If the unthinkable happens, be prepared!
Probably one of the most dreaded fears we as pet parents can face is when a beloved pet goes missing. The likelihood of a dog escaping, evading, or eluding us and running off at least once in their lifetime is very high. Thankfully, in most of those instances a pet parent will see their tongue lolling face in a matter of seconds, minutes, or hours as they come running back full of spirit, pride, and accomplishment. That initial horrifying realization that a beloved dog is no longer in your sights or in their yard is a feeling that I could not wish on my worst enemy. It has happened to me many times, and like the instances above, my dogs came back within minutes or hours. But on November 30, 2020, that fear became a nightmarish reality when seconds, minutes, and hours became days. Two of our beloved dogs, one being my registered ESA (emotional support animal), unexpectedly escaped and were nowhere to be found.
It is the nature of a dog to explore; to experience an unbridled freedom in this great big world in which they are a part. Our dogs are sentient beings, after all. They have their own capable brain for making decisions and choices that is fortified with powerful instincts to guide, direct, and protect them. They are animals, not people. In fact, one of the greatest disservices a pet parent can do to their dog is to treat them like a human child. This can hamper and corrupt a dog’s ability to rely on their own choices and instincts in situations that could potentially be dangerous or even threatening to their very life. One of those situations is when a dog suddenly finds him or herself alone and lost in that great big world they initially thought was worth wandering or running off into. Whether they wandered or ran off to explore, to chase after another animal, to follow a mesmerizing scent, or even to hide due to an unforeseen fright, the fact is, they are now alone. In this situation, a dog’s survival mode needs to kick in 10,000% because their very life is now vulnerable to any number of potential dangers and situations.
You as a pet parent and guardian must never EVER assume that your dog will never leave their yard or your side. Even the most loyal dogs and secure yards have their vulnerabilities, and collars and harnesses can be slipped out of no matter how well you have secured them onto your dog. Always assume that your dog has the potential to get away from you. Recall training is of great value and importance especially for breeds such as Siberian Huskies that have a strong drive to wander and explore the world. But even recall training is limited to a pet parent being in their dog’s immediate presence at the moment an escape is imminent. Your best chances of getting your dog home safely is to always be prepared.
Your dog has the right to make their own decisions. We do not and should not ever think we have the right to have complete power and control over any living being. Giving your dog the right to be a dog is their best line of defense in any number of circumstances and situations. We as pet parents are guardians, not owners of or dictators over our dogs (especially through the use of force). It is our responsibility to give our dogs a secure and safe home that will teach them to trust. This in turn paves the way to complete loyalty. Proper care and guardianship will ensure that a dog will always seek out “home” and come back willingly to your loving protection.
There are, of course, too many situations where a loyal dog becomes lost and cannot find their way back home. Every dog and every situation is going to be different. To have a high probability for the most positive outcome, it is best to always be prepared for the unthinkable should it happen to you and your dog.
Potential Causes & Situations for a Dog to Become Lost or Missing
- Scaling a fence
- Digging under a fence
- Jumping a fence
- Breaching a fence
- Leaving dogs in a fenced or unfenced yard unattended
- Having an object too close to the fence line that can allow a dog to use the object to hop a fence
- Neglecting to properly secure a gate latch
- Fencing or gate malfunctions due to weather, fence age, or improper use
- Allowing a dog off leash in an unfamiliar yard or area, whether fenced or unfenced
- Slipping a collar or harness (from improper fitting, wrong size, improper use)
- An extreme fear or a fright that causes panic and a collar or harness break or slip occurs
- Guarding the yard, family, or home from an animal or human invader resulting in a chase
- Pulling a leash from a guardian’s hand due to non-training, lunging, desire to chase, an unexpected fright, overpowering a handler or guardian, etc.
- Breaking a tie-out (ropes, chains, clips, and stakes can snap and malfunction, especially due to weathering, pulling, and over-use)
- Improper off-leash and recall training situations
- Escaping open car windows or doors whether parked or moving
- Escaping open windows in the home
- Running out of an open door in the home, car, or in a place of business
- Loneliness or boredom
- Anxiety, insecurity, and panic issues and situations (including storms, loud and unfamiliar noises, fireworks, gunshots)
- An intact female in heat or one that is not properly secured
- Following a scent and accidentally getting lost
- The smell or sight of food
- The desire to chase after or follow the scent of an intact female or male
- The desire to chase after another animal or object
- The desire to run free
- Neglect, failure to train, and abuse
- Kenneling or leaving a dog with a sitter can create fear or anxiety driving a dog to escape and seek their home and guardian
- Accidents and injuries to guardians
- Moving to a new home
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, NEVER EVER assume your dog cannot escape or evade you!
Our Nightmare Experience
On Sunday November 29th we had an approaching cold front. The temperatures had been steady in the mid to high 70s (F) for the week previous. With a colder weather pattern heading our way, the winds became quite strong Sunday night. In the early morning hours on Monday November 30th, my husband awoke for work around 4:00 AM. He always lets three or four of our six dogs out to “potty” around 4:30 AM before he heads out. That morning he assumed nothing out of the ordinary would soon rock our world. After taking our larger male on his morning walk, our other dogs are then allowed out into our half acre fenced and secured backyard area. The gate entrance into our chicken pastures is in the same area where the dogs have their freedom to run and explore. That morning he did not go outside with the dogs because it had gotten very cold over night. It was dark and when he realized he did not see our dogs Cayne and Shelby, he went out to look for them.
To my husband’s dismay, he noticed the gate into the chicken pastures had blown down and the dogs had gotten in. Normally, this would not be an issue as that is also a secured chain link area; however, the inner gate into the front chicken pasture was also open. That pasture is a temporary expansion that we erected using poultry fencing, a plastic fence fabric that can be easily breached by a dog. They had easily escaped. Immediately he jumped into the car to go find them.
I was awakened by his panicked voice at 5 AM to learn our dogs, Cayne and Shelby, had escaped and were missing. Cayne is my ESA. He and Shelby are two of our three littermates who were whelped in our home to our rescue dog, Brandi. The realization of what my husband had just told me came as shock and horror. Shelby, her mama Brandi, and her brother Garrett had gotten out two years prior (in October of 2018) when our front door was blown open from high winds. Brandi returned within five minutes via recall and Garrett, who can track like his mama, explored for a bit with his sister before returning back to the front door several hours later. Brandi, according to the man who she was rescued from, comes from a line of APBT boar hunters. Whether or not that is true is unknown, but she is fiercely loyal, protective, instinctively intelligent, easily trained, and can track; we know her disposition and Garrett has that very same disposition and qualities as his mama. Had it been them who had escaped, my reaction would have been completely different. Even if Shelby had been one of them, I know she would have been guided home as she was two years ago by Garrett.
“NO, not Cayne! Oh God, not Cayne!” came blurting out of my mouth. The blood drained from my face and my body went numb. I jumped out of bed and ran out into the cold and screamed for Cayne and Shelby, never feeling the cold on my skin and feet. My mind reeled. My husband, seeing my reaction, chose not to go into work and went back out with the car to search. I nearly collapsed. Why such a reaction?
Being the guardian to any sentient being should be no different than having a relationship with a person. You must get to know your dog intimately through interaction, daily activities, meal times, play and training sessions, general observation, and their interaction with family members, strangers, and other animals. Spouses, close friends, siblings, and even co-workers who we spend hours with on a daily basis, can easily learn about another person’s personality and character simply by being in their presence and interacting. It should be no different with our animals who are under our guardianship and protection. Be sure you know your dog, and if you have multiple dogs, know each one of them intimately. It can be KEY to protecting them and getting them back safely!
I know my dogs and their dispositions and traits so intimately that hearing of their escape elicited such a strong reaction from me. Even more, Cayne and Shelby were not wearing their collars and ID tags. Cayne, Shelby, and Garrett are 50% Siberian Husky. Both Cayne and Shelby have the dispositions and character traits of a Siberian Husky. They are nothing like their mama. I know that neither Cayne nor Shelby can find their way back home. That is why I panicked.
Cayne and Shelby, along with their littermates (nine pups in total) contracted Parvovirus at six weeks of age. Cayne had it worst, Shelby second worst. I fought so hard for them and the entire litter survived. I chose to keep Cayne and Shelby to ensure they had proper holistic health care and raw nutrition for their entire life. (Garrett, who was meant to be adopted, became our dog when we could not find suitable guardianship that met our standards.) These dogs are nearly my world. When my mind began to think about possibly never seeing them again, I started to have a panic attack.
What to Do If Your Dog is Lost
When your dog goes missing and you begin to consider the hundreds of possible circumstances, outcomes, and “what ifs,” you can lose your mind. You will likely panic, so be prepared to ask for help! As soon as you realize or learn that your dog is missing, do not hesitate to immediately begin searching the entire area and shouting their name in every direction. You or another person must immediately start to notify neighbors, friends, family members, community members, local Animal Control, animal shelters, rescues, and veterinary offices. I wish we all had psychic power or crystal balls to learn the whereabouts of a lost dog, but we don’t, thus you must reach out so that you can rely on the eyes and ears of your community members. Start with Facebook. A single post can get “shared” creating an exponentially expanding reach with each “share” potentially notifying thousands of people in mere minutes to hours. Now imagine creating several posts on friends’ pages, rescue pages, lost pet groups and pages, Animal Control pages, and more! Get the word out as quickly as possible and ask for the help of family and friends to continually search the area by vehicle and foot. Dogs can travel many miles in a short time. Most importantly, if you know your dog, you can predict their possible travel path, decision making potential, instinct drive, and even the outcome. I did this in my mind and started to create a map of possibilities.
Cayne is a stoic dog, very reserved, and laid back. He observes his world intimately and interacts with it when interested. He is very loving, but not as cuddly as our other dogs. He is completely trusting of me and my care of his needs, especially when hurt or nervous. He expects me to “fix” his boo boos (which he has had plenty because he and Garrett do not get along). Cayne is also a survivor. He beat Parvo at six weeks having had it worse than his eight siblings, he has been injured in squabbles with his brother, and he had a minor issue before he turned one year. I know Cayne is tough; really tough, quiet, and stoic. He and his sister Shelby are inseparable “best buds.” Shelby is a fun loving, super cuddly, extremely playful, bundle of energy. She loves to interact with her world by keeping vigil out the windows and growling and barking warnings at whatever or whoever will listen. She is not one to approach strangers and will warn people, in her husky language, that she is not to be trifled with. She and Cayne compliment each other perfectly. When together, they both play hard and recklessly. But I also know they act as a team and they both rely upon each other’s strengths. Neither Cayne nor Shelby gravitate toward people. They are both free-spirited like a Husky. I assumed they would stay in the wooded areas and not approach any strangers even if called. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Cayne and Shelby would stick together. I knew with absolute certainty that if one of them became injured, the other would not leave their side. I also knew that they would likely not find their way back. I had to plan a rescue mission. I needed to rely on community members to help us find them.
LEARN YOUR DOG! It could save their life!
As the Hours Turn into Days
With each passing hour my heart kept sinking. My stomach was in knots. We live in a rural area with hundreds of acres of wooded areas and farm land. I notified our local Animal Control officer via his personal cell phone. I hoped that if someone might be able to catch Cayne and Shelby, they would call Animal Control. But knowing my dogs, I had many doubts anyone would actually catch them.
My husband and another family member had searched for 13 hours. As night fell on Monday we were expecting our first hard frost of the season. I again started to panic. That is when we started getting notice that community members had spotted our dogs. A wonderful sweet woman named Sylvia had spotted Cayne and Shelby on the side of the road and snapped three photos of them. Cayne was lying down and appeared to be licking his left front paw in the photo and Shelby was standing over him. She had made mention that she called to them, but wondered if they were deaf because they did not respond. I was not surprised. I had predicted they would not respond to nor approach people. Sylvia posted the photos on Facebook at 2 PM and it got to us by 6 PM via another wonderful woman named Gail who happened upon our Facebook post. She recognized the dogs in Sylvia’s photos as the dogs in our Facebook posts along with recognizing the exact location in the photo. Gail called my husband’s phone and told us exactly where the photos were taken. I suddenly had hope that we would have them back that evening. We ran to the car and headed in that direction. We called and called them out the car windows, but sadly, we did not find them. December 1st was about to commence and I had not seen nor heard from my dogs. I was increasingly becoming more devastated. I put their dinner plates on the front porch and slept on the sofa just in case they did find their way home.
The following day was Tuesday and my daughter-in-law and I headed back in that direction in the morning. Still no sign of them. Then I began to fear they had not survived the night. Yet at the same time it also dawned on me that when Shelby and Garrett had escaped two years ago, they had come back sore and had injuries on the pads of their feet from walking on pavement and over rough terrain. Shelby had also had a minor laceration on her chest. I began to then have hope that Cayne and Shelby were too sore to walk and must not have gone too far from that general area where Sylvia had spotted them.
I searched several times on Tuesday, but came up empty. We had another possible sighting that evening, but the person indicated seeing only one dog in an area much further away. I knew my dogs would not separate. I had my doubts, but we went anyway just to be sure. They were not there. Night fell again by the time we returned home and I started to lose hope. My emotions spilled over and I completely unraveled as I thought about the hard frost we were expecting again that night. I grieved hard. I wondered how they could possibly survive two nights of bitter cold temperatures without food. Their last meal had been Sunday evening and it was now Tuesday evening. I chose to sleep in our bed rather than on the sofa that night because I knew they could not possibly make the journey home. Too much time had elapsed and they had to be in pain by now from walking for nearly two days (if they were even still alive).
I awoke the morning of December 2nd to the sound of my husband leaving for training at work. I asked him to sit with me for a moment as I felt a panic attack approaching. While he sat with me I resolved that I had to find them. After he left, I laid in bed thinking about what I could do next. I reached out to a group of several of my friends and clients who were helping us and praying for us. I asked for assistance with notifying local veterinary hospitals so I could go back out and search. I placed my phone down and I heard a text notification. At first I was too lost in thought configuring a game plan. I quickly jolted myself into action when I realized it could be about Cayne and Shelby. It was!
A woman named Brittany reached out to me regarding Sylvia’s Facebook post from Monday with the photos of my dogs. Brittany lives on the same street where the photos were taken and she personally knew the owners of the house in the background. She offered to reach out to them. Minutes later Edna, the owner of that property, texted me. She told me she would put out the word all over the area as she and her family owned most of the land where my dogs were seen. My hope began to bloom as I realized my community was banding together to help me, a complete stranger, find her beloved dogs.
I got up fully resolved to move ahead firmly. I walked outside to do my chicken and turkey chores. The air was crisp and refreshing. The grass was adorned in a crystalline blanket that shimmered in the early morning sun. I relished in that moment and told God I would find them with His help. I had already had a prayer chain of wonderful people from all over the country praying for Cayne, Shelby, and us. I had to believe! My thoughts were directed immediately to my chickens. How could I doubt my dogs? My grief and fear was clouding my logical brain. My chickens were sitting there almost shouting to me, “Hello?! Do we not sit here in these frigid temperatures and survive just fine?” DUH!!!! My chickens do not sit in a heated house. They are animals, they live outside. Of course my dogs would survive! They are animals driven by a powerful survival instinct and are half Siberian Husky. And…oh my god, I fast them from food regularly, why would I worry about food only two days in? Suddenly every thought that came rushing to me was why I should not fear nor worry. My dogs consume a prey diet and fast on a regular basis. Their bodies are efficient energy burning machines. They have crazy instinct. Did not Shelby hunt down a rabbit just earlier this year and secure a dinner for herself? I completed my chicken and turkey chores with vigor and went into the house to take my shower before heading out to find my dogs. Today was different. Something, or Someone, was speaking to me!
A Divinely Orchestrated Day
I no sooner got out of my shower when Brittany texted me again and Edna had called. Brittany texted, “Pretty sure we found both of your dogs.” Edna had left a voice message that my dogs were at Amy’s farm, another neighbor on that same street, in her barn not far from their first sighting on Monday afternoon. It was Sylvia’s post that initially got the ball rolling. One person who took the time to take photos and post it to Facebook. ONE PERSON! You never know who will be reached with a single post!
My son and I flew out the door with leashes in hand. Amy’s property was a mere three miles from our house. Amy had told Edna to inform us that we could go walk the property while she was out on an appointment. It is about one hundred acres of open farm land. My dogs had sought out shelter in a hay barn. Hay insulates and holds heat. I was so proud of Cayne and Shelby. They were working together to survive.
My son and I walked and walked and called and called, but I did not see any signs of them. I again started to lose hope. I got frustrated and yelled out loud that I was not leaving without my dogs. We were out in the sunflower fields staring out into hundreds of acres of land. Then I saw foot prints….dog foot prints. That was proof that they WERE there! I just couldn’t find them. We yelled and yelled more. But no sign of them. They had an enormous tractor and plow going in the adjacent field. I wondered if it was drowning out our calls. Cayne and Shelby could be anywhere. We decided it best to go back out on the road to call out from there. I messaged Brittany that we were heading out on the road again and she insisted they had to be there. She wrote that she would have her dad ride around and look as well. My son and I drove all around the neighborhood calling their names. I was about to give up when I decided I would try Amy’s farm one more time.
I drove back to the gorgeous farm and walked up the very, very long drive to the far barn out in the fields. We stayed there for a long time just calling and listening. I felt lost. Where could they be? I was getting exhausted as I hadn’t eaten anything yet that morning. Then my phone rang. It was Edna. She asked if we had any luck finding them and told me she and Amy would be there in 10 minutes to help us search. I was amazed at their kindness and sacrifice to help us. I felt so humbled. I decided to walk back to the hay barn to see if, by chance, they were there and not conscious. My phone rang in the barn. Edna’s voice said, “They are here on the train tracks!” Then she called to Shelby. We were at least an eighth mile from my car. My son and I ran until we nearly collapsed. I was exhausted from not eating and tired from little sleep, but I willed myself forward. The car seemed like it was getting further away. We ran and ran and finally made it. I drove out of the driveway and headed down the street to the railroad tracks only a short distance away. There I saw two vehicles parked alongside the train tracks and three women all shielding and preventing Cayne and Shelby from leaving the area. There they were, huddled together on the sun-warmed metal and stone of the railroad track…with a cat. I have never seen a more wonderful sight!
I had predicted nearly everything correctly. I knew my dogs. The two of them were so sore and hurting that they could never have made the journey home, much less to where were we calling them from. I knew they would need rescuing, I just needed to find them. I had to hope and pray that my community would help us. One woman’s post brought a community together and they found our dogs. I am speechless and overwhelmed with gratitude.
Cayne sat up immediately when he saw us drive up, but he could not take more than a step. Their tails were wagging; that is all that mattered. Cayne licked my face as I carried him to the car. He sat in the seat and looked over to Shelby to be sure she was coming with us. My son carried Shelby to me (she could not even stand up) and I loaded her in to the car with her brother. She laid down on the seat while Cayne sat next to her in his usual stoic and quiet fashion as if to say, “we made it.” We all rejoiced and Edna snapped a few photos to share the joy with others.
Upon returning home I could see that Cayne was much stronger and in better condition. I know for a fact that he looked after his sister. I watched as he sniffed her over and licked her raw and swollen paws when we retuned home. Only then did he too collapse. Both were dirty, smelled of hay, full of ticks, and had a slightly low body temperature. Their paws were swollen and raw, and Cayne did in fact have an injury to his left front leg as assumed by Sylvia’s photo. But they survived; they stuck together, avoided people and vehicles, were too sore to travel, sought shelter in freezing temperatures, found a place to be warmed in the sun, and waited to be rescued. Wow, God is good and so are the people who offer their time and assistance to help a hurting human being and lost dogs to be reunited. My heart is so full!
PLEASE, above all else, learn and know your dog intimately. It could mean the difference between life and death! Trust in your dog’s God-given instincts for survival. Trust in the power of prayer. No matter what your faith, having hundreds of people praying together for the safe return of a pet sends out that positive and hopeful energy to God and into the Universe so miracles can happen. Never give up on your dog. Like Cayne and Shelby, a rescue may be required. Utilize your community to be your eyes and ears. The more people you inform, the greater the chance for finding your pet alive and safe. My community is the reason I have my dogs back safely and in good health.
My prayer is that our experience will help others to bring their dogs home safely.
Thank you to everyone who helped us!