Strategic Pet Recovery
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Field Proven Skills to Recover Lost Pets
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Paco's Story

Living in a rural area it is common to see posters pinned to power poles for various reasons. Such is the case on May 28, 2017 when I stopped to get my mail at the community mailbox and noticed a piece of paper flopping around in the wind on a power pole.

I walked over to give it a look and saw a picture of a German Shepherd named "Paco" that had gone missing in our area. As I drove off to run some errands, I also noticed many other power poles papered with the "Paco Posters". Clearly the dog's owner cared enough to exert some effort in alerting people to the fact the dog is missing and figured Paco would soon be found.

Thus began my five week journey to help find Paco.

Paco Photo Used On The "Lost Dog" Poster
Initially  I made some casual drives around the neighborhood thinking Paco would be easy to see on the south side of Highway 46 East in rural Paso Robles, California. There are enough homes around that surely someone here would have seen Paco. By my estimates, he went missing on Friday May 26, 2017, which means he had already been missing for  two days.

I spoke to a couple of people at the vineyards next to my home and drove around the roads south of Highway 46E multiple times, yet nothing had been seen or heard of Paco. 

Then on May 29 I saw a posting on Facebook from a relative of Paco's owner. I asked a few questions of him online, trying to narrow down the last place Paco had been seen and under what circumstances he went missing. Unfortunately some of the initial information he was given was incorrect which led to further confusion for anyone  looking for Paco. I had later learned that Paco was with his owner who was caused to stop his car on Highway 46E while traveling west towards Paso Robles. At some point when they were stopped, Paco bolted from the car and took off to the north - an area of huge vineyards and ranches out of view from public roads.

I telephoned the number on the Paco Poster to get more information and was put in touch with the brother of the man that owns Paco.  Soon I had learned that there had been three initial  Paco sightings.

Paco Sightings, Travels and Tracks
The first sighting was from a woman that has a ranch on Estrella Road north of Highway 46E. She said that she saw Paco going up a hill west towards the local landfill. She and a friend went looking around the landfill but Paco was nowhere in sight. 

The second sighting was from a ranch owner from a little road named Martingale Circle which is connected to Estrella Road, but miles away from the landfill.
The third sighting came from a man doing some work on Meridian property which is quite close to where Paco originally went missing.  I was told that Paco's owner  and his brother were going to this location to look for Paco "today". I asked if they could use an extra set of eyes, and so I was welcomed to join the search.

When I arrived at the Meridian property, I met Paco's owner and his brother. They told me that a day earlier they were searching  the property and left briefly to get some gas for their car. Upon their return, a worker told them he had seen Paco in an open field while they were away. Paco was seen running up a ravine away from the area.

We searched for hours that day. I walked north quite some distance and discovered a private air strip on the Bonel Ranch. The ranch is huge and includes  an extraordinary private residence, large pond and many other amenities that Paco would certainly appreciate (fresh water, green grass, peaceful surroundings). The owner of the ranch had died earlier in the year when a WW1 style aircraft he was piloting had failed and crashed on his property (a fascinating bio about the man can be found here: Air & Space Article ).

On my way back from the Bonel Ranch, I connected with Paco's owner who had been looking around the same area. He had been calling out loud for Paco to the point his voice was going hoarse and was obviously very disappointed by not finding Paco that day.

With easy access and a confirmed sighting, I made many trips back to the Meridian property searching for Paco.  I would see all other forms of wildlife, but Paco was being elusive and keeping out of view. For a few nights I put a game camera where Paco tracks were observed but the only night the food was completely consumed the camera had failed so I was left wondering.

Hawk Watching Me at Meridian Property
Bonel Airstrip and Private Airplane Hangers
Great Haven For Paco - Bonel Ranch Pond

With the report of Paco being seen on Martingale Circle, I drove to the location and looked around. Martingale has an elevated view of the area which gave me pause (no pun intended) for the vast distances Paco had traveled. When arriving at the top of Martingale, the first thing I saw was a dog - but it wasn't a German Shepherd.  A man in a pickup truck raced over to where I was stopped and angrily asked if  it was my dog? I explained why I was there to which he said he had seen Paco (and was the one that earlier reported his sighting). Seems the man has very expensive horses and closely monitors for anything that could potentially injure his prized horses, thus the anger.

My wife became accustomed to me making a regular drive from our house, to the Meridian property, out along Estrella Road and looping around Martingale Circle and back home. Thus it became known as the "Estrella Loop". When I'd arrive home she would ask if I had seen anything, but I think she knew the answer before she asked. It was about this point I realized my affinity for finding Paco was not going to change until I either saw him in person or knew of his fate otherwise.

Sometimes while driving the Estrella loop I'd connect with people that are also keeping an eye out for him or have more info. For example, I met the woman who first spotted Paco shortly after he went missing and was seen running up the hill towards the landfill. Weeks later I spoke to a man that lives across the street from the Bonel main residence gate on Estrella who told a very credible story about seeing Paco at the residence a week earlier. 

One day while driving back home on Highway 46E, I observed a couple of dogs running up a hill just south of the highway near the Tobin James winery.  As I got close, I could see one of the dogs was a German Shepherd which caused me to speed up a bit. As I took a few twisted dirt roads to the open field - there was a tall German Shepherd that looked like Paco....or at least I wanted him to. I was able to coax the dogs to me using dog treats and patience. They eventually laid down in the shade of my car so I took a picture and sent it to Paco's owners brother to confirm the identity. I was naturally disappointed to learn it was not Paco.

Looked Like Paco, But Wasn't

It was about June 5 and the Facebook dialogue about Paco had stopped and it seems his owner and relatives had ceased looking  because no new sightings had been received.  I continued with my Estrella loop drive and around June 10 I was beginning to really wonder about Paco's fate so I started another thread on Facebook in an effort to reignite the interest in finding him.

As it happens, much new interest was shown online which generated sharing of the fact Paco was still missing. Everyone I spoke with  during my drives was already aware of the search for Paco, some even established a plan of what to do if he was seen. Social media was working.

Around June 10 things got quiet.  No sightings reported, not much activity on the Facebook thread and Meridian had installed a new gate preventing me (unintentionally) from the easy access to look for Paco in that area. Still I felt he was out there, in the vast area of private land that cannot be seen from public roadways. I began to do more walking during my Estrella loop drives and parked more often to just watch from various vantage points. But still, nothing.

Time passed, three weeks to be exact.


Then at 8:31 PM  on Saturday July 1st, I got a private message via Facebook from a woman I do not know - but who obviously was following the new  thread about Paco. She wrote  " My husband may have info on the German Shepherd lost around the Bonel Ranch in rural Paso Robles. My husband works out at the dump and is usually the first one in and has seen this dog at the site."

Wow, what a gift from a wonderful woman. I provided my phone number and moments later I was speaking to the woman's husband on the phone.  He was very kind and offered to show me around the "site" when the landfill opens for business on Monday.  After meeting the man and the landfill manager, they generously allowed me to look around the entire 50 acres for clues. Apparently Paco was observed on one of the roads within the landfill one morning and another employee told me he sat and watched Paco in the distance laying in a field with some cattle. Go figure.

There was no source of fresh drinking water at the landfill, so I figured Paco was looking for food, or at least smelled food there. Unfortunately for Paco, they do a really excellent job at the end of each day of covering up any rubbish with dirt and a huge cloth gets placed over anything not covered with dirt (funny how a landfill is kept so clean?).

Only a small portion of the property contains the "landfill" for the purpose of disposing of trash. Most of it is open land used for various purposes. As I looked around, I could visualize Paco making his trip through the landfill, stopping to look for food, then moving on to the Bonel Ranch or back down to the ranch on Estrella for water and a comfortable place to sleep.

Having done some hiking, I've noticed most animals will take the path of least resistance to get from point A to point B.  I would apply  this same concept to Paco's travels. Rather than go under or over a fence, he would more likely go around the fence. Rather than traverse a field full of tall grass, he would rather follow a road or deer path, and so forth.  Using this logic I looked for Paco's tracks, which showed up pretty quick in multiple locations. The first and most obvious set of tracks was on a dirt road that leads north from the landfill area (where trash is dumped). The other location was far removed from the first, at the north-west boundary of the property where there is a deer path under an old barbed wire fence that crosses over a dry creek - ample room for an animal to go under. As the first tracks found near the dump area had easier access (for me and Paco), I decided to place a game camera at that location.

Paco Tracks

I placed a bowl of kibble, a gallon of water, and put a can of fresh tuna out on a plate to allure Paco to the location. The next morning I drove to the site to get the game camera, which I needed to bring home to check the photos.  When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the empty food dish, no tuna, and almost all of the water was gone. There was no question it was Paco. If there was any question though, the pictures on the game camera would have the answer. Sure enough, Paco made his first appearance at 6:46PM and stayed around for a half hour. He then returned about eight times thru the night, last seen around 5AM. It was now time to place a trap to capture Paco.

I was really saddened to see that Paco still had a leash attached to his neck collar. The guy had dragged around a leash for nearly six weeks, in the dirt, around many fences, and who knows all the other hazards in the wild. It is truly amazing that leash did not get stuck on something, in which case this would be an entirely different story.

Setting Up Game Camera at Landfill

Empty Food Dish and Water Bucket
Seeing Paco For The First Time
Still Eating The Next Morning
Unfortunately I didn't have a trap, at least not one big enough for Paco to get into - let alone willingly enter for any reason. So I figured I had better build one and quickly.

So the next morning I was down at the local Lowes buying materials to build a trap. Thankfully my wonderful wife helped, which sped things along as I needed to get back to the landfill by 3PM to set it up.  Consequently, I had very little time to test the trap for all conditions but it got set up  that day anyway.

The concept of the trap is that Paco would enter from an opening on one end and attempt to get the "bait" (chicken in this case) on the opposite end. The bait is connected to a rope so that when it is pulled, the door would drop closed behind Paco.

See the "How to Build a Trap" Video.
Building a "Paco Trap"
I built the trap as large as I could and still have it fit in my Nissan Xterra. And it just barely fit. I gathered my game camera, dog food and a bucket of water for Paco, and some water and supplies for myself  and headed to the landfill to set the trap where the game camera had been located. It was a hot day, over 100f.

After setting the trap I went up a hill about 100 yards away as a vantage point to wait and watch for Paco. I was hidden by brush and kept very quiet sitting in the dirt alongside an old trash dumpster believing that Paco's senses were probably at maximum and would not enter the area until he was sure no one was around. Unfortunately there was a little breeze which would trip the door on the trap about every 20 minutes, making noise as I ran down to reset it. After four or five times I jury rigged a fix to prevent the wind from tripping the trap.
Trap Setup at Landfill
And then I waited for Paco to appear. After three hours or so I had not seen anything of Paco. It had gotten dark, so dark I could not see the trap. I was prepared to stay the night if needed, and it seemed that would be the case.

Then at about 9:15PM I heard a gentle "clunk" and a faint yelp in the distance. It was so faint, I didn't think it was the trap but I picked up my backpack of supplies and hustled down to check the trap.

When I got about twenty feet from the trap I switched on my flashlight and was astonished to see Paco for the first time! He was also astonished, or more accurately scared, and started barking at me right away.

It occurred to me that Paco was not trying to get out of the trap, like a cat or wild animal would do. Instead he almost seemed content, somehow secure.  For the next thirty minutes or so I did my best to put Paco at ease. Many stray dogs will revert to a more feral behavior when they're away from home so long, having to fend for themselves. Never having seen Paco before, I didn't know just how this might apply to him - but he did calm down considerably in thirty minutes and was certainly interested in the bag of kibble I had.  I was able to slip a couple of handfuls at a time into his dish. This went on for a while, where he obviously was less upset at my presence. Still, I did not feel comfortable trying to open the trap to get him out for fear of losing him  and maybe taking a couple of bites out of me in the process.

It was getting late, but I chose to call the brother of Paco's owner, largely because he lives in Paso Robles and Paco's owner lives an hour or more away. It was clear from the tone of his voice that there was a bit of disbelief that I was with Paco, who had been trapped at the landfill . I had not shared  the events of the past few days, not wanting to botch the one good opportunity to capture Paco.

Paco's owner agreed to make the drive to Paso Robles, then ride over to the landfill with his brother. It was about two hours from the time I made the call until their arrival.  I enjoyed every minute of that time getting to know the dog I had been searching for during  the past thirty nine days. With his belly full and curled up in the trap, Paco snoozed off for a while - actually snoring out loud.  I had to imagine he was looking forward to a good sleep without worrying about the many packs of coyotes and other threats that exist in the wild and remote places he had traveled.
Watching The Trap From a Distant Hillside
Paco Gets Trapped and is Safe !
Ready To Go Home
Suddenly I could hear Paco's owner and his brother arriving. I wondered if Paco would recognize his family right away or if it would take time. That issue was soon resolved, as his owner got within a few feet of the trap Paco jumped up wagging his tail and was crying to get to his "dad". What a wonderful sight to see after all this time.

We strategically got Paco out of the trap, to make darn sure he wouldn't run off, which included taking off the old and haggard leash for a new robust leash. When he exited the trap, Paco kept leaping onto his owner with much joy. It was clear Paco was not leaving his side. On his new and sturdy leash, the four of us walked to where we had parked our cars.

We took a few snapshots of each other and then Paco got into the car with his family and headed home for what was sure to be a very comfy night after his big adventure.

Paco's  owner took him to the vet a day later to have an exam done. Thankfully there were no major issues or injuries, just a lot of wear of Paco's paws. Such an amazing dog to have survived on his own for so long.

Welcome back Paco.
Paco Reunited With His Owner (R) and the His Brother (L)