Monday, January 12, 2015

How I got my dog back

I was in Boston, seeing some old friends. My dogs were two hours away in Connecticut, with the friend I was staying with. My shy dog Jenny had been doing so well, really relaxing around my friend. So I wasn't prepared when my friend called me. “How far away are you? You need to come back right now. Jenny ran away.”

My husband and I were in the car in a few minutes, heading back to Connecticut. It wasn’t going to be a good scene when we got there. Jenny had slipped out of the door and bolted, and had disappeared. I suspected she wouldn’t come to anyone but me, and worried that she would be so scared that she wouldn’t come to me either. When we finally arrived, I walked around and called for her for an hour, but she didn’t come. She was gone.

Jenny was gone for four days before we got her back. This is what we did:

  • Called professionals. We went to Missing Pet Partnership and looked at their directory to find a local non-profit that specializes in finding lost pets. We called SMART because they were located nearby, and they were incredibly helpful. They came out with their tracker dog and got us a lot of information about where Jenny had been, which helped us figure out where to put our posters. They gave excellent advice and provided emotional support when I felt that I was starting to crumble.
  • Postered. SMART emphasized that posters should be visible from cars, should be big (bigger than 8.5 x 11!), and brightly colored. They provide detailed instructions.
  • Used Facebook. The local Animal Control Officer posted a photo of Jenny on Facebook, and we let the neighborhood group for the place where we were staying know so that they could share it.
  • Stayed in close touch with local Animal Control Officers. I was very lucky to be staying with a friend who is the medical director at a local shelter, so she had relationships with them already.
The community response was amazing. On the morning of Jenny’s fourth day lost, we got a phone call in response to the Facebook post. Jenny was in the caller’s yard. My husband and I left in the middle of breakfast and drove over. (We would realize around dinnertime that we had never gotten around to brushing our teeth that day.) We saw her — for the first time in four days! She didn’t come when I called her, and we lost her again. But then the phone calls started coming one after the other, some in response to Facebook, some in response to our posters. We marked her progress on a map as we followed the calls; she was travelling fast. We finally caught up with her just before dark, thanks to the Animal Control Officer who saw her but did not chase her, and stayed to point out to us where she had gone.

In perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story, Jenny, the dog who is so afraid of men, came when my husband called, walking right up to him and licking his hand. I was a block away at the time.

The next day, as we were walking around taking down posters, someone opened her window and called down to me from a second story room: “I’m so glad you got your dog back! I saw it on Facebook.” The Facebook post about our reunion got over 250 likes. Jenny was a local celebrity.

The most important advice we got from SMART was to use all the options you have to communicate to the community that your dog is missing: social media, traditional posters, calling ACOs, walking the street and talking to people. Get the word out any way you can! That is how we got her back: from the incredibly supportive community that looked for her, found her, and told us where she was.

I am deeply, deeply grateful to
  • The West Hartford, Hartford, and Simsbury Animal Control departments. Many of them worked during their time off to help us find Jenny. They went above and beyond.
  • The West Hartford and Hartford communities who were so supportive and friendly. We got zero crank calls, and we got Jenny back because these people really cared and really wanted to help.
  • My dear friend Katy and her boyfriend Zach, who tirelessly helped us poster and field calls.
  • SMART, who provided excellent advice and support; it was a privilege to watch their tracker dog at work.
  • Jenny herself, for not losing her cool and coming when we called!
A week after we got her back, I still feel amazed every time I look at her. Kiss your dog for me, and check to make sure that they have their collar and identification tag on them. You never know when something will happen.

About twenty seconds after Jenny and I were reunited.


  1. Such a co-incidence to see your post! My black lab wriggled under a hole she found in the fence in my back garden onto the golf course, leaving behind her agitated brother. I realised almost immediately that she had gone but despite calls, whistles etc there was no response. My friend stayed at the house while I walked round to the golf course entrance to look for her (I am much too big to get through the 2m thick hedge, or under the fencing mesh which is pinned to the ground....), calling and whistling but no sign of her. After an hour criss-crossing the golf course, asking groundsmen and golfers if they had seen her, I set off home - only to get a call saying she had returned on her own, and wasn't upset, wet or muddy so obviously hadn't gone far. I now suspect she went to search the neighbour's gardens for bird food to snack on! However, while looking for her, what I realised was that I was so distraught at losing her that I couldn't think straight and as I walked home without her couldn't think of the best way to contact all public services and social media to let people know that she was missing. So now that I am calm again, I am preparing an emergency plan of who to contact and how in case it happens again, and will suggest to my Dog Club members that they do the same as obviously every minute counts when your beloved pet goes missing! Although she is chipped, she doesn't wear a collar at home as she has a tendency to wriggle through the smallest spaces and get snagged!
    I am so pleased you got your lovely Jenny back - I can imagine how you felt as my girl was only gone for 1 hr but I was totally distraught!

    1. Happy story! I have had a similar escape experience with my golden, Jack, who was also found quite promptly. He had adopted a new family two doors over and was happily settling in with them. I like your idea of a plan to follow when you can't think straight -- check out the resources I pointed to in my post for some good ideas about what to do.

  2. So glad this story had a happy ending (and that DogBehavior's did as well). We had posters created and ready "just in case" but I very much like the idea of an emergency plan which I am not going to create.

  3. I am so happy for you that you got Jenny back! I have a fearful dog as well and my biggest fear is of him going missing. I also worry about whether he would go to anyone, including my hubby and myself. It's great that you shared this story, it could help a lot of people in this situation.