Chapter 2: Thelma
In May of 2013, Kelsy was honored at an event at PAWS of Bainbridge Island. She received a plaque for being a Hero Pet in the category of Search and Rescue, specifically for finding Thelma in December of 2009.
Thelma is a 10-pound Terrier who only lived with her new family for a few days before bolting out the door when something startled her. Someone ran after her right away, calling her name, but she didn’t know her new name and it is nearly impossible for a human to run down a dog, no matter how small. For over a week, Lani and her family and friends searched for Thelma, sometimes for 12 hours a day, from before dawn to well after dark. Many people had spotted Thelma on the run, but each time they tried to catch her, they made her run farther. Based on the sightings, this little girl ran for over five miles, and probably much farther if you count the circling and backtracking. The nighttime temperatures were about 15 degrees during most of the time Thelma was on the run.
Kelsy and I started searching at the point last seen, a large industrial park by the 522 freeway in Woodinville. Kelsy took a good long sniff at the scent article, in this case bedding in a crate, and charged off on the trail, dragging me through blackberries behind the warehouses. We made many circles of the complex, until we came to a stream and a pond. This was one of the few sources of liquid water because most ditches and streams had frozen. We found food wrappers shredded under a large cedar tree, so it seemed some animal had foraged a meal there. Kelsy fell in the pond, not realizing how deep it was, and I had to haul her out by her harness because the sides were too steep for her to scramble up. She shook the water off, but the cold water in the freezing air immediately turned to ice, giving Kelsy a frosting of small icicles for the next half hour, not that she cared at all. We searched from 9:30 until about 3:00, checking likely hiding areas, but Kelsy never pulled as hard as she did at the beginning of the trail. I was just about to quit for the day when Lani got the call of a sighting on the other side of 522.
I started Kelsy on that trail, at the point last seen, with the scent about 20 minutes old. Kelsy followed to a gap under a fence, and we had to stop and ask permission to search inside the property of a mini-storage. Then Kelsy followed the trail to another gap in the fence, leading to a swampy patch of brambles beside the freeway, where we could not follow. On the chance that Thelma had doubled back again, or that Kelsy had followed the trail in reverse, I took Kelsy for one last sweep of the perimeter of the storage lot, just in case. She showed interest in the grounds of a manufacturing plant, but I didn't have permission to enter the property. We had been searching over six hours at that point, and Kelsy and I were tired. I told Lani we were done for the day, and we could come back the next day to try again.
Lani asked us to wait a minute while she asked for permission to search the property of the business, and when she got the okay, Kelsy and I strolled up the back side of the plant, not really expecting to find anything. Usually, when Kelsy gets close to her target, she pulls so hard I can barely stay on my feet. I can't restrain her, and I just have to concentrate on not falling on my face. I don't know if it was because she was tired, but she just trotted along as if she was casually interested in something, not about to make her first walk-up find. We came to the corner farthest from the street, and Kelsy started to sniff about the landscaping very cautiously. We checked around the back side of some large evergreen trees, and Kelsy pinpointed a spot under a branch that swept down to the ground. Kelsy was pointing to this spot with her nose, but also backing away like she was nervous about whatever was under there. I lifted the branch, and I was actually surprised to see two little eyes looking back at me. There was Thelma, curled up in a nice little nest she had made for herself. She smelled like sewage, which was probably the reason for Kelsy’s hesitation—Thelma probably didn’t smell much like Thelma any more.
I knelt there, looking at Thelma, and time slowed down for me. What probably took a few seconds seemed like minutes as I considered what to do next. This was my first walk-up find with Kelsy, and I didn’t want to blow it by scaring Thelma away again. I thought of my training, and I could hear the voice of Kat Albrecht, my teacher and mentor, telling me what to do and what not to do. I could hear her saying, “Don’t look directly in the dog’s eyes. That’s an aggressive gesture in dog language.” But I was just staring at her and unable to take my eyes away. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, and I couldn’t stop myself. In the next moment, I found myself saying Thelma’s name, softly, and I could hear Kat’s voice in my head, saying, “Don’t call the name of a frightened, panicked, lost dog because that could trigger her to run.” Then I could hear Kat telling me, “Don’t grab for a frightened dog because this could also be a trigger that makes the dog run.” At the moment I was thinking that, my hand shot out of its own accord, like I couldn’t control my own body, and I quickly snatched up Thelma as she stared up at me from her nest, momentarily frozen like a deer in headlights. Thelma nipped at me, briefly, but once I had her wrapped in my arms, she relaxed into me. I sighed in relief, having done everything exactly wrong in that critical moment and gotten away with it.
As I walked back toward the street with Thelma wrapped in my arms, I tried to tell Kelsy what a good girl she was, and how proud I was of her for finding Thelma, but Kelsy's expression seemed to say, "Why are you carrying her, the bad dog who ran away, when you could be carrying me in your arms?" When I was finally able to hand Thelma off to an overjoyed and relieved Lani, I gave Kelsy her Victory Cheese, and praised her for a job well done. After six and a half hours of hard searching, probably covering five miles of asphalt, swamps, and brambles, Kelsy got her man. She slept very soundly on the ride home.
While it is true that Kelsy found Thelma, I am certain Lani would have found Thelma eventually even without our help. Lani was dedicated to doing everything possible to find this little terrier. Thelma is a good dog, but she is just a mutt from the shelter, not a champion show dog or a movie star. Lani had bonded with Thelma right from the start, and it was this bond that saved Thelma’s life. Some people form that deep attachment to a dog right away, while for others this bond takes time to develop. Certainly, I felt a deep bond with Kelsy the moment I saw her picture on the Internet advertising her as available for adoption at a local shelter. I did not feel that bond right away with my first dog, Porter. I seriously thought about returning him to the shelter in the first two weeks I had him, and it was only months later that Porter taught me how to be a dog-person. When Kelsy and I were ready to give up, Lani pushed us to search just a little longer for Thelma, and Lani’s persistence ultimately saved Thelma.