WINNIPEG – Kelly Ruth lives with her husband Sean and dog Dora in the Spence neighbourhood downtown.
Dora is a big dog, a mix of St. Bernard and golden retriever but she’s also shy. Kelly and Sean took a trip to Edmonton last summer for a wedding, but the dog couldn’t come, so they left her with a friend near Henderson Highway.
Then, the dreaded phone call.
“I was at a pub the day after the wedding, and I get a phone call from the babysitter who is a good friend of ours,” Kelly explains. “They were in a sheer panic, I think that they might have spent an hour looking for Dora before they called us. We jumped in the car and drove, got home at like 5 a.m. and started searching the riverbanks. My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘This is insane. This is crazy.’ Our hearts sank, because we didn’t think it was possible.”
So what do you do if your dog goes missing? We’ve all heard the calls to get the microchip, tattoo and licence beforehand, but if nobody can find the pup, what’s next?
“Post an ad on Kijiji, make a report with Animal Services and the Humane Society, leave your gate open if possible, put food in your yard and something scented to lure the dog back,” says Jessica McGregor, search coordinator for Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert. “Those are the main steps. Most dogs are reunited within 24 hours.”
The Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert Facebook page has over 39,000 likes, so when a dog goes missing, their team of volunteers springs into action. McGregor says they appreciate all the help they can get, even if some people unknowingly cause more harm than good.
“If you do see a loose dog that isn’t yours, never chase it. The worst thing you can do is chase them, it puts them in danger of running into traffic and scares them. But there are people that are amazing, that will actually sit out for hours spotting, trying to see the dog. People just generally love animals, they feel bad.”
Back to Kelly’s story. Her friend, the babysitter that lost the dog, called Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert right away. A volunteer was assigned to their case, and got them going on posters and mailbox flyers. But after two days of searching for answers, you can imagine how Kelly and Sean were feeling.
“It was a panic for us. We don’t have babies, not that she’s like a human child, but she’s definitely our responsibility. We were very scared for her because we know she’s very nervous, and we weren’t sure that she would have made it. We were thinking that she didn’t really understand traffic.”
Then the calls are pouring in that Dora has been spotted all over the place. She started from Henderson Highway, made her way over to Transcona, and somehow managed to wind up in St. Vital nearly a week after going missing.
“Somebody was calling us around 11 o’clock on a Saturday night, saying that she kept seeing the dog hanging around her and her neighbour’s yards,” So we went and camped out in those yards, my husband and I each with a can of tuna. When Dora first caught a glimpse of me, she yelped and ran away.”
Jessica has joined the hunt at this point, coaching Kelly and Sean on how to act and talk so the dog would not be scared off. Jessica, who is also a nurse, has a lot of experience with finding lost dogs, having been committed to the group for over two-and-a-half years.
“Jessica kept saying, ‘Don’t look at her, don’t look at her,” and coaching me to start saying words that were familiar in my normal voice. The dog went through the neighbouring yard and came to us from behind. It wasn’t until I could actually feel her breath on my neck that she recognized me. Then she was jumping all over me.”
Dora is a bit more timid around people now, but she’s home safe, and Kelly is forever grateful for the help she got from Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert.
“I can’t believe the support that volunteers give. It’s like full-time, around-the-clock. At 8 a.m. we’re getting text messages saying, ‘Ok, you gotta go do this, you gotta run around.’ We actually booked time off work for that week, running around 14 hours a day, following the directions step by step of the team that was coaching us. It was incredible.”
Jessica says they are able to reunite dogs with their owners about 90 per cent of the time, and not every story has a happy ending like Dora’s. She says it can be a very emotional job, but something she is happy to devote so much of her free time to.
“With the actual search, there’s about five of us that are active. I actually found a dog and they came out and helped me catch him. I wound up keeping him so then I had a passion for helping other people get their dogs.”
Whether it’s Jessica’s dog Chuck, a former junkyard dog, or Kelly’s pup Dora, every dog has a story to tell. Some just have a few more miles on them than others, and thanks to the kindness of strangers, they’re still around to tell them.