Thursday, April 5, 2012

Missing a Foster Dog and Finding Hope

Jennie resting at the scenic lookout on our previous hike
I really hate seeing a dog in a cage.

Homeless dogs living in foster homes provided by volunteer rescue groups such as Almost Home Rescue of Maine and Canine Guardians for Life, Inc. do not live in cages.  They live with families who donate their time, space and resources to providing homeless dogs a temporary living situation while permanent families are found. 

Nearly a year ago, I decided that I could support the rescue groups by hiking with foster dogs in an effort to provide them socialization as well as information, photos and videos to strengthen their adoption profiles.
After dozens of successful outings, including some 4,000 footers and even a few hikes in less than ideal weather conditions, I thankfully have never lost a dog on a hike.  The dogs are always on a leash.  There have been some dogs with beginning leash manners, other dogs with a high prey drive for small creatures they heard and smelled off in the woods, and even one nearly 100-pound Great Dane/Labrador mix who practically towed me up and down Mt. Shaw.  Still, I held on tight.

Then, the unthinkable happened as I was beginning my second hike with foster dog Jennie on Saturday, March 31, 2012.

Jennie is a sweetheart who loves other dogs, but she takes a little longer to warm up to new people and is still rather timid of new environments and new sounds.  In an effort to minimize the newness of the situation, I decided that I would use the leash that Jennie was wearing when I picked her up that morning.  Normally, I use my own leash - a style that I use with my own dogs and with all of the foster dog summit hikers.  For some reason, I thought it would benefit Jennie to have her own leash on this time.

As I was taking my first steps with Jennie en route to the start of the Mt. Roberts Trail for our second hike on Saturday, I remember glancing over at her tail and seeing that it was curled upward in a happy, confident position.  That was quite an improvement over the start of our first trip back in February when she hiked for a quite a distance with her tail tucked between her legs.

As I was concluding that happy thought, I managed to stumble loudly over a rock, crunch through a bunch of leaves, and the leash with the unfamiliar grip slid out of my hand and hit the ground.  The unfamiliar sounds startled Jennie, and she tore off into the woods dragging her pink leash behind her.  I ran after her and tried unsuccessfully to call and coax her back to me.  Jennie was gone.  I had lost a dog.

While panic was setting in, I managed to run through the woods in the direction she was heading until I hit the Cold Springs Trail.  I looked up the trail and across into the woods and could not see Jennie.  I decided that she might have headed down, so I started in that direction.  Near the start of the Cold Springs Trail, I encountered a family of hikers and their dog named Star.  I immediately told them what happened, asked if they saw Jennie and then inquired about walking up the Cold Springs Trail with them in the hopes that Star could lure Jennie out of the woods.  They were more than happy to interrupt their plans for a quiet family hike and joined me in the search for a missing foster dog.

After a short while, it was clear that Jennie was not going to be found quickly.  I had no choice but to alert her foster family and to contact her rescue group with the unfortunate news.

Jennie's foster immediately joined the search with another of his dogs.  My husband and his friend abandoned their fantasy baseball draft to the auto-draft setting and brought along my own two dogs to begin combing the nearby trails.  Numerous other hikers we met on the trails re-directed their plans to the area of Mt. Roberts and the surrounding trails in an effort to find Jennie.  A woman named Mariah and her hound dog Marley rounded up another friend and her dog and headed up the Mt. Roberts Trail.  Volunteers with Almost Home Rescue of Maine and Canine Guardians for Life, Inc. began getting the missing dog alert out to the social networks and created missing dog posters.  Granite State Dog Recovery began circulating an online alert to its Facebook followers.

The foster dog who had been hiking in search of a home suddenly had countless people hiking in search of her.

Unfortunately, as darkness fell, our collective efforts had not produced a single sighting of Jennie.  The search intensified throughout the day on Sunday.  Numerous hikers and their dogs who learned about Jennie showed up to help find her.  The hiker's parking area was overflowing with cars, and more hikers already on the trails that day also started looking for Jennie.

Having hiked with Jennie a month prior along the Shannon Brook Trail, I followed my hunch that she might have headed in the direction.  By mid-morning, I spotted Jennie coming up the Shannon Brook Trail near the intersection of the Bald Knob Cutoff.  Unfortunately, she had already been startled by some hikers making their way up the trail.  Before I had a chance to even call her name, Jennie turned and ran.  I encountered the other hikers further down the trail who eagerly began assisting in the search.  As I headed towards the brook, they continued up Bald Knob Cutoff where they spotted Jennie bushwhacking her way down the mountain.

Searchers were alerted to the latest sighting and re-directed their efforts over the next couple days.  Tina, a volunteer from Canine Guardians for Life, Inc., searched with her dogs for several hours each day in the area of the last sighting.  While Tina and many other searchers reported hearing a dog barking, Sunday morning was the last sighting that we had of Jennie.

Our non-stop efforts throughout Sunday, Monday and Tuesday did not locate Jennie.  By Monday afternoon, a humane trap had been placed in the area alongside the Shannon Brook Trail towards the direction of Bald Knob.  Unfortunately, the can of food that was placed in the trap on Monday night was likely taken by a wily coyote.

On Tuesday morning the trap was re-baited with a tasty and strong smelling mix of Bravo raw turkey burgers for pets, Beneful dog food, sliced turkey and provolone cheese.  The pile of food was placed directly onto the bottom of the trap just beyond the step plate that triggers the back gate to close.  Items of clothing from Jennie's foster home were also placed on top of the trap.

We left the trails at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night exhausted yet hopeful that Jennie was still in the area and would find her way to the dinner waiting for her. 

Jennie, still dragging her leash, awaiting release from the trap
This is one dog that I was really happy to see in a cage!

Jennie was happy to be released from the humane trap early in the morning on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 after being on the run for nearly four days.  She is back at her foster home waiting for the perfect forever family.

My sincere thanks to everyone who assisted in finding Jennie.  I know that I had the opportunity to meet and speak with only a small number of the people who joined in the effort.  I am also extremely grateful to everyone who has insisted that it was an accident and not to let this incident deter me from future hikes.  In response, I would still like to offer my sincere apologies for not having a better grip on the leash.  There is still fault to be had in my temporary loss of focus and for that I am deeply sorry.

There will be more hikes, and I am in the process of obtaining a GPS collar for the dogs to wear.  While there is no method that can provide a 100% guarantee against a dog getting lost; a GPS collar can focus and shorten a search effort.

See you on the trails!


  1. Patty Tetreault (AHR)April 6, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    Sooty will be looking forward to hiking with you in a couple of weeks. Yes I'm sure Kim and Nancy will be more then happy to let you take her, Sooty is going to love it after living in a shelter for so long.

    Abby & I can't wait to go back for a fun day hike, this time Fred will be able to join us too.
    Thanks for taking our fosters pups for hikes.

  2. Bravo to all involved in the search and successful conclusion. Let me add my voice to those who say, "Keep up the good work!" and don't let this incident deter you from future foster dog hikes.

    Elizabeth, and hiking mutts Salty and Gracie (both adopted from foster homes)

  3. I can imagine your panic when this happened - but if I had to say everything happens for a reason - its for Jennie and those that come after - spreading the word, and bringing us together in search of a greater good for animals.

  4. Thank you everyone for the support before, during and now going forward after this search for our missing foster dog. I feel relieved that Jennie was located safely and relatively quickly. I am looking forward to more summits with foster dogs with added security measures to protect against dogs getting lost on a hike.