Chapter 8: Brownie
This is Brownie. As I was driving home on March 5th, 2013, I saw her cross the street a few blocks from my home. I asked the guy at the espresso stand, and he said she had been hanging around for a week. Although I would help any dog if I could, I am a sucker for a black dog. I went home and got my magnet dog (Fozzie), my snappy snare, and the humane trap.
Brownie was still hanging around the espresso stand, so I got out my magnet dog and snappy snare. Fozzie is a white poodle or mix of some sort, about 15 pounds, and he is generally good natured with all people and dogs. The snappy snare is a type of spring-loaded leash that you hold open until the loose dog sniffs the nose of the magnet dog. Then you release it, and it tightens around the neck of the loose dog. Kat Albrecht of Missing Pet Partnership gives an excellent demonstration of the technique in this video.
We ignored Brownie, who was still loitering about the espresso stand, and walked back and forth where she could see us. She paid little attention to us, hardly curious at all. I put Fozzie back in the car. I set up the humane trap and baited it with tuna. I watched as Brownie walked all the way around the trap, smelling the food, but she wouldn’t go in. She trotted down the street a block, and I saw her go into the yard of a vacant house.
I asked the neighbors, and they said they had been seeing her around for a week. Brownie had been going into their back yard. I asked, hopefully, if their yard was fenced and possibly useful as a trap, but they said it was only fenced on one side. A bit later, I saw Brownie go down the street toward the trap at the espresso stand and circle it one more time. Then she went a block in a different direction. A woman saw Brownie and tried to get her to come. This woman did what most people do, which is to squat down, hold out her hand as if offering a treat, and call, “Here doggie.” This may work once in a while, but it usually does not. In this case, it caused Brownie to bolt. I told the woman that I had a humane trap set. She said she had been trying to help Brownie, but that she kept running off. Since the trap was set and Brownie had run off to one of her hiding places, I went home for a bit.
Two hours after I had set the trap, I got the call from the espresso stand owner that Brownie had gone in the humane trap. When I got to the trap, she looked nervous, and she seemed like she might nip, or bolt if I opened the trap. I loaded the trap in the car with her still in it. I was able to read her address on her tags, and I learned that her name is Brownie. She lived about seven miles away, and I drove her home. When I knocked on the door of her address, the woman and children were reluctant to open the door to a strange man at night. When they finally opened the door a crack, I asked if they were missing a dog. They said Brownie had been missing since January 1st when she was scared away by fireworks! She had been wandering lost for two months. I put a leash on Brownie and let her out of the trap. She walked up to her owner, a bit hesitant for a moment, but then she jumped up on her and started crying. Brownie was very happy to be back home.
In the case of Oban, he would not go in the trap, but the magnet dog worked. In the case of Brownie, the magnet dog was not working, but the trap did. I adjust my strategy based on the personality of the dog and the circumstances. I try to always have a plan B, and a plan C, plan D, etc.
A week later, I went into a veterinary office in South Seattle to drop off a flier for another missing dog. I saw Brownie’s flier on their bulletin board, and I was happy to tell them they could take it down.
Tips For Helping Stray Dogs (with no known owner)
If you see a dog running loose, you may want to help get that dog to safety. Most people who try to help a stray dog actually make matters worse, often making it harder for the next person who comes along and wants to help the dog. If you want to be her best chance for avoiding harm, you can take steps to greatly increase your ability to help her. (Don’t approach a dangerous dog, who is displaying signs of aggression, as getting bitten is not good for you or the dog.)
1. Don’t do the usual things! Time after time, I see people doing what I used to do before I received training at Missing Pet Partnership. The average person who sees a dog on the loose will call to the dog to get her attention, something like, “Come here, doggie.” This could work, in a few circumstances. Chances are that someone else has already tried that with this dog, and if it would have worked, then the dog would no longer be running loose. People also squat down and hold out a hand to the dog. People try to make themselves smaller and make a kind gesture. When you squat down, all your weight is carried on your tense thigh muscles, like a predator getting ready to spring. If you slowly approach the dog while looking right at her, you are also mimicking the behavior of a predator. This is not the way to calm a skittish dog. When these techniques don’t work, many people will lunge at or chase the dog. The slowest dog in the world can outrun the fastest person in the world. Don’t chase a stray dog!
2. Try things in an order so that, if a technique doesn’t work, it hasn’t driven the dog away. You don’t know this dog, and you don’t know her personality quirks or her history. Some techniques will work better with her, and you won’t know which techniques she will respond to until you try them. I have listed them in an order so that if a technique fails, it won’t scare her away. Whatever you do, try not to make the situation worse for this dog by scaring her out of an area where she feels comfortable.
3. Take a picture, and take notes. Before you get out of your car or approach her, take a picture with your smart phone or other device. This way, if your attempts to help her fail, at least you can post a picture on craigslist with a time, date, and location, to help the dog’s owner. Don’t assume a dog was dumped or abandoned. Most of the stray dogs I have helped to safety were being sought by their owners.
4. Drive past, park, and open the door of your car. If you see a dog trotting down the side of the road, simply drive ahead half a block and pull over. Choose a place to pull over that will be safe for both you and the dog. Open your rear passenger door. Place some treats on the back seat if you have any. Sit quietly, looking forward, and watch the approaching dog in your mirror to the extent that you can. Hopefully, she will hop right in, and that will be that. It has worked on many occasions. If it doesn’t work, at least you haven’t made the dog afraid of you.
5. Calming signals and food. The next step involves Calming Signals. Please read the book by Turid Rugaas when you get a chance. If the dog is staying in one area, approach her slowly, at an angle, so that path you are walking would go beside her, not toward her. Turn your head to the side, away from her, so you are just watching in your peripheral vision. You want to appear to be unaware that she is even there. As you approach, slow down and stop the moment she focuses her attention on you. Stop your approach in a manner that suggests you were planning on doing that all along, such as sitting on a curb or looking at your phone. Don’t suddenly freeze, like, “Oh crap, you caught me sneaking up on you.” This is a dog, so your acting skills don’t need to be perfect. Yawn. This is a calming signal that dogs use on each other. Your dog has probably yawned at you when he was in trouble for something, in an effort to calm you down. (Komu yawns at me when he is in trouble, which is often.) Sit down on the pavement, or on the curb. You want to be sitting on your butt, not squatting. If you are in the seated position, you can’t do anything quickly, and the dog won’t feel like you are going to suddenly lunge at her. Accidently drop some food, if you have some. If you don’t have food, pretend to eat something. If the dog is watching, but hesitant to approach, you can just lie flat on your back. If she does approach, don’t lunge for her. Take your time, and let her get used to your scent. If you put out a hand to pet her, don’t place your hand over her head. Pet her under the chin. If you have a leash handy, attach it to her collar if she has one. If she doesn’t have a collar, form the leash into a slip-collar by passing the hasp through the handle.
6. Try a magnet dog, if you can. If the calming signals don’t work, and if you have a friendly, happy dog with you, or if you can run home quickly and get one, see how the stray dog will react to another dog. My little white poodle, Fozzie, is a good magnet dog. Before Fozzie was my dog, he was a stray running loose on the freeway in Burien. I tried to use Komu, the pit bull mix, as a magnet dog with Fozzie, but he was not entirely convinced. (I caught him in a humane trap instead.) Bring your friendly dog into an area where the stray dog can see you. When you have her attention, ignore her, and focus all your attention on your own dog. Give your dog treats. Hopefully, the stray dog will come right up when she sees you giving treats to your dog. Kelsy, my big black lab, is rather bossy, and not what I would consider a magnet dog. However, I have used her as a magnet dog by playing fetch with her and luring playful dogs who like to fetch. Either way, with food or with games, the idea is to focus your attention on the magnet dog and ignore the stray as much as possible. When the stray is focused on your dog, you may be able to hook a leash onto a collar, or slip a lead over her head. If the stray dog is an intact male, chances are he will be interested in your dog regardless of treats or games.
7. If none of the above techniques work, call for help. It would be better to not chase the dog away than to try more aggressive tactics and risk making it more difficult for someone else to catch her. You can call animal control, of course. Depending on where you live, they may or may not come out in a timely manner. Ask people in the area if the dog has been around for a while. If the dog keeps coming back to the same place, a humane trap will probably work. It is likely that a volunteer group in your area would be willing to help the dog, and they may have a humane trap at their disposal. In the greater Seattle area, Useless Bay Sanctuary would help if volunteers aren't otherwise occupied.
8. Once captured, take a good picture, put on some sort of ID. Although you took a picture when you first saw the dog, it was probably blurry and distant. Now that you have her close, take several pictures. If she escapes your control somehow, you want good pictures to put on posters or supply to the owner. If she is wearing a tag with a phone number, great! If she has no ID, put something on her, at least temporarily. You can put your dog’s collar and tags on her, so at least you will be called if someone finds her. If she has a collar with no tags, you can write your name and number on a piece of paper and secure it to her collar with clear packing tape. Dogs who escaped once are likely to escape again, so you want to get ID on the dog as soon as possible. I go to the pet store and get a tag engraved. You may even wish to keep a spare collar with a tag with your number in your car, just in case you see a wandering dog.
9. Don’t automatically assume that a skittish, dirty, skinny dog is dumped, neglected, or abused. Take the case of Oban, for example. His body weight went from 60 pounds to 28 while he was on the run for two months. He appeared to be near death when we finally captured him. This did not mean his owner did not love him and care for him. She had taken measures to prevent his escape, and she had looked for him for two months, trying to find him. If someone else had found Oban, they could easily have assumed he was neglected or abused. That assumption would have been wrong. If you didn’t try to find a dog’s owner because you suspected neglect or abuse, you could be keeping a dog from a wonderful owner that she wants to be with more than anything in the world.
10. Call the number on the tags, if present, and take the dog to a vet or shelter to scan for microchip. If she has a tag with a working number, the case is solved, and she will soon be on her way home. If she has no ID, take her to a nearby vet and have them scan her for a microchip. You can also take her to the shelter for a scan. Quite often, information on tags and microchips is outdated. It can take some detective work to track down the owners. If you can find out where a microchip was implanted, that vet or shelter may have records of who owns the dog.
11. Walk the dog in the area, see if she leads you home, or is recognized. If she doesn’t have a tag or a microchip, put her on a leash and walk her around the neighborhood where you found her. There is a small chance she will lead you to her home. Also, ask people if they recognize the dog. If they can’t tell you where she lives, they may be able to tell you how long she has been around.
12. If you can’t find her home right away, start spreading the word that you’ve found a dog. Create fliers and put them up in the area you found her. Drop off some Found Dog fliers at the local veterinary offices, and at the local shelters. You should probably drop off fliers at several shelters because a dog can easily cross over from one jurisdiction to another. Place ads on craigslist, but withhold some detail that would identify her. You want anyone who claims her to give some proof that the dog is his. If the dog has no identifying characteristics, if she is just an utterly ordinary black dog with no markings, then ask for some pictures of the person with the dog, or veterinary records. Don’t just automatically hand the dog over to the first person who says it’s his dog. I know of a couple of cases where a person thought she was reunited with her dog, and it took a few days to realize she had the wrong dog. Many dogs look alike, and can even act alike.
13. Keep searching for the owner for 30 days. If you can’t reunite this dog with her owner right away, keep trying for thirty days. I have been told, by an animal control officer, that I am required by law to actively look for the owner of a found dog for thirty days before I assume ownership or give a dog to a new owner. I have tried to research that, and see if any such law exists. Sadly, the only applicable law I could find was RCW 63.21.010, which applies to found property. It says you are supposed to place a notice in the local paper and try to find the owner for thirty days. It seems reasonable, and I would hope that, if I lost one of my dogs, someone would try to get her back to me for at least thirty days.
14. Should you turn the dog over to the shelter? Of course, instead of going to all the trouble of finding the owner, you could just turn the dog over to your local shelter. That’s what shelters are for, so why wouldn’t you? Well, let’s take the example of Batfink, found near North SeaTac Park. He was literally crossing from one jurisdiction to the other as I watched. On one side of the street, he was in SeaTac. On the other side of the street, he was in Burien. Which shelter should I take him to? Because of the past troubles at King County Animal Shelter, which were well-documented by the media, and because of the fragmentation of animal control services, we now have a situation where a dog can easily cross from one jurisdiction to another. If I took Batfink to the King County Shelter or the Burien Shelter, I would have had no better than a fifty percent chance of being right. Also, we were only 30 blocks from Seattle city limits, so I really would have had only a 33% chance of taking the dog to the right shelter. Instead of dropping Batfink off at one of these shelters, I dropped off a flier at each shelter, and made an entry into their log books. Someone looking for Batfink at one of these shelters should find his information. Ideally, animal shelters would communicate with each other, so you could drop off a dog at any shelter and feel confident that a person looking for his dog at one shelter would automatically be told of the dogs at other shelters. There are other reasons I wouldn’t simply drop off a found dog at a shelter. If the owner was in an accident and unable to search, his dog could be adopted (or killed) after three days, before he had a chance to check the shelter. This has happened a few times, and is not just a hypothetical situation. With one particular shelter, I have taken three dogs there. All three were adoptable, in my opinion, although they had issues. All three were deemed unadoptable by this shelter, and they were euthanized. Had I known they could be euthanized, I never would have dropped them off at this shelter. I won’t name this shelter (it’s not King County), because it is possible I misjudged the dogs and they were truly unadoptable for some reason. However, I am never going to drop off a dog at that particular shelter again. Our current animal sheltering systems have their flaws. I believe many good people with good intentions work and volunteer at these shelters. If you were to drop off a found dog at a shelter, there is a good chance it could all work out okay. That is not your only option, though. Personally, I will choose to care for the found dog at my own expense and try to find the owner for thirty days. Then, with a dog like Batfink, I will work with a local rescue group to find a new home for the dog.
If you want to help a stray dog, what you do or don’t do could make all the difference in the world. First, do no harm. You may wish to bookmark this article on your smartphone, just in case.