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Holding Out Hope  for a Lost-Pet Reunion

On the morning of New Year’s Day, Missy, a 50-pound mixed breed dog, went missing in San Francisco.

Owners Courtney and Chris were out of town, so she was staying with other family members near West Portal. When they took her out for a potty walk, something — perhaps a stray firework left over from the previous night’s festivities — spooked her, and she bolted away, dragging her leash behind her. Perhaps not wanting to worry them, Courtney and Chris’ family members did not mention what had happened, so they were shocked and upset to receive a call the following day from a construction worker who found Missy’s leash and collar with ID tags – but no dog – near Lowell High School. They rushed home to initiate the search.

The following days were a rush of activity as they checked shelters, searched on foot, distributed flyers, and posted on every possible website. Courtney reached out to Missing Pet Partnership, a national nonprofit dedicated to missing pet prevention and recovery, and was counseled to continue doing what she was doing, to focus on increasing awareness in the immediate area, especially to folks who work outside like dog walkers, and to not give up. Unfortunately, giving up was just what others were telling her to do.

“There is only a 10 percent chance that a missing dog will be found,” said one family member, while another cautioned, “You can’t make yourself sick looking for a dog.” The lack of support was discouraging, but there was no way they were going to give up looking for Missy. “The shelters hate me,” Courtney joked, “Because I am there every day. All the staff know about Missy.”

In the following days, there were sightings in different places, including a report that an animal control officer had captured Missy but somehow let her get away. People who thought they saw her tried to catch her, causing her to run away in fear. Complicating matters was the fact that Missy looks similar to many other dogs, so the sightings were hard to verify. The one distinctive feature was her pink harness, which she was wearing at the time she went missing.

The calls and text continued to come in, many just expressing encouragement. “I am so amazed and appreciative of all the random people who told me not to give up,” said Courtney. “I was out looking for Missy one day, and a guy saw me, and said he had seen my signs and was also looking.By the time I checked all the local Facebook pet pages, other people had already posted for us. So many people cared and helped.”

Ten days after her disappearance, Courtney got the call she had been waiting for. A keeper at the zoo saw a dog in the employee area, and thanks to the blanketing of signs in the area, knew about Missy. “Don’t  move!” she said, “I’m on my way.” Sure enough, it was their girl, and after some coaxing, she came up to Chris and was captured. A vet check showed some weight loss and minor injuries, but other than that, she is fit and happy to be back home.

Dogs like Missy go missing every day around the Bay Area and beyond, but far too many are never reunited with their owners. The reasons are numerous, but one of the most common is the fact that owners simply give up and stop looking. Sadly, friends and family members are often the first to break down the human-animal bond with their well-meaning but misguided advice.

“It’s just a pet.” “Get another one.” “He was probably hit by a car.” “You’ll never find her.” “You need to stop spending so much time searching.”

Every owner has his or her own limits and abilities and should be given the freedom to search as much and as long as he can. It can be difficult to see a loved one suffer with grief, but platitudes are not helpful; rather, offer love and support for whatever choices he needs to make.

Brigid Wasson is a lifelong animal welfare advocate and a retired animal shelter director. She is the president of Missing Pet Partnership and CEO of The Path Ahead Animal Shelter Consulting. She lives in Sonoma County.

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Main article photo by: Photo of Missy courtesy Brigid Wasson