Searching for Leah

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For nearly four months, I have mentioned my lost dog Leah in this blog.  We have not recovered her yet, but we know she is still alive and roughly where she is.  The story has become quite a tale, one with both villains and heroes.  A story of an amazing journey and survival in the wild.  And it has implications for many of you with pets and speaks to the need for new approaches for dealing with a significant problem.

Leah is a 9 year-old female, black cockapoo (with white markings) and has tags and a microchip.   In September, we went on a short vacation and left her with a "professional" pet Nanny in northwest Seattle --someone recommended to us by an acquaintance and who received a good review on Yelp (more on Yelp issues later).   Needless to say, my family loves this sweet little dog.

A few days later, while were still away, the pet Nanny called-- our dog and several of her other charges had escaped from her backyard.  The other dogs were retrieved, but our Leah was gone.  This was a person who promised that the dogs would never be left alone outside the house.   She couldn't understand how the gate got opened and even blamed the "meter man."  This was Saturday, September 10th.   The next day she still had not found Leah and we tried something high tech--robocalls to the neighborhood asking for help.  No response.  On Monday, we were back in Seattle, driving the neighborhood.  Day after day we searched,  putting up signs over a wider and wider radius.  Placed ads on craigslist.  Went to all the local animal shelters.  Local community online newspapers were wonderful, giving her lots of publicity.  Nothing.   

We got in touch with the most wonderful organization, one that will play a big part in this story: missingpetpartnership, a group dedicated to finding lost animals.   I cannot say enough positive about these folks.  One thing they stressed--to find a missing dog you need signs, BIG SIGNS, and lots of them.  Signs with big letters, big pictures, bright colors.  And we did exactly what they said.  I have made hundreds of signs when I am not blogging!

Several weeks passed.  Nothing.  And then at the end of September something unexpected happened.  We got a call from someone in Mountlake Terrace, many miles away, who had spotted one of our signs in Seattle.  They were sure they had seen Leah outside of an insurance agency in Mountlake Terrace.  Could Leah have walked roughly ten miles through a highly urban area to reach this location?  (the map below shows you the route she probably would have taken).

By that time we were working very closely with missingpetpartnership (MPP) and particularly two of their members--Jim and Chris.    Jim had a tracking dog named Kelsey and they came up immediately, using one of Leah's old blankets to provide the scent.  Kelsey confirmed it was Leah and Jim traced her route from the insurance agency into and out of nearby Terrace Creek Park.   My wife walked with was strange to walk in Leah's path...past bowls of food placed in backyards other animals. But Leah was alive.
The pet nanny that lost the dog refused to help us in Mountlake Terrace.
Jim told us that dogs often head north when lost and looking at the map we think we figured out her route...she probably followed the Interurban Trail, around Lake Ballinger (water supply), through Nile Golf Course and took a wooded and quiet route across I5 (228th St).  (see map above)

Terrace Creek Park had plenty of water, many houses bordered on the park, with bowls of food for outside animals and dry sheds.  Lots of cover in the park.  And some people were leaving food out for feral cats.   Ideal location for a little dog to survive--except for possible coyotes.

We began an intensive campaign.  We placed dozens of signs near major roadways.  Chris of MPP put out dozens more.  We tried the robocalls again for that neighborhood.  And kept up visiting local shelters and all the online services.   We started getting more and more calls of people claiming to see her (many several days after seeing her unfortunately).  Some were obviously other animals, but some were clearly Leah.  Chris helped organize an "intersection alert" where we and volunteers from their organization waved signs about Leah and gave fliers to passing motorists.  My wife is up in Mountlake Terrace multiple times a week searching for Leah. What extraordinarily kind and generous people to spend their free time, waving signs in the cold to save a lost animal.  

This situation continued into November--Leah was moving in and out of the park and the surrounding neighborhoods where we got intermittent reports, but we could not get her.  We put up infrared cameras in spots where the tracker dog suggested she had visited, with food and our scent items to attract her.   The food disappeared and we got nice pictures--but of neighborhood cats!  We put out a trap with food....but to no avail.

Through this period I developed a detailed knowledge of the lost dogs and cats of the area from Craiglist and shelter lists/visits.  One day visiting the PAWS shelter in Lynnwood  I saw a dog matching a description on Craiglist and called the owner, a match!  At least one lucky family was reunited with their dog.  And it made me think we need a better system for dealing with lost animals.
In early November, we got more reports--from the Moose Casino on 220th St SW.  For several days, Leah was hanging around the back of the Casino (We wish we had known!) and even scored a burger from a kind casino worker.  One of them saw our signs and called and we headed over immediately.  My wife and I spent hours in a cold car watching for Leah to luck.  

Mountlake Terrace started pulling down our signs.  First, they said we couldn't have signs on poles because advertisements aren't allowed (as if lost dog signs are advertisements) and that our signs would be a problem for utility folks (right!).  Then we switched to signs in the ground and they took those away (and destroyed them)...claiming the city banned signs not only on immediate stree right of ways, but even well on the home side of sidewalks. Very nice city officials in Mountlake Terrace.  I mentioned the situation to my colleague and friend Jeff Renner of King TV--he was outraged and suggested we contact (and he emailed), Jesse Jones...the KING TV consumer advocate.  And Jeff cc'ed the Mountlake Terrace folks with the idea of bringing in Jesse.  Funny, they became a modicum more reasonable and slowed down their removal of our signs.  (It would have been hilarious if Jesse showed up at Mountlake Terrace town hall...Jeff called it "City versus Puppy".
The Threat of Jesse's Intervention May Have Helped Soften Mountlake Terrace Officials That Don't Seem to Care About Lost Dogs.
During December we put in some ground based signs and started getting more reports...and of course we were up there on a daily basis.  More reports.  Some people would see Leah and she would run away.  Jim of MPP tried to track her.   No luck.   Last week, Leah was seen near Cedar Way and 236th SW (Markland Apartment)--she came up to someone's back door and they called us.  My wife happened to be up there and was at the location within 10 luck.  

Our little dog is afraid and skittish, but she is a survivor.  Hopefully another call will lead to one of us seeing and retrieving  her.  We have staged food and scent articles, which hopefully will attract her, and will try a trap again.

This whole adventure has been an education for me.  I now realize how many dog and cats are getting lost, and how ineffective the current system is.  Some shelters take in animals and don't list their charges or put their pictures online. There a number of lost animal lists,  none of the coordinated.  Various municipalities have separate animal control officers/offices that don't communicate well outside their district.  People try ineffective means (e.g, small signs) to find their animals and public lists (like Craigslist) are not set up to deal with the problem (e.g., some people refuse to describe the lost animals they find! and the items age off too quickly).    We need ONE regional list of lost/found animals and ALL lost/found pets must be photographed, with their essential information online.   Municipalities like  Mountlake Terrace must learn how to be more helpful.  And people should insure that they microchip their pets, plus have tags.  

Some people might think this is an unimportant problem, but pets are like family members, and their loss is really devastating to those who love them.  And to allow these intelligent, sensitive creatures to be drifting on the streets is simply wrong.  

I would like to thank many of you who follow my blog for helpful and sympathetic advice and support.  Chris and Jim of MPP, who have been such a huge help to us. MPP is an organization that deserve the support of animal lovers.  And Kathy of the Feral Cat Society, who has helped immensely with the search.

PS:  Another thing I learned from this situation is that one can not trust YELP.  I put a negative review of the pet nanny.  Initially it was online, but then strangely enough it was removed.  Put it back.  Same thing.  They have a secret algorithm for removing some reviews--particularly highly negative ones.  Very questionable practices.

TV Notice:   KBTC TV (One of our local public tv stations) will be doing a special on the Langley Hill radar on Monday, Jan 9th at 6:30 PM.  More information here:
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