Strategic Pet Recovery
Strategy - Technique - Tools
Field Proven Skills to Recover Lost Pets
Whoa Nellie

March 28, 2019

Nellie is a a special dog that had gone missing on Thursday afternoon, March 21. She actually had no home at the time, at least not quite yet.

She has a history of being homeless. Apparently she was out on her own for a while  until she was brought into the Woods Humane Society of San Luis Obispo County, California, and placed for adoption.

The staff there characterized her as "shy", but I wonder if they really meant apprehensive (anxious or fearful that something bad or unpleasant will happen).  Whatever the case, Nellie seems quite docile when confined, but as I learned,  not so much when not confined.

A kind man adopted Nellie, she is a beautiful little dog.  After some paperwork, Nellie was off to her new home about forty miles north of the facility in the city of Paso Robles. If only Nellie knew of the good life ahead, yet she is apprehensive.

As Nellie arrived at her new home to be, she jumped from the car before anything could be done. She runs, and keeps running, then runs some more. She left the residential neighborhood, crossed through the city streets, across US 101 and headed south out of town all within a couple of hours during commute time through heavy traffic.  Her last known position was on the south end of the city between the freeway and the Salinas River.  And then it got dark.

Nellie's new owner did all the right things. Communicated Nellie's plight on social media, Craigslist, put up posters, reported her as "lost" to the local animal services agency, and actively searched for her, among other things. 

On day two I went to the point last seen and did some searching by foot in an effort to find Nellie's tracks along the river which I anticipated given all of the mud in the area. As she was bounded by the freeway on the west and a flowing river on the east, I had thought she would at least make a few prints getting a drink of water, but there were none.

Initially it seemed Nellie was running south, maybe sensing the path back to Woods, which is a very long ways away along an arduous and unsafe route.  As it happens that wasn't the case and just like most dogs that go missing a long way from home, they tend to seek shelter and food in the area they were last seen (similar to the behavior of dogs that are victims of car accidents while away from home).

In the close knit neighborhoods  of Paso Robles, I would expect multiple sightings of Nellie right away. Instead, it took a couple of days for the owner to receive possible sightings. One of them was not Nellie and the other was not confirmed.

One of the Search Areas - A Riverbed In Paso Robles
Where Are You Nellie?

Then on March 24th, while the owner was putting up a poster, he was approached by a family in a car passing by. They said they had seen Nellie a short time earlier in the immediate vicinity and accurately described her and the harness she was wearing.  I provided a wireless trail camera to the owner that I could monitor remotely and another person had loaned the owner a trap which was placed in his driveway with a little kibble inside.

It was clear to me that the trap was dreadfully too small, even for little Nellie. While I asserted my thoughts on the trap, I didn't want to offend anyone as the objective is to trap Nellie and get her home so  I let it go as I had already conveyed my intentions to setup another monitoring station closer to Nellie's confirmed sighting.

The next morning, at about 5:45AM,  Nellie briefly showed herself on the driveway camera, terrific verification that she was indeed in the area. Later that afternoon I placed two other cameras and my trap near the location of the verified sighting , not wanting to lose the opportunity to recover Nellie.

The location wasn't the best for cameras and a trap given the tall grass, undulating terrain and the fact it is private property. After having worked through those issues, I returned a few hours later to set the trap and cameras.  I used chicken for the bait to the trap door trigger, and placed a small amount of kibble and tuna inside the trap with a trail of tuna juice from outside the trap to the inside.

Nellie Shows Up On The Wireless TrailCam
Stealthy Placement of the Custom Trap

Once everything was setup, it was just a matter of waiting for Nellie.  I could monitor the wireless trail cam on the owners driveway from my cell phone, and I had parked in my car just uphill from the trap I had set at the other location.  From my vantage point, the trap was out of view but I knew I could hear the door close if Nellie were to activate the trap door.  Hours passed. A few times I would make a drive to get coffee or get some fresh air to keep alert, then return to the same location.

Then after midnight Nellie is in the trap. I was happy to see the custom trap had faithfully worked again. When I approached, Nellie was laying down in the trap, appearing docile but I knew from her background she was an extreme flight risk. I spent the first twenty minutes or more just laying outside of the trap on the ground, quietly getting acquainted with her in an effort to assure her I am am not a threat.  She would allow me to pet her from outside of the trap and showed no aggression towards me while she remained in the trap. But now it was time to remove her from the trap, a sequence of moves to place a slip rope over her neck and clip a leash onto her (existing) harness - all while she is in the trap and I was on the outside of the trap.

Holding onto the rope and leash, I slowly opened the door and Nellie bolted out of the trap like a bullet,  the leash and rope immediately went taught. Nellie was growling and fighting to get away, spinning around me like a second hand on a clock.  I got down on the ground and she stopped growling. I had felt bad that she was so scared, in a strange place, with some unknown person, all leashed up and in the dark. 

It was now getting very late but I had to contact Nellie's owner. My first call went to voice mail, so I briefly explained I had Nellie and hung up. At that point I decided to take Nellie for a walk and to my delight, Nellie seemed to really enjoy the walk, even guiding me onto the sidewalks instead of walking along the middle of the quiet residential streets.

After a while I got a return call and I walked Nellie to her new home and turned Nellie over to her owner, the guy that did everything possible to secure Nellie's return.

Nellie Enters The Trap
[two camera angles]
Meeting Nellie For The First Time