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Lost dog found, now what? June 19, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood read a recent article in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, with enormous interest. It was Karen Steinrock’s weekly column, “Help for Pet Owners,” and the column was called “What steps should I take when I find a stray dog?” (Read it at www.themorningcall.com.)

A concerned reader had written Karen, beginning with “Three times in the past 6 months I’ve encountered dogs that are seemingly left by the side of the road—no people around and in rural areas that suggest someone dropped them off and left them.” She asked what the appropriate response was when you saw something like this, and Karen’s column provided a number of alternatives.

Our friend Ben and Silence have never actually seen an abandoned dog—thanks be to God!—but we have seen a car parked alongside a six-lane highway with an entire family out and combing through the scrub along the roadside, and we had to assume a dog had somehow escaped from the vehicle.

There are several ways a dog can escape from a moving vehicle. OFB’s father’s beloved Springer spaniel Rufus once managed to hit the window button in the back seat and leap to the road from the car. You can imagine Father’s horror when he looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Rufus trotting along nonchalantly behind the car! Fortunately, it was a quiet residential area, and Rufus jumped right back in when Father stopped the car and opened the door. But sheesh! In the area where Silence and I live, it’s not unusual to see people driving pickup trucks with dogs riding happily, unsupervised, in the open bed of the truck. We’ve never seen a dog jump out, but we’re sure our black German shepherd, Shiloh, would be down and running in about one second.

We’ve also seen a dog that might easily appear to have been abandoned, but wasn’t. One of our dear friends lives in a rural area, and would leave his Border collie, Katie, outside to roam at will while he went to work. Katie would visit all his neighbors, cadging for treats, head to the discard piles of nearby hunters looking for juicy deer-carcass tidbits, which she inevitably dragged home, and get into any other mischief that presented itself. Of course, all the locals knew Katie, but a stranger seeing her trotting along the rural roadside might have concluded that she’d been abandoned or at least gotten lost.

Katie’s story almost came to a tragic and premature end, when she encountered a hunter who, as they say, “wasn’t from those parts” one day, trotted up to say hello, and got blasted point-blank for her pains. (Our friend Ben hopes the hunter thought she was so friendly she must be rabid, and if not, that he rot in Hell.) But the story had a happy ending, of sorts: Katie somehow managed to drag herself home, and the hunter had missed her chest. She lost a leg, but continued to enjoy life and roam the neighborhood for many years thereafter. How our friend could continue to let her roam unsupervised after what happened we cannot fathom, but I think his family and friends were all pretty relieved when he decided not to replace Katie after she died.

In this age of cellphones, smartphones, and GPS devices, you might think that it would be obvious what you should do if you see what appears to be a stray or lost dog: Call 911, and ask them to call animal control with the location. But what if, like the reader who wrote Karen, you’re in the mountains in a rural area with no cellphone reception, street signs very few and far between, no GPS, and no clue where you are?

This situation can be disturbing enough even if you don’t see a lost dog. Our friend Ben will never forget taking a walk along country roads with a friend who lives in rural Berks County, PA. The sun had started to set when a Mercedes appeared. After slowing to take a look at us (and presumably make sure we weren’t armed), the vehicle’s owner stopped the sedan and powered down his window. “Help! I’m lost in the middle of nowhere!!!” he cried, his panic clear on his face. Fortunately, since my friend lived right there “in the middle of nowhere,” he was able to give the terrified man directions to the place he was trying to reach. But our friend Ben could sympathize with the man’s predicament.

The best answer would appear to be to get the dog’s description, whether it is wearing a collar and tags, its condition, and any location markers, then continue on your way until you find some kind of road sign, an open store, restaurant, office, or anything recognizable, and cell phone use returns or you can ask the store owner to make the call for you. (You might have to backtrack if it’s possible to turn around and you recall businesses not far behind.) 

The worst answer, in our friend Ben’s opinion, is to attempt to lure it into your car. What if it’s rabid or suffering from distemper or some other disease, or is so hungry and/or dehydrated it’s not responsible for its present behavior? Dog bites are definitely no joke. Mind you, if you can clearly see a collar with a dog license tag, rabies tag, and possible ID tag, and the dog is acting friendly and relieved to see you—ears up, head held high, tail up and wagging, alert, cheerful expression, with smiling mouth and dangling tongue—it might be worth the risk.

But if there’s any way at all to call for help rather than take the dog yourself, it’s a far better way to go, even if you’re willing to adopt it if it really has been abandoned. (It could, like Katie, have a loving home and just be out for an unsupervised stroll.) You can leave your contact data when you call 911, let them know you’ll take it if no one steps forward, even ask them to call you if they find any ID on the dog so you can contact veterinarians in the area to see if anyone’s reported a lost dog.

To keep your own dog from ending up in this horrendous situation, making sure his or her dog license and rabies tags, along with an ID tag with your home number, are on the collar is an important first step. (The collar itself can also be personalized with your dog’s name and your phone number.) And of course, having your dog microchipped or tattooed provides a failproof method of ID, assuming whoever finds him or her takes your beloved pet to a vet or shelter, which can scan the chip or tattoo and enter it into a database.

The breeders who sold us our beloved Shiloh were insistent that she be both microchipped and spayed (or neutered, had she been a male), and they had a great way to make sure everyone who purchased one of their pups complied: They wouldn’t release a pup’s AKC registration papers until they had proof from a veterinarian that both things had been done. We would never dream of letting Shiloh out unless one of us was with her and she was on lead, but at least we have the reassurance that she is microchipped and thus identifiable by any veterinary office or shelter should worse come to worst.

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