Saturday, January 7, 2012

Searching for Leah

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 Jim...it 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 return...no 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 minutes...no 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: http://www.kbtc.org/pop_schedule.php?id=22977

38 comments:

ckduvall said...

I hope you can catch her. I can only imagine how frustrating and hard this has been on your family.

Schaz said...

I've been checking your blog regularly to see if Leah had been found yet. I so hope you can get her home soon.

snapdragon said...

I'm so glad she is still alive. Maybe through this next week of "boring" weather she can be coaxed out of hiding and into your arms again. Poor pup.

Christina Wilsdon said...

I am so sorry to hear that your little dog is still lost. How frustrating to have so many close calls.

doglover said...

So Cliff, educate us. How does one lure a dog to safety other than with food or water. I keep dog biscuits on hand just in case.

SkunkBayWeather said...

As an owner of 4 dogs, I understand your pain. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. I really like your thoughts about improving the communications network for lost pets. They ARE family members!

wanderchow said...

So hope you find Leah soon. Pets really are family. This San Diego story struck a chord while I was reading your article: http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Man-Holds-Street-Concerts-for-Lost-Dog-136880018.html
The missing pet partnership folks sound wonderful.

Nixtastic said...

When we were at Disney, they had these tiny GPS bracelets for the kids when they were in certain activities. If you get your dog back, I'd recommend spending a couple hundred dollars on one. I've shared your story on FB with my friends, some of whom are in Seattle. I hope you find her.

kathyoly said...

Best wishes on getting Leah back safely. Can't imagine your frustration and pain, but hope you have a joyful reunion.

Paul Deanno said...

Cliff -- I am hoping and praying that you find Leah soon. Your dedication to her is something all pet "parents" should be proud of. Imagine that homecoming when it happens, Cliff!

Scrapycandy said...

Goodness...I'll put your pooch in my prayers!

Unknown said...

Cliff, I feel your pain. I had a Springer Spaniel who disappeared from my yard November 1996. I spent every available minute looking for her. She had been accidentally scalded in 1992 and as a result had large patches of hair missing so she was easy to identify. I did many of the things you did, called the local shelter, involved friends, etc. The break came when the local shelter called me and said they were pretty sure they had seen her on Channel 8 Pet of the Week in Portland, OR and that she was at the animal shelter in Troutdale OR which incidentally I had not contacted because it was 30 miles away across the Columbia River. I dropped everything and was there within an hour and sure enough she was there. They had picked her up in Gresham OR the day after she had gone missing so somebody had to have taken here there and dumped her off.
It sounds like you are getting closer to finding Leah. Fortunately you have lots of help and many concerned people so hopefully you will find her soon.

wanne1 said...

So glad you contacted Missing Pet Partnership but sorry that Leah has still not been found. How frustrating to have sightings but not being able to catch her. At least you know she is still out there and I feel you will find her soon. What a little survivor she is! Wish I lived closer to help with the search.

Super said...

Enough of this...it's time to put a hunter on the trail...

Unknown said...

Dr. Mass - I'm very sorry to hear that your dog is still lost. I sincerely hope you find her.

I thought you might like to know that your review on Yelp wasn't deleted; it was filtered. Yelp has some heuristic to try to find and remove (filter) fake reviews. Unfortunatly, it seems to frequently misfire for new accounts. This filtering process is an attempt by Yelp to prevent abuse of their rating system. For example, it should detect a business owner who creates a slew of fake accounts with one positive review each to artificially inflating their business rating. People can still read filtered reviews, but they aren't calculated in the numeric average presented in the search results. To access the filtered reviews, there is a small link on the review page on the left hand side after all the non-filtered reviews. More information is available on the Yelp FAQ (http://www.yelp.com/faq).

SoftSpirits said...

I can't even imagine the fear and frustration your family has endured through this. I sure hope you have her back soon, it sounds like you are getting close. The absolute best of luck through this Cliff. Thanks also for the solid information about Yelp. Good to know. PS: I LOVE Jeff and Jesse both!!

westseattleblog said...

Hope that you have a miracle reunion sometime soon.

We have had a lost/found pets page on our neighborhood-news website for almost four years. I wish I had kept records of the reunions it's facilitated. I agree that some sort of regional network would be helpful as well, but in the meantime, anyone who does neighborhood/town news is well advised to have a simple page to post lost/found pets. And one thing we do that as you identified most don't - OUR LISTINGS DON'T EXPIRE. I have lost/found pet photos going back to 2008. We've had some reunions happen months after the pet was lost/found, though most lost dogs turn up within the first couple days ...in the wee hours today I put up a notice for two missing SharPeis; one found its way home shortly thereafter, and the other one was found today by someone who then looked at our site. Hope to read a joyful story here soon.

Rod said...

Wow, Cliff. I sure hope you find her.

As a weather nut and vegetable gardener, I enjoy your blog immensely.

I value your input on Seattle Public Schools, as well. I used your suggestions in making my choices for the last school board election. Math is important and is difficult for many students.

PK said...

I sent your comments about Yelp to Consumerist and they replied, "Knowing Yelp, it's because he's leaving mulitple reviews and hasn't reviewed anything else."

Script Maven said...

Hi Cliff, I feel your pain. My cat has been missing since December 8, over a month now.

I have put up 60 posters and all but 5 have been taken down, either by the city (I no longer put up posters on telephone poles next to parks) or by our neighborhood curmudgeon.

We have received sighting reports our cat a mere 3 blocks south of our house near Ravenna Park and have rented a critter cam from Missing Pet Partnership, which we have placed near one of the sighting spots. We got a good picture last Thursday and he appears to have put on a very thick winter coat.

You are a dedicated and loving owner for putting so much effort into your search. I'm hopeful that your efforts will be rewarded soon.

danger garden said...

When I saw the picture of Leah I was hopeful you'd found her and this was going to be a happy post. Darn.

One thing that I would like to remind people to do...when you move be sure to update the information on your pets microchip. A few years ago neighbor found the cutest Pug in the backyard of a house she was house-setting. She went all around the neighborhood trying to find it's home but nobody recognized it. She got it scanned for a chip and they found one. Unfortunately when they called the number it was for a vet back east (we are in Portland, OR) and he had no idea where they family had moved to. We put an add on Craigslist with a picture. Luckily the dog had a name tag on so we knew it's name and withheld that info. Bingo! Within hours the person who had lost it (also a dog sitter) and the dog were reunited. I think I'm glad when we go on vacation our dog stays at a business that doesn't take the dogs for walks and has a walled play area.

I pray that happy reunion post on your blog is coming up soon.

Rob Jellinghaus said...

Why not post the name of the derelict pet nanny on your blog? If Yelp won't post your review, certainly you seem within your rights to out her as incompetent on your own site.

WhidbeyIslandTime said...

Shame on that "pet sitter" for misrepresenting her level of attentiveness to the family members in her care. My heart goes out to you and hope that Leah makes her way home!

Good luck Dr. Mass!

An Ordinary Average Guy said...

Cliff, It's unfortunate that you had to have such an experience, but I'm very glad that you can think past what must be a significant amount of grief and frustration to think about how to make the system better.

A model does exist for what you are proposing. Petfinder.com is a site that animal shelters use for advertizing pets available for adoption. Of course the problem I've found with Petfinder (I've adopted several dogs that we found with the site) the problem as I said, is that it's dependent on the shelter workers timely posting of good information about the animals.

Having two sections that shelters and people could use for listing 1) found animals, and 2) lost animals would be the simplest approach.

Good luck in your continued search. I'm sure that with the sort of persistence that you've employed so far, you'll no doubt be successful in bringing Leah home.

Cyotha said...

I live just a few blocks from the area where your dog was last seen. I wonder if you have checked out the rather extensive greenbelt in between the Creek Side Apartments & Abbey View cemetery. It is privately owned by the cemetery so there aren't a lot of people in and out of there, but it has a small lake and is bordered by houses. There is a trail into the greenbelt from the far SW parking lot of Creek Side and at least one other entrance point behind the cemetary. Map: http://g.co/maps/zqhe2 --Since she seems to use greenbelts as her "highways" from place to place, maybe the Abbey View staff have seen her or can keep an eye out.

Catherine said...

Are there places you'd like help searching? We frequently take our dogs on outings, and inadvertently find lost dogs. We'd be happy to give it a try.

If you'd like to name cross street/parks/trails that you'd like searched, we should be able to work a couple into the rotation.

Unknown said...

Try what worked for us, take your flyers to all the businesses along the routes you find she is taking. Sometimes alert employees, like the ones at the resturant she visited, will feed or look for any signs for lost dogs. Many times people that find lost pets want to keep them, so if you get the word out to those people, especially the letter carriers and the local convenience store workers. They tend to know who has a new dog, or those who may be trying to adopt or feed a stray. People can also see the posters better and read them when they're in or around a business. Talking to people working with the public and asking to place a poster or fliers is a good way to get your pet in the focus of those folks. True story: My neighbor lives next to a public boat launch on a lake. Their dog was stolen off their dock. They put a flyer up at a little local store. 8 years later they got a call from an index card they posted on the store's outside bulletin board. People who had adopted the dog after it was dumped in a twon in the next county, called and offered to return their dog. They had merely been on a drive and stopped at the store by chance. The description on the index card was so good, they knew their dog had been the one stolen eight years before. Amazing, but true. My friends decided to let them keep their dog. They'd only had him a few weeks when he disappeared. The other people had been his family for 8 years, so they felt it was the best solution for the dog. But, at least he was with great caring people. They did ask at the store why they left their index card up for so long. They were told because knowing what had happened, they couldn't bring themselves to take it down after hearing their story. The personal information behind the index card they'd shared with the people working in the store. Over the years, the store was the place everyone with a missing dog went. It was a very rural area. But, I think most neighborhoods have a place that is the center for info and neighborhood news. That's the key to finding a lost dog. Finding the right businesses to talk to and give them your poster.

WaHoyt PTA said...

Cliff, when you do find Leah, here's a new product at CES that you may want to invest in to prevent this from ever happening to you and Leah again.

http://news.yahoo.com/photos/tech-gets-personal-at-ces-1326245752-slideshow/personal-tech-at-ces-photo-1326247403.html

Jon said...

Cliff,
A dog that had been lost in the CD for a few weeks was recently found living in the Arboretum thanks to the help of Vivian Dahlin of Operation Dog Rescue. Just might be another resource for you. Here's the blog about the lost (now found) dog: http://lostdogbonnie.wordpress.com/

Preston said...

Pet locator GPS devices are available now, and in high demand. A GPS collar transmits the devices location, and a web-based map application is used to view your pet's location. For a couple hundred dollars, seems like a worthy investment.

Vaughn said...

Cliff, I hope you find Leah before the inclement weather hits. Having lost and later found my dog after a week I feel your pain. I feel compelled to check your blog to see if you have been successful yet; reading about your views on the weather at this point is secondary. I hope you find her soon.

Cary Terra, M.A., LMFT said...

WE ENJOY YOUR BLOG SO MUCH. Our family now visits your site for updates. Always fun and interesting for the kids and adults alike. Crossing our fingers for your pup.

Cary Terra, M.A., LMFT said...

Best luck finding your pup. Our family loves your blog (and your commentary on academics in Seattle schools).

With love, Cindy said...

Please don't rely on the microchip with shelters; keep checking their found animal base. I lost a cat who was microchipped and after a month of searching and outdoor laminated posters everywhere, got a call indicating that Seattle Animal Control had been seen picking him up. Sure enough, after immediate investigation with SAC & multiple conversations with that shelter's director, it was determined that they had picked up my kitty Max, RECORDED his microchip number clear as day on his intake papers (a number that was correctly recorded and linked to all my current contact info), and then three days later my dear Max was euthanized and sent to a group cremation with the unclaimed strays...without so much as even one attempt to contact me. Officer Jackson, who made the fatal mistake with my cat, phoned with a half-hearted apology but I learned a hard lesson that day: even the microchip system is severely flawed when careless, uncaring people are part of the process. My prayers are with you and Leah.

seattlecar2012 said...

Yelp reviews are obviously bogus - you didn't know they got into a lawsuit recently? If a business does not buy the $300 monthly advertising fee, they screen all their positive reviews (and sometimes, negative ones too). If they buy that (i.e. pay Yelp $300 a month), Yelp filters out all the negative reviews and keeps only the positive ones.

Unknown said...

Yelp reviews are bogus. Yelp filters out negative comments for businesses that pay them $300/month for advertising space and filters out positive comments for businesses that don't.

Ann said...

I was heartbroken to read this. I had a similar situtation in June - a dog sitter let my dog escape when I was across the country. I found her with MPP's help - they are such a great organization. Here's my whole story: http://greasergrrl.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/bringing-lucy-home/ I had similar problems with Yelp. Can't be trusted! Good luck and I hope you find her soon. Thinking of you.

Unknown said...

Cliff, this is Kat Albrecht, founder of Missing Pet Partnership. I just wanted to encourage you to keep doing what you're doing. I also wanted to give you a ray of HOPE and encourage you to read my blog post http://katalbrecht.com/blog/?p=978 about Bill, a dog that was captured after being on the run for A YEAR! It just takes ONE good sighting to get a feeding station set up (followed by a dog trap). Keep putting the word out there and if you get any fresh sightings, you know how to find us. Your friends at MPP.
Scent-cerely,
Kat & Dogs