Slip the collar and run! My adventure with a lost dog

So, I was house-sitting for a family friend while she was away at the Live Oak Music Festival. My job was simple: take care of her dog and cat while she was away, pick up any mail that was delivered, and make sure the house didn’t get broken into or anything. I was left some money and a giant tub of trail mix as payment.

I like house-sitting for this family friend because her house is closer to both the bus stop and my workplace, because I get some privacy, and because she has a big, high-def TV with DirecTV. At my house, we have two regular TV’s with cable. And I have to share them.

Now, I am very familiar with this family friend’s cat, but her dog was a new pet she only had for a few weeks. I had just been introduced to her. Her name is Jemma, and she is a chihuahua-dachshund mix. In other words, one of those super-energetic high-maintenance barkers. She’s friendly and sweet, and a good dog for sitting in your lap, but darned if she didn’t run absolutely everywhere and bark her fool head off over the littlest thing.

Adorable, isn't she?

Now I’ve seen enough Dog Whisperer to know that these dogs need a whole lot of exercise, both for health reasons and to keep them well-behaved. So, I decided on my first morning to take her for a walk. I took her through the neighborhood, and then got hungry. I decided to stop by McDonald’s for a Sausage McMuffin from the dollar menu. Thinking nothing of it, I tied her leash to a post, tightened her harness just a tad so it would be more secure, pet her, told her to stay, and figured I would be back out in 2 minutes to untie her and continue on our way.

As I was paying the cashier, I saw Jemma out the window, sniffing some bushes. With her harness off. She had pulled free from her collar! I rushed out the door to grab her, so I could put the collar back on her. She took off sprinting across the parking lot.

The parking lot was very empty (it was only 7:30 in the morning), and there were only two other people. One tried to help me grab her, but missed; the other was handicapped with a cane, and couldn’t really do anything. In less than five seconds, she had disappeared from my view. I had lost her.

Now I know what they mean when they say “It all happened so fast.”

I searched frantically for her. I asked every passer-by if they had seen her and if they could help. I called my friends, coworkers, and family to enlist their help. I also called Jemma’s owner, who decided to leave Live Oak and come down to help. I wrote up a MISSING poster and posted about the disappearance on Craigslist, Facebook, and Twitter. I called animal control. I did everything I could think of, even going back to see if she was hiding in a bush or behind a dumpster somewhere.

I went home about 1 p.m., having done everything I could aside from wandering the streets randomly hoping by random chance to find her, which would be pointless. I went to bed thinking Jemma would end up as just another statistic for lost dogs in our area.

The next day, at about 5 or 6 p.m., I got a phone call from Jemma’s owner. They had found her! The dog was safe at some elderly couple’s house. They had seen the Craigslist posting and called.

Jemma was able to come home.

I learned a few things from this experience.

  • When you are taking care of someone else’s pet, be sure to ask details about the pet’s personality and how the owner treats it. I only learned after the fact that Jemma had never been walked, and had been carried everywhere in a car. It only makes sense, then, that she would freak out in a public place.
  • Make sure that your collar is the right size for your pet. After I talked about the incident with my dad, he said Jemma’s harness must have been too loose, even though I had tightened it.
  • Take precautions in case your pet does go missing. In Jemma’s case, she had one of those microchips implanted, where people could scan to get data like her name, owner, and how to get in contact with the owner. Even if that elderly couple hadn’t seen the Craigslist posting, they almost certainly would have turned her in to animal control, which would have scanned her for microchips.
  • Don’t run after an energetic dog. This was, above all else, what I believe led to this fiasco. Jemma must have thought we were playing, or knew she was in trouble and wanted to get away. Either way, being so energetic meant she would easily outsprint me. I’m a distance runner, not a sprinter. Perhaps if I had enticed her she would have come to me instead of taking off.

Fortunately, this was a lucky happy ending to this story. But it was a valuable lesson to me, and I hope it is an instructive tale for all of you.

As my dad says,

Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgement.