told the story of that half hour: “Rocky and I set off following the tracks, through sometimes thick bush, over and under trees and logs. At one point the tracks crisscrossed and zigzagged so much, I wasn’t even sure if we were still following dog tracks or deer, but we pushed on. I stopped regularly to call for Ani, but heard nothing in response. Soon we came to a bit of an old trail with tracks heading up. We approached a downed hemlock tree across the trail which was too big to go over and I paused, debating whether there was enough room for me to fit under it, when I was startled by movement. Ani had snagged her leash on this tree when trying to go under it herself, and then had wrapped it up tightly – she was just able to stand up from where she had been hidden by the boughs. As is typical in these situations, we were less than six feet from her and she still hadn’t made a peep. I think the fear of a predator finding them overrides all other thoughts.”
“Once she realized we weren’t going to do her any harm, she was very happy to see us and to be rescued from her situation. I gave her a quick check for injuries, but thankfully she wasn’t much worse for wear from her likely very scary night being stranded in the woods, listening to other animals on the move all around her. I was carrying water and dog treats and gave her her fill before we set off – but not before making a quick call to Frances to tell her the good news! Ani was quite eager to get out of there and Rocky was equally eager to maintain his favoured position in the lead, so I had two large and strong dogs to make quick work of our return trip. We came back out on the road in less than a third of the time it took us to get up there going through the bush! Frances met us at the car, and it was very rewarding to see the happy reunion.”
Cardwell explained that Ani’s situation made it so much easier than usual to recover her, due to the fresh tracks to follow and the fact that she got snagged and couldn’t continue running. She said that this is typically not the case, and without the crucial sightings of neighbours and the public, you have no idea of where to focus your search efforts. Ani had additional luck on her side, as she managed to survive a night alone while defenceless and unable to escape, in an area with plenty of predators.
A few thoughts from the author after a short, unwelcome course in “Find Your Dog”
- Take your cell phone! And a snack/drink.
- Tell people where you are going, particularly if you’re going alone. No one wants to be looking for you as well as your pet.
- Make sure you know the way back; we were so lucky it had snowed.
- Call the SPCA rather than Animal Control. All animals found by all the Animal Control Centres go to the SPCA and they inform all other local SPCA branches. They also check for microchips. I found them very responsive and helpful.
- Tell anyone you bump into while you’re out. Bart Klatt drove over his property looking for tracks for me.
- Let others take the lead when you are tired. Competent people saved Animosh. (I later found out that I’d walked 10 km, mostly through bush, that first day and had been out for six hours searching.)
- Social Media: Get the word out there; kind people are very ready to help. One friend even offered to take the day off work if Ani wasn’t found by that night – thank you, Lesley Betts!
- And finally, let everyone know, including SPCA, Animal Control, the Vet etc when s/he’s been FOUND.
So … how to say Thank You to all the people who helped in so many ways? Sending big hugs and good wishes to you all. If you ever need a hand let me know, I’ll turn out – someone else may be calmer than you when you’re tired and sad.
Over the next week or two I’m going to look into GPS trackers. Some friends have already given me advice and I’d love to get any other opinions. I’ll share the results of my findings.
Thank you, All!!
Editor’s note: The author has provided more comprehensive suggestions for anyone searching for a lost pet, which The Current will publish soon.
About the author: Frances Mawson lives in Hopefield in as sustainable a fashion as the modern world, a wood stove and a zone 3a garden will allow. She has volunteered for many Valley organizations and currently chairs the Madawaska Valley Public Library Board.