It was late on December 23rd when a message popped up on our community facebook page - a little dog was lost. This is her story. Some names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Caramela is a little four year old min pin cross, a timid little thing. No wonder - she'd experienced many upheavals in her short life. A rescue dog from Mexico, transported to southern Vancouver Island, she had first been fostered, then adopted. That adoption failed and she was returned to the rescue group. Another foster home - and this time her foster mom, who we shall call 'Essie', fell in love with her and adopted her. But about a year later, in the fall of 2016, Essie died, and her good friend - we'll call her 'Bee' - welcomed Caramela into her home.
Three months later, just before Christmas, Bee's daughter and son-in-law asked to take Caramela on a short adventure up island. It was a long drive, and on the afternoon or early evening of December 23rd enroute back home, the couple stopped to pay a brief visit to another relative who lives between Crofton and Duncan. Caramela wasn't crazy about other dogs, so she remained in the car, her leash attached to her collar. During the visit, someone went out to check on Caramela and as soon as the car door was opened, Caramela fled.
She may have been small, but she was fast.
And she headed straight down the middle of the busy, winding, very dark road with forest on either side, towards Crofton.
A woman driving the road noticed the man chasing the dog with a flashlight and offered to help, but "No, I've got this!" he said. She - and others who saw them - worried for the safety of the little dog and of the man as the road is notorious for speeders, visibility was poor, and the pavement icy with frost.
Before long, the man was knocking on doors along the first side road he came to - and someone in one of those houses posted on Facebook to share the news of the Little Lost Dog.
A little dog, lost, in unfamiliar territory, in very cold weather, in the dark.
And as readers of my blog know, one of my greatest frustrations is the number of dogs who go missing in unfamiliar surroundings - new fosters, dogs being transported, new adoptions, dogs on vacation. I feel so strongly about their safety, that I wrote an article about it which has been pinned to the side of this blog for some time now. So you can bet my antennae were waving, and my heart was in my mouth. And here it was, almost Christmas, when people had commitments, and search parties would be hard to come by.
The next morning, the morning of Christmas Eve, someone reported to the Facebook group that he thought he had spotted the little dog on a trail near the base of Maple Mountain, but she had taken off as soon as she saw him and his dog. The owner, 'Bee', drove up over the icy, snowy Malahat to look for the dog, heartbroken and frightened for this little min pin who would surely be cold and scared, and was skirting areas where cougars and bears could be found. There were no more sightings that day. People started to spread the word, and several went out to walk about the town and the trails in the hopes of spotting her.
Christmas morning, another sighting - right by the post office in the centre of town. Then another - out by the gas station, then the water station at the mill, then the hydro station north of town - all confirmed sightings as our little adventurer was running fast and dragging her leash. She had traveled from south of town to north of town - a distance of over five kilometers by main road, not counting diversions she may have taken. And every time she was seen, she took off.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, some of us with a history of involvement with rescues were trying to organize as best we could - liaising with the family, posting on other facebook sites, following comments to get the latest sightings, coordinating information, contacting lost dog organizations, providing information to community members on what to do and not do if they saw her. ROAM (Reuniting Owners with Animals Missing), one Victoria-based organization that coordinates searches for lost dogs, very quickly made up posters that we could download, and community members printed them off and put them up.
The temperature was cold. Light snow was falling. The dog was small, with short hair, and not used to cold climates. Time was of the essence.
And it was Christmas. We needed a miracle.
I took the afternoon to have Christmas dinner with friends, and came home hoping I would read she had been found. But such was not the case. No more sightings since morning.
Boxing Day. Caramela has now spent three nights in the cold. And there is another dusting of cold, frosty snow on the ground. Bee braved the icy Malahat once again to come back up for another day's search, and I called her at the contact number I'd been given. I had a sore back and a bum knee, so I wasn't sure how much actual searching I could do, but I had winter tires and I knew the area well, so when she asked if I could drive her around to show her the places where Caramela had been sighted (she didn't know the town at all), I was happy to do so.
Just as I was leaving to meet up with her, I checked Facebook one last time - in time to see that someone had just found fresh little dog tracks with a distinct trail of a leash being dragged, just a few blocks up my street where a trail heads up to Crofton Lake.
|Footprints and leash trail in the snow|
(Photograph posted to Facebook, used with permission of Lisa Gallant-Horvath)
It was good news and bad - good that she was still alive, that she had headed back south instead of continuing north of town, but bad that she was heading into the forest, into a network of trails where even I have managed to get lost.
I took Bee to the trailhead, and she practically ran along the trail following the paw prints and leash marks until it forked and the fresh snow became bare under the canopy of trees.
She returned to the car, and my intuition kicked in - if, IF as many lost dogs do, Caramela was circling back toward the place she'd become lost, then she might just come out on the Richard's Mountain trail a couple of kilometers down the road. We drove to that trailhead, and together walked in a short distance to another fork - and there we saw it. Distinct little paw prints and leash marks, coming down from the Crofton Lake trail, a short hesitation as it head back up the wrong fork, and then a quick loop back to head out towards the main road - immediately across from the very spot where she'd been sighted that first morning, and the very road on which she'd first made her escape.
She was one smart dog - she reached the main road and turned south again toward the point of her escape - running along the shoulder of the road, her paw prints and leash marks showing up each time there was a frosty or snowy area.
We knew we were getting close, as the tracks were fresh and not diminished by the wind from passing cars or the light sleet that was falling. But would she come, even if we caught up to her? A dog in survival mode often will not heed even an owner's call; they operate on instinct, which is to run away, hide, run some more.
As we alternately drove and walked the shoulder of the road, another car slowed down - another searcher, Shannon, the same person who had seen the man chasing Caramela down the road three nights before, and who (coincidentally) had a dog adopted from the same rescue. And she had a smartphone, which neither Bee nor I had. There were more reports - people who had seen the dog up at the lake, down along the road, running up a driveway, back down, along the road, and - less than twenty minutes ago - over by the mailboxes at Escarpment Way which was the road just beyond the house where her adventure began.
Bee and I headed to the mailboxes, while Shannon continued along the shoulder on foot, following the footprints, her dog Dolly following the scent.
And then Dolly the Dog pulled toward a driveway. She was insistent - go here, go here. Shannon called to us - we were just meters away - "Here! She's gone this way!", and disappeared up the driveway. Seconds later, she came running back to the road - SHE'S SAFE! We've got her!"
And as Bee and I ran back along the road, I realized the driveway was that of the one where the car had been parked when Caramela escaped. We learned shortly after, that Caramela had run up the driveway, a woman in the house had opened the door just then, and Caramela had run right inside. Ironically, the woman did not know this was the missing dog, as there were several dogs living or visiting there and she thought this one must just belong.
So in the end, we did not find the Little Lost Dog - she found herself. She traveled at least 10 km in total, was on the run for almost three days, in an area that was totally unfamiliar to her, and found her way back to the spot from which she had fled, dragging her leash the whole time. And the only sign of being any the worse for her adventure were some sores on her feet and lower legs.
I'm not sure if she would have found her way back had the community not given up their precious family time at Christmas, given up Boxing Day sales, left their homes to go and search, reported sightings, posted signs, and - yes - sent positive thoughts and prayers for her safety. Perhaps she would still have made it back.
But I would like to think that some of what we did kept her safe. Or, perhaps, it was her former owner, the one who had so recently passed away, whose spirit watched over her and guided her home.
Either way, Caramela has a Guardian Angel. Or a whole community of them.
And if not that, then she is - as one of her family members said - a dog "with horseshoes up her ass".
Have a great life, Caramela. We're all so glad you are home.
(I apologize for the scarcity of photos with this post. During this adventure, the furthest thing from my mind was capturing it on camera for a future blog post. But I thought the story, even without pictures, was worth the share. I hope you agree).