Advocacy

She’s Gone!
A Veterinarian’s Search for His Own Lost Dog

July 21, 2015
by Jan Bellows, DVM

Rylee is our four-legged princess and my long-distance running companion. The love she gives my wife, Allison, and me is as never-ending as the love we feel for her. But at the beginning of this year – for four very long days – Rylee was lost. This is the story of our agonizing search and her eventual homecoming.
Thursday, January 1, 2015; Day 1
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Dr. Bellows relaxing with Rylee.  Dr. Jan Bellows

Only ten minutes into the New Year, Rylee was gone. She was sleeping soundly on the couch, and as our friends Sandy, Ann, Joel and Sharon walked through the front door after a beautiful evening, out she bolted, spooked by the fireworks. My wife screamed “Grab her!” as I felt Rylee’s smooth hair slip through my hands. My shout to our friends, “Grab her!” was too late, also. She was gone.

Our gated south Florida neighborhood is surrounded by water and fencing—or so we thought. We had heard rumors of dog-eating alligators and poisonous bufo toads abound where we live. Where could Rylee be? Her collar with her rabies tag, removed before bedtime, was lying on the kitchen table. Fortunately she was microchipped, yet she was now collarless. Sandy and Ann took their car, along with Allison, Joel and Sharon in theirs, to search. I started running with a flashlight, shouting her name. We called the local police who joined the search with their bright lights at 2:30 a.m. There were endless places to hide—where was Rylee? At 4:30 a.m. we suspended the search until daybreak. But of course, we could not sleep.

At 6:30 a.m. I was on my bike, riding through the community –15 miles up and down the streets, stopping in backyards, calling out her name. Nothing...she was gone. Allison was hanging up lost dog posters in our community. I had to do more. At my urging and against her better judgment, Allison secured a helicopter and a pilot to allow us to scan the community from the sky to see well into the dense bushes and waterways surrounding our home. After an hour-long ride to the airport, and viewing the very small helicopter without doors or side windows, I asked to see the pilot’s license and sent a picture of it to Allison, figuring if we went down, at least she would have a place to start looking for me. Within minutes, we were hovering 300 feet above our community – flying up and down the streets and waterways for an hour. No sight of Rylee – she was gone. To complicate matters, the sky was darkening, and it began to rain.

Allison announced Rylee’s plight on Facebook and Craigslist, and bought advertising robocalls to reach 40,000 people in our surrounding area. She posted Rylee’s picture and information under the lost-and-found sections on Craigslist and FindFido. I drove to the Fort Lauderdale Humane Society and to Animal Control to make sure Rylee hadn’t been picked up, turned in, injured or killed...but found no Rylee. I dropped off our posters at local veterinary offices, with the hope that if someone brought in our injured dog, we would be reunited. Allison also contacted Chad, who is the head of our Homeowners Association, asking him to send out e-mail notices to please be on the lookout for Rylee, to everyone in the neighborhood, along with Rylee’s picture. Allison and I were also increasingly concerned that she had perhaps been taken into someone’s car as people were leaving our neighborhood after New Year’s Eve. So I went to our gatehouse, and had them give me the picture of everyone’s license plates as they were leaving between 12-4 a.m. In my mind, if we didn’t find Rylee soon, I was going to have everyone who left between those hours contacted by a private detective.

Rylee’s second evening out alone was approaching. Allison called a pet psychic who saw a large hedge next to a swimming pool and said that Rylee was still within our community. She recommended that we fry hamburger meat (not something that vegans would have in the house), and walk down the block near an open field, sit on the curb and loudly remark how wonderful the food tasted. Allison found a can of Wellness Beef for dogs, and fried it. After following the psychic’s advice and sitting on curbs on the sides of three large fields in our neighborhood, we called it a night at 11:20 p.m. and went home, still checking the bushes and backyards for Rylee...nothing.

Friday, Day 2

Allison and I were up by sunrise walking behind the community homes to see if Rylee might be in the underbrush. Our fenced, “gated” community is rife with areas of downed fences and sharp wires poking upward. She could easily have crawled through one of these and headed west to the Everglades or gotten into someone’s car on a busier road.

One of my clients emailed me the website of a professional pet tracker who employed a tracker near us in Fort Lauderdale. The company has a 90% lost pet recovery rate. The longest track they had done was a 50-mile search for a German Shorthair Pointer. Their first suggestion was to get larger laminated signs from Staples, along with wooden stakes and zip ties, and the local tracker, Jamie, would meet us at 10 a.m. on Saturday to continue the search with three tracking dogs. She requested that we bring along something with Rylee’s scent wrapped in gauze. When Jamie arrived, we handed her Rylee’s collar wrapped in gauze.

Saturday, Day 3
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One of the signs that the Bellows posted around their neighborhood. View a larger version of the flyer.  Dr. Jan Bellows

At 5:30 a.m. I met my running group outside our neighborhood, asking them to be eyes and feet on the ground. I spent four hours running through swampland calling Rylee’s name to no avail. Jamie the tracker arrived at 10 a.m. with three of her dogs: Fletcher, an air-sniffer tracker; Kaya, a foot-scent tracker, and a third search dog. Staples let us know that our order of 100 signs was too large to handle immediately and that they could get it done in three days rather than by 5 p.m., as promised. Jamie argued, and the manager agreed to have some or all of them ready by 5.

Fletcher was all business. Jamie gave him Rylee’s scent and he began tracking. When finished, she took the second dog out, who followed exactly the same path. Jamie emailed the route to Karen in Nebraska. Both felt that Rylee was now or had been outside the community. Jamie asked us if we wanted Karen to bring the super tracking dogs from Nebraska, and our answer was “yes.” Karen made plans to bring three of her dogs, and placed her other dogs in boarding, promising to be at our house within 29 hours. Allison went to Staples to pick up the signs, argued with the manager who wanted to charge double the quoted fee; brought them home and attached them to the stakes. From our clinic, Dr. Hannah, Dr. Elizabeth and her husband, Siggi, our son Dr. David, and Tiffany got directions from Jamie as to where to place the signs. Allison and I were out until midnight, exhausted, with 12 more signs to go. This would be Rylee’s third night alone. We hope she had been dognapped...at least she might be indoors. The weather had been constant rain, and we were worried about her being out in the elements with the bufo frogs.

We also went around to every gated neighborhood in our town of Weston, Fla. to hand them flyers, and many of them allowed us to hang them up for people to see as they were going in and out of the gates. As we were doing this, we got a call from someone in our neighborhood saying that they had seen a dog running around that looked like Rylee. We headed back home, met up with the people, and learned the dog that they had seen was not Rylee.

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Rylee was found by a neighbor with injured paws, but she was alive!  Dr. Jan Bellows
Sunday, Day 4

At 6:30 a.m. I was out again hanging the remaining signs. By now, all the signs placed at the local country club were gone—I learned that their management company does not allow any signs in the community. In fact, most of the signs all over Weston had been removed as well. Allison got a call at 9:15 a.m. from our neighbor, Rob, who lives about a mile from our house, saying he found a dog and he was sure from seeing the signs, that it was Rylee. He had seen something white moving in the bushes near his home as he walked his own dog that morning. He coaxed her out, seeing that she was having trouble moving. He then carried the frightened dog to his home. Allison called me and sped to Bob’s house, 1½ miles from ours, and found Rylee lying on their floor, bleeding from mangled paws...but she was alive. It was time to have a good cry—she’s back home! It took Rylee about two months to fully recover, but she’s now back to running long distances securely tethered.

What Worked for Us in Recovering Rylee

  • Signs – Make 11x14 inch-laminated signs, staple them to stakes and zip-tie them to the posts in the area. In the end it was a sign that united us with Rylee.
  • Local blogs – Our community has its own blog; find out if yours has one too. You can also try posting on your community's bulletin board on Patch.com, a community-specific news and information network. You can find your community page by clicking on “Find Your Patch” in the upper left corner of the homepage and entering your ZIP code.
  • Craigslist.org – We were surprised how effectively word spread via this website.
  • Lostmydoggie.com – We highly recommend this website. Robocalls and email messages were sent to all Weston residents so everyone in the area knew we were looking for Rylee.
  • Pet psychic – Contacting a pet psychic was my wife's idea. Of all the advice we got from people, it was actually the most accurate. We used Hilary Renaissance at calmpet.com; 206-782-7815.
  • Visit local animal control offices, humane societies, and local animal hospitals with photographs to distribute.
  • Make sure your pet is microchipped and the microchip is registered to you (Rylee’s microchip had not been registered to us; only to our animal hospital). When you register your pet’s microchip, make sure to add an extra name and phone number outside your area—during storms, hurricanes, etc., your local cell service may go down.

What Didn't Work for Us in Recovering Rylee

  • Pet tracker – In our area there were too many options for where Rylee may have been, so it was hard for the dogs to track her accurately and they spent the day going in circles. Perhaps if Jaime had the chance the next day, things would have been different.
  • Helicopter – Hiring this plane made me feel like I was doing something, but it probably scared and maybe prompted Rylee to hide deeper under the bushes.
  • Facebook advertising – Had we known how to do it correctly, perhaps it would have been a good thing.

The Future of Recovering Pets?


Jan Bellows, DVM and his wife, Allison, live in Weston, Florida with Rylee; and Mollie, a Standard Poodle. Dr. Bellows can be contacted at his clinic, Hometown Animal Hospital, at 954-349-5800 or via email.