When dogs go missing, Islanders are not alone in the search

Boris is still missing, and was last seen in Oak Bluffs. Call his owner Noava Knight at 508-645-6533 with any information. — Photo courtesy of Noava

More than 30 years ago our two dogs, a Samoyed and a golden retriever, ran off from our house in West Tisbury. We drove around town, called friends, asked at Alley’s and Up-Island Automotive, searched at Lambert’s Cove. The late Everett Whiting, farmer and town father, suspected they could be in a Chilmark sandpit, near a pasture where he often kept sheep. He was right. Our mischievous dogs were in the pit, unable to climb out, hungry, dirty, and tired, but none the worse for the wear.

Now, as then, it takes a community to help find a lost dog. These days, with modern technology and social networking adding to the ways of spreading information and keeping in contact, that community is many, many times bigger. And the Island community is a dog-loving one.

“You could not lose a dog in a better place than Martha’s Vineyard,” declared Meredith Gallo of Vineyard Haven. “Everybody tries to help!”

Ms. Gallo lost her new basenji nicknamed “Tiny” three times in the first few months she had her. Luckily she found her three times too thanks to Islanders who cared.

It began the evening Tiny arrived on the Island in June, 2010. Ms. Gallo left her tied in the yard briefly and in minutes she’d escaped, leaving her collar behind.

“She didn’t know us, she didn’t have any idea where she was, she had no collar or tags, and she was gone.”

Ms. Gallo put the word out “anywhere I could,” via Facebook, newspaper ads, flyers, calls to friends and animal control officers. Tiny was sighted by a neighbor but ran off. At length she was seen diving off rocks near the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club and plucked out of the water by a boater. Ms. Gallo said that basenjis dislike water, but believed that Tiny was swimming in an attempt to return to her familiar off-Island home.

Tiny’s next escapade, running off from the Frisbee Golf Course in the State Forest, had a happy ending too. After three weeks she was discovered in a garage, skinny but alive, by a Vineyard Meadow Farms homeowner.

Weeks later Tiny broke free while walking on a leash. Ms. Gallo organized a “Million Man March,” hunting through the neighborhood with friends, and publicized the disappearance. But as time passed, and having had three such incidents, she began to be discouraged. Then after two weeks a truck arrived at her house.

“Oh my God! It’s my dog!” was Ms. Gallo’s reaction as a stranger unloaded the bedraggled little dog he found tangled in bushes near the beach. “We all began to cry.”

Now Tiny remains safe at home, behind the fence Ms. Gallo had installed. She only leaves the property on a leash.

Ms. Gallo stressed the importance of getting the word out as widely as possible when a pet is lost. She said the caring response of Island neighbors is invaluable.

“Everyone’s on your side, everyone’s rooting for you.”

The news is not always so jubilant. Countless Islanders remember Chris Fischer’s long and arduous search for his dog Olive. The young black lab had gone out for a romp in wintry weather with her brother on New Year’s Eve, 2010, and did not return.

Along with intensively searching the area near his Chilmark home Mr. Fischer quickly spread the news. Along with phone calls and posters he posted the disappearance on Facebook.

Friends and strangers searched, sent encouragement, and waited.

Dog lovers Sally Apy and Kerry Scott pitched in, searching, coordinating volunteers, managing a “Help Find Olive the Black Lab” Facebook page. There were letters to the editor, notes in town columns. Mr. Fischer followed up on reported sightings – as far away as the airport and West Tisbury, and placed ads offering a substantial reward. The saga was detailed in a heart-rending Vineyard Gazette story, “Olive, Won’t You Please Come Home.”

But, sadly, Olive did not come home as so many had hoped. Her body was found in Chilmark Pond when the spring thaw came. She had drowned, just as Mr. Fischer’s dad had suspected only a day after she went missing.

“The community response and support was incredibly overwhelming and positive. We had volunteers looking all over the place,” wrote Mr. Fischer in an email. “I was really impressed, as I always am, by our community and its commitment to helping us try to find Olive.”

Reflecting on the investment of time, effort, and expense that went into the exhaustive search, Mr. Fischer said that if he lost a dog again he would most likely not push as hard as he did.

On New Year’s Eve just one year later an Oak Bluffs couple was celebrating a happy reunion with their lost dog, Waylon. Kevin Cusack and Betsy Corsiglia had just returned from picking up the spirited, Tennessee-born border collie mix from off-Island in mid-December when he disappeared from the yard. They were petrified, knowing the young dog was unfamiliar with them and the area. But they were determined to get him back.

They contacted veterinarians, police, animal control officers, friends, and posted flyers. Mr. Cusack put the word out on Facebook, and enlisted a friend with many Facebook “friends” to post the disappearance on her page. Veteran searchers including Ms. Apy, Ms. Scott, and trainer Karen Ogden helped. Dog behaviorist Tom Shelby gave advice.

As they combed the woodsy neighborhoods and back roads the couple got frequent messages from people who had caught a glimpse Waylon. Mr. Cusack plotted his wanderings on Google maps. The reports helped them zero in on a specific area in Hidden Cove.

“It was incredible how many people participated,” said Mr. Cusack.

They set up a campsite with food, blankets, and clothing, often sighting Waylon at dawn and dusk visits. Mr. Cusack borrowed night vision goggles. He ordered a large trapping cage, stocked it with food, and waited for Waylon to be confident enough to enter. The next day they had their dog.

After his two-week 2011 ordeal, Waylon has no fondness for bad weather. He doesn’t like to go out in the rain. Although he loves his runs, he always comes right back, and has never disappeared again.

“He doesn’t go anywhere,” said Ms. Corsiglia. “Ever since he realized he has his own comfy chair and constant supply of chicken, he realized that life here is good.”

A more recent lost dog story has not been resolved. Since disappearing at Tradewinds Fields in Oak Bluffs on January 20, Noavakay Knight’s Boris was seen several times but there have been no sightings reported in weeks. Adopted from the Animal Shelter of M.V., the bouncy little two-year-old longhaired mixed breed dog had lived with Ms. Knight and her boyfriend only three months when he ran off, spooked by bigger dogs.

“He was a gentleman,” said Ms. Knight, but added that his intense loyalty to her may have kept him from allowing searchers to get close. Like other frantic pet owners they canvassed the area then made calls, sent emails, printed flyers, posted the news on Facebook and the animal shelter’s Facebook page. The approaching blizzard added urgency.

Ms. Knight said she was initially hopeful about finding Boris because he had a microchip. She was disappointed to learn that the technology could not help track and locate the dog, but only identify him if found. She had misunderstood the microchip’s capability, assuming it would function like a GPS, and cautioned other pet owners not to make the same mistake.

Islanders followed the story on the “Help Find Boris” Facebook page, posting sightings, offers of help, and encouragement.

“It was nice to know how many people were aware of what was going on, and people were actively trying to help,” said Ms. Knight, though admitting that it could be confusing as sometimes-conflicting reports came in.

Despite harsh winter weather, the owners held out hope and got several reports. The last was a call from someone near the dump, describing a dog that “looked like a fox, more skittish than a wild animal.”

The couple brought a humane trap to the site, left tempting food, recently worn clothes, and even urine as recommended by experts. But Boris never appeared.

Ms. Knight has not entirely abandoned hope but recently welcomed a new dog into her life.

“I named him Providence, it’s divine care,” she explained, because the dog desperately needed a home and her own pet was gone. She said they have done the best they could to find Boris and now can only wait.

“We hope we get Boris back and we’ll have two sweet little dogs,” Ms. Knight said.

Tips from Petfinder.com experts:

-Get the word out quickly: make big signs with a photo of your missing pet and tell as many people as you can. Email or call groomers, vets, and animal shelters in the area.

-Put the signs in heavily trafficked areas such as schools, near post offices, coffee shops, and entries to dog parks.

-In bilingual communities, make your sign in both languages.

-Be sure your pet is properly tagged.

Helpful resources:

M.V. Helping Animals: This local Facebook page features a range on information about pets needing homes, and questions and answers about health and behavior. It is a good place to post lost or found notices. According to its mission statement: “Here’s the place to find loving Islanders with a helping hand and kind heart.”

Animal Shelter of M.V. Information about your lost pet can be posted on the shelter’s Facebook page. 508-627-8662; animalshelterofmv.org.

Animal Control Officers (ACO’s) Local town ACO’s may be contacted through the Island Communications Center’s non-emergency number: 508-693-1212.

Town police departments Departments may be contacted through the Communications Center or by calling the local stations directly.

Veterinarians A sick or injured dog may be taken to a veterinarian’s office by a concerned citizen, police officer, or ACO. Call individual offices.