Chapter 5: Oban
Oban, a whippet-shepherd mix, slipped out the door of a parked car near Bellevue Community College on February 2nd, 2013. He was playing, “You can’t catch me,” with his owner when he was struck by a car and ran off into the fog. Sporadic reports of Oban came in over the next two months. When he first went missing, I tried to help his owner with advice. I think she was getting conflicting advice from various sources, and she seemed not to be following my directions. I later learned that she had been told by a pet psychic that Oban was dead, so this may have contributed to her lack of action. When reports came in that Oban was seen very close to the accident site, several people called me to help track him down. I explained that Oban’s owner wasn’t asking for my help, and I usually don’t get involved when the owner of a pet doesn’t want me to. Several people persisted, insisting that I help them catch Oban whether or not the owner wanted me to. The owner was out of town at the time, further complicating things. When I relented, and agreed to help, I set up an “Intersection Alert” where several volunteers held up large neon-colored posters about Oban’s plight. We received at least eight tips that afternoon. He had been seen ten blocks away, but he was seen most recently very near that intersection, 150th Ave SE and SE 37th Street. Just before dark, someone pulled over and said they had just seen him on the off ramp from eastbound I-90 to 150th Ave SE. We went to check it out, but Oban slipped back into the woods before we could spot him.
A narrow strip of trees and brush grows between the off ramp and a tall retaining wall. The dense underbrush provided a perfect hiding place for a scared dog. Oban couldn’t go south from there because of the high wall, and going east, west, or north would just put him on the freeway. I set up a humane trap in the woods at the end of the off ramp, but Oban didn’t go in it the first day. Many volunteers checked the trap every few hours, just in case any animal was trapped. The next day, I moved the trap to a quieter area and someone put a couple of articles of clothing (belonging to Oban’s owner) into the trap. They placed his favorite bed beside the trap. As I was looking around the area to see how he might be getting around, I received a call that he had just been seen again poking his head out of the woods beside the off ramp. Knowing exactly where he was at that moment, I called for volunteers to help me keep an eye on the area and make sure he didn’t leave.
We often use a “Magnet Dog” to lure a skittish dog to safety. Many dogs will come toward another dog even if they are avoiding people. My little dog, Fozzie, makes a great magnet dog some times. In this case, because Oban was so skittish and traumatized from the accident, I contacted his owner and learned of a dog that Oban likes. Kendra, a friend of Oban’s owner, brought her dog Sonia to the off ramp for the luring attempt. I instructed Kendra on what to do and what not to do. I told her not to make eye contact with Oban or call his name, to focus her attention on Sonia and ignore Oban while giving Sonia treats. I told Kendra that it would be better to not catch Oban today than to lunge for him and risk scaring him away to a new location, or chasing him onto the freeway. Kendra walked Sonia down the shoulder of the road as cars whizzed by at 60 MPH. Not a single car slowed down or moved over to give us space to work. I felt nervous and helpless, watching the cars whip by the two. What if Oban darted out? Kendra and Sonia made one pass back and forth along the strip of woods, one thousand feet down and one thousand feet back. Nothing. Kendra took Sonia for a second pass, and Oban popped out of the woods to see his friend and get some treats. He allowed Kendra to snap a leash on his collar with no trouble. Kendra rushed him to the nearby emergency vet, where Oban stayed overnight.
He was very thin. Oban had weighed over 60 pounds when he went missing, and he was quite lean and trim at that weight. When found, he weighed 28 pounds. The vet told us about refeeding syndrome, how a dog’s metabolism adapts to starvation, and too many nutrients too soon can throw the system into shock. I believe they recommended just four tablespoons of food the first day, gradually increasing the food in subsequent days. You can kill a starving dog by giving him too much food too soon, so I’m glad the owner’s friends sought veterinary advice. Oban also had broken bones from the initial car accident, but he had to gain weight and gain strength before they would operate on him to repair that damage. After many months of care, Oban regained most of his previous health.
Oban falls into a category of missing dogs: those who have escaped from the scene of a car accident. (Even though his car wasn't in an accident, he was hit be a car while traveling far from home.) I have advised on many of these cases, and followed many other similar cases with professional interest. In most cases, the missing dog is seen very near the accident site, and will usually be caught within half a mile of the original escape point. Oban was less than half a mile from the point he had run off from 2 months earlier. He had been seen, reportedly, as far as two miles from his point of origin, but he kept circling back to the scene of the accident. Also of note, most dogs who are hit by cars will survive, even with broken bones and other severe injuries.
I recommend an Intersection Alert in most cases of a missing dog. It is a powerful technique, but most owners of lost dogs are reluctant to do it. I was too, the first time I did one. Not many people want to stand on a street corner holding a sign. And when you are the owner, telling the world you lost your dog, you might feel like you are being shamed, like a teenager forced to stand on the street corner holding a sign saying he lied or stole. Once you get out there and do the intersection alert, it’s usually not nearly as bad as you imagined it would be. You will see that most of the drivers are sympathetic to your cause, and complete strangers will pull over and offer to help. As we held up signs for Oban, it became apparent that many people in the neighborhood were rooting for him. Many volunteers helped bring Oban to safety, including Irene, Krystina, Jacintha, Dina, Dori, Shawna, Julie, Lara, Sheri, Sam, Ilse, Kendra, Stephan, and Sonia the Vizsla.