Lessons Learned

by Steve on October 27, 2010

The last thing I want to do at the moment is dwell on what I could have done differently that might have saved my buddy but maybe this post will keep someone else from suffering as we have. 

  • A collar with ID is an absolute must whenever pets are outside.  I didn’t adhere to this critical piece of advice.  Our boys have the entire backyard fenced in and collars seemed unnecessary plus they were always scratching at them. Fences can break, gates can blow open, or the gas meter reader can let them out accidentally. All of these examples have happened to us over the years.  A collar lets people know from a distance that your pet is not wild and safe to approach properly.  If your pet is tragically killed a collar with ID lets them know who to call and at least you get closure.
  • Chip your pet. It’s a tiny microchip that gets inserted under the skin. Most vets now have scanners to read these ID chips. A collar with your name and phone number is still the best means of immediate ID but collars can break or be lost so the chip is a great fail-safe.
  • Get signs up immediately and be sure to fan them out in all directions.  Your neighbors are your strongest asset in recovering your pet.  Signs let them become additional eyes as they come and go on their errands. Our boys had always returned within hours on prior breakouts and I stupidly decided we would post signs the next morning if they didn’t come home for dinner as they always had done.  Meanwhile they were having a grand time at the neighborhood soccer field but nobody knew to catch them.
  • Don’t let assumptions or false sightings influence your search plan. Remember if you have a popular breed there are likely other dogs of the same breed running loose. In our case there must have been five black labs loose within a two mile radius. I let some of these unconfirmed sightings draw me in the opposite direction from the boys’ actual route.
  • Friends will offer to help, take them up on it! In our case had we fanned out in the woods that day we might have had an even happier end to the search.  Repeated reports showed the dogs were staying within a half mile so I felt confident they weren’t really travelling and would eventually come home. That assumption proved fatal. I also felt we were a safe distance from the two county roads that run parallel to the ridge we live on.  Wrong again. Recovering Moose’s body pointed me in the right direction so I laced up my boots and set off through the woods determined to find Houlton before it was too late. The ridge is undeveloped and rough with steep rocky terrain. Pushing my big frame through the woods off-trail I made it within sight of Moose’s accident in less than 20 minutes.  The boys probably covered that ground casually in half the time!
  • Start looking immediately and expand your search appropriately based on elapsed time. A dog on a mission can cover a surprising amount of ground in short order.
  • Talk to everyone you see. Make sure you have plenty of your business cards with your cell phone number so all these additional eyes know how to reach you. People walking their dogs are an excellent resource and always eager to help a fellow dog lover.  Make sure you have a recent picture of your lost pet and carry copies to hand out.
  • Call your local Animal Control, Humane Society, and your vet to alert them in case someone turns your pet in.
  • Remember, animals have much better senses than we do.  They can hear and smell things that we can’t. If your pet is truly lost and turned around a distant shout or a scent trail to follow may be all it takes to get them home. In our case I knew that Houlton on his own would be uncatchable since he’s not an open and trusting soul like Moose was. I knew he would lurk in the fringes of the woods not trusting either the wildness behind him or the strange houses in front. When I hit the creek bottom where the boys had romped, I turned to parallel the road within earshot of the homes and made my way northeast calling like a madman every hundred yards or so.  I continued for about a mile and a half then cut uphill to hit a woods road and work my way home.  At some point later that day Houlton crossed my scent trail and followed me home. He tracked me and arrived almost eight hours later to give you an idea of how keen a dog’s sense of smell is.
  • Make sure your pet’s environment will contain them safely to avoid the pain and worry that a missing animal brings. Invisible fences are only as good as the battery in the collar. I had an old lab that would sit by the wire causing his collar to beep and run the battery down.  Once he had it down to an acceptable level he would charge through the shock.  He could also open chainlink flip latches faster than I could. Check gates and fences. It turns out that our gate that blew open had a broken spring on the latch. I fixed it yesterday. It had blown open a couple of times previously and I attributed the problem to us not closing it fully. A stupid little spring that I let go unrepaired cost me my Moose.

Hopefully these observations will spare someone the pain that we are still wrestling with.  It’s getting better – I thought I was going to have to swap out my background image of Moose that I put up the other day but this morning I smiled at him.  The raw emotions are still just below the surface but today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better yet.

Thanks again for all the calls, prayers, and comments.  They help immensely.


Frances October 27, 2010 at 16:50

Sitting here reading your post, I realize I am swallowing to keep from crying. Mostly from reading your regrets and sorrow but a lot are my past pet experiences that will stay with me forever.

Frances November 1, 2010 at 12:08

I am responding again to your post because Renee put it up again. I realize now how manly you are to tell about your mistakes. We all make them Steve, we are only human. God bless you, love you, FE

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