By April Hakaim of Golden Treasures Golden Retriever Rescue in Cleveland, Ohio
Our local humane society knew that because the litter of seven puppies was unsocialized, living in a lean-to shed in the backyard, the chances of them getting adopted through their shelter were slim. So, they asked us to help. We took in the litter and mom. All puppies were vetted, along with mom, and everyone went into foster homes for socialization and the beginning of training. After several weeks, the puppies made great progress with socialization and were placed in forever homes.
One of those forever homes was a couple who lived in Illinois. Although we don’t place dogs out of the state of Ohio on a regular basis, we do make exceptions when the homes meet our standards and we feel we have a good match. Based on that, the family made the trip here to Ohio, bringing their other dog with them to meet Star. Everyone seemed to agree this was a good match and Star went to his new home in Illinois. As the family pulled into the driveway at the end of their 4+ hour drive, they opened the door and Star bolted out. That was in June 2011.
Once our rescue learned that Star was missing, this amazing story began. Two of our members made the drive up to Illinois in an effort to locate the dog. His new family had been putting food out and had gotten glimpses of him now and then, so we knew he was still in the area. We first contacted the local humane society and dog warden. We then brought Star’s mother to the area, in an attempt to lure him to us. We spent two days walking the area with his mother. We only caught a brief glimpse of him in one of the ravines. We went home unsuccessful and trying to figure out what to do next.
We were able to rent a property next to a big ravine. There were no accomodations on this property, so we bought a tent and some camping supplies. The area was rural and most houses were used as weekend homes.
We then bought a live trap and traveled to Illinois every five days staying for 3-4 days at a time. We did this for the next four weeks so we could set the live trap. We soon discovered Star only came out at night. So our days were spent knocking on the doors of all the houses within two miles of where he had escaped and walking the beach and ravines looking for signs that he was still in the area. Our nights were spent in the tent, listening for the jingle of the tags on Star’s collar or the door of the live trap closing. We heard the jingle of Star’s collar several nights, but he never went into the live trap. The only thing we caught was wildlife.
Then we had a special portable dog pen constructed. It had a one way door. We again brought Star’s mother (Roxy) and also one of his brothers (Benson) to Illinois with us. We thought the familiar scent of the only family he knew would draw him out. It was July by this time and we had to endure swarms of biting flys and high temperatures during the day. During the morning, we walked Roxy and Benson throughout the area.
In the afternoon, when the flies and temperatures became too much, we found relief in the lake. At night, the cool breeze from the lake cooled things down into the 60s. We put Roxy and Benson in the dog pen in the evenings, hoping Star would come by and go through that one-way door to reunite with his family. The pen was within ten feet of our tent, so we could hear when Star would come by. Sure enough, the jingle of the tags on Star’s collar alerted us to his presence. His mother and brother began to whine. We froze still with excitement that this just might work. But after four days, we again went home empty-handed.
We talked to several dog behaviorist and vets to get advice, opinions, ideas. We did a mass mailing, enclosing a ”Lost” poster with Star’s picture and a posted reward of $1,000 to all nearby residents and local veterinarians.
Page 2: The search for Star continues, and winter approaches >>
We Could Not Stop Searching
We continued to drive the 600 miles back and forth whenever our work schedules and home lives would allow, each time searching during the day and sitting up at night, listening for signs of Star. We kept using the dog pen and live trap. We started putting out stuffed toys with his littermates’ scent on them. It was now August and we needed something more, but what?
An internet search turned up a device used to catch large animals with no harm done. The device was a net launcher. We called the manufacturer, told them our story, and they told us it would work. But we needed to be within 30 ft of Star and have fairly good aim. We ordered the launcher, did some practice shots on a very large stuffed dog and off to Illinois we went with renewed hope. We spent five nights sitting in various locations waiting to hear the jingle of Star’s collar. We hoped that we were near a path he traveled. It was so dark at night, the saying “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face”¯ couldn’t have been more true. On our last night, we finally saw a ghostly figure move across the top of the bluff. We could faintly make out the shape of a dog and the faint glow of Star’s blonde fur. We aimed the net launcher and waited for him to come closer. He stopped 20 ft from us, eating the food we put out. We shot the net and hit the target. But — yes there is a but — the net did not completely capture Star. He was able to stumble and run. We could hear him stumbling, but in the darkness we couldn’t locate him. We had flashlights, but where to point them? By the time we zeroed in on him, he escaped from the net and all we were left with was a tangled and torn net. We suddenly realized that we had never heard the jingle of his collar. Star could now travel around silently. Again we went home unsuccessful.
Next we tried hunting cameras. A friend had three cameras we could borrow. We immediately drove to set up the cameras. We located them around the area. It was from those cameras that we were able to establish a pattern of Star’s travels. We spent the rest of August and part of September sitting up at night with the net launcher, hoping for another chance. We spent our days walking the area and trying to keep from thinking of all the “what ifs.”¯
Winter Was Coming…
It was now the end of September and summer was coming to an end. A sense of urgency overwhelmed us. Could Star survive the winter out here living in the wooded ravines next the lake? It became harder to ignore the ”what ifs.” We continued our efforts to capture Star with the dog pen and the net launcher. When it became too cold to sleep in the tent and sit out at night, we thought we had lost. But remember the sympathetic retired couple that had allowed us to use their property? They now offered us a warm bed to sleep in so we could continue our efforts to bring Star home. They also offered to put food out for him every night.
In late November, we had to temporarily suspend our efforts to capture Star. But at least we knew he would have a food source. We left 80 lbs of dry dog food and three cases of canned food for the retired couple to put out for Star. We did make day trips to Illinois to view the pictures from the hunting cameras. As long as we had at least one picture of Star, we knew he was still alive. We could still have hope.
We continued to search for new ideas on keeping tabs on Star’s activities and how to safely capture him. In January, we went to Illinois with a new idea. It was still too cold to sit out at night and the day trips to check the hunting cameras were costly and time consuming. We went to ask permission of the retired couple to install cameras on their property. The cameras could be viewed live over the internet. They also were equipped with night vision and motion sensors. They were all for it. They wanted Star to be captured as badly as we did. With this new technology, we watched Star make the same trek across the retired couples’ property every night. We could breathe easier, knowing he was still alive and we hadn’t missed our chance to bring him home.
Page 3: Success at long last? >>
Then We Heard About a New Device for Dog Capture
It’s March and we have logged Star’s nightly activities for the last two months. It had been 10 months since Star escaped. Thankfully, a warmer winter had its advantages. As the spring was nearing, we knew we had to come up with something. In speaking with another rescue person in Ohio, we found out about a humane trap that was designed specifically for canines. And one of our network vets had one! It’s called a Collarum and he let us borrow it.
We left for Illinois on March 17th. We set the Collarum in the direct path we knew Star traveled nightly. We had only one night. We sat in the house watching the cameras on the computer. Would he take the bait? At 2:30 in the morning, Star was on his usual path, headed straight for the Collarum. He immediately picked up the scent of the bait. We watched live on the computer as he tentatively approached the bait. Our hearts were beating so loud we cold barely hear. Then, he suddenly turned and walked away. He did not return that night. We went home heartbroken.
Two weeks later we tried again. It was April 1st, yes, April Fools day. Would Star make fools of us again? This time we had two nights. The Collarum was set. The first night, we didn’t see him. The “what ifs” pestered us all day until night fell again. It was 2:30 a.m. and still we did not see him. We were overcome with failure. A few minutes later, we saw him appear and approach the bait. This time he was not tentative. He pulled at the bait. WE HAD HIM! We sprinted down to the beach. He didn’t growl, bark, whine, or make any sound. He just stopped and turned into a big marshmallow in our grasp. Not wanting to take a chance of him getting away, we carried a crate down to the beach. Star willingly went into the crate. We carried the crate up the sandy bluff and loaded him into the car. Star was captured on April 3, 2012 at 2:37 am.
Safe At Long Last
Unbelievably, after 10 months of 600 mile round trips, thousands of dollars spent on capture equipment, including sleeping bags, cameras, custom-made pen, net gun, not to mention gas and oil for the vehicle, WE FINALLY GOT STAR BACK! Remarkably, his weight was not terrible. He had some fleas and ticks. He was filthy and matted, but he was alive. He survived so many significant threats from cars, coyotes, hypothermia, thin ice, starvation and illness.
When you stop to think of it, this story is not just a story of a remarkable dog. It’s also a story of the remarkable resolve of a group of volunteers in general and of two women in particular, who never gave up. And because of Golden Treasures rescue, Star has beaten the odds. He is currently in quarantine, but we have a permanent home waiting to help him get on with his life.
Golden Treasures spent what we felt was the maximum amount of money we could on Star’s rescue, without jeopardizing our treasury so that we could continue rescuing other dogs. We then reached into our own pockets to continue our efforts. Our volunteers aren’t looking for reimbursement, but our treasury could use a boost. Please visit our website here.
This story is brought to you by The Great Animal Rescue Chase