Oak Bluffs couple’s dogged efforts to find pet pay off

Kevin Cusack and Waylon relaxed after their long ordeal. — Photo by Betsy Corsiglia

New Year’s Eve was happier than ever for Betsy Corsiglia and Kevin Cusack of Oak Bluffs. Not only were they welcoming in 2012, but they were also welcoming their dog, Waylon, home at last after an anxious two-week search.

Waylon, a 10-month-old springer spaniel/Labrador retriever mix, first arrived at his new home on December 15. Within hours he was gone, swallowed up in the dense woods behind the house after wrestling out of his collar. A glorious homecoming had turned into a disaster.

The couple scoured the yard and their surrounding Vineyard Hills neighborhood for hours before giving up. Waylon, adopted that day from a foster home in Rhode Island, was officially missing. His owners were frantic.

New to the family and the Island, Waylon was totally unfamiliar with his home and surroundings. The area was covered by trees and underbrush, a maze of small roads, deserted seasonal homes, empty sheds, marshlands, and crossed by several busy thoroughfares. There was plenty of trouble for a young dog to get into, especially one who had no idea where he was.

By early the next morning the word was going out. Along with posting flyers picturing a spirited black-and-white pup, the Cusacks called the MSPCA, veterinarians, animal control officers, and police. They visited neighbors, emailed everyone they knew.

The Internet became an invaluable part of the search when tech-savvy friend Susanna Sturgis helped Mr. Cusack get his dormant Facebook account up and running. Ms. Sturgis “friended” Mr. Cusack, which allowed him to post search updates on her wall, where she also posted photos of Waylon, so all her “friends” could see what he wrote. She in turn shared them with Sally Apy, a fellow dog-lover, between them making the notices accessible to some 1,000 Facebook “friends.”

Response was dramatic! Messages filled the Cusacks’ phones, emails poured in from the Island and beyond. Strangers offered help, ideas, encouragement. People kept an eye out, carried leashes and dog treats in their cars just in case. Some tramped through the Oak Bluffs woods, searching. A boy called from a bus to report he saw Waylon on the County Road bike path. The bus driver himself called soon after. Updates were constant.

“It was incredible how many people participated. All kinds of help came out of the woodwork,” said Mr. Cusack gratefully.

Waylon was seen on County Road, the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, at Felix Neck, around Sengekontacket. He was on the run and no one knew how far he’d travel.

Waylon’s short life to date had been marginal. Born in a Nashville, Tenn., shelter, he was in imminent danger of euthanasia when a good Samaritan found him a foster home in Rhode Island. That was his first lucky break. Being adopted by the Cusacks was his second.

Inveterate animal lovers, the couple always included cats and dogs in their family. After losing their beloved Stanley, also a black springer spaniel/Lab mix, in June, they deeply missed having a dog, but they were not ready to replace him at once.

By late fall, Mr. Cusack felt the time had come. He didn’t want to go through the winter without a dog. When asking friends and calling nearby shelters proved fruitless, Mr. Cusack searched online. It took awhile. Then he saw a photo of Waylon.

“He looked like a cute little guy that needed a friendly home — a bit of a ragamuffin,” Mr. Cusack said. “I like ragamuffin dogs with character. You could tell he was a good dog. He just hadn’t had anything good in his life yet.”

After a three-hour visit, the couple knew Waylon was the dog for them. A few days later, Mr. Cusack headed to Rhode Island to pick up their new pet. But though the happy-ever-after ending would be delayed, when Waylon disappeared, the Cusacks were determined to find him. He was their dog now, no ifs, ands, or buts, and they would bring him home no matter how impossible it seemed.

A few days after his disappearance, Ms. Corsiglia got a call from Liz Roberts who was determined to find Waylon when she saw the flyer. She spotted him near Dodger’s Hole, running into the woods towards Oak Bluffs. That call pointed the couple in the right direction. They took to the woods, pushing through brush and brambles.

After several sightings, it appeared the Hidden Cove area was Waylon’s home base. Ms. Corsiglia left his blanket, pieces of clothing, and food there one evening. Returning in the morning, she was rewarded by a distant view of Waylon.

The Cusacks set up a campsite for Waylon with crate, blankets, and clothing. They established a routine of morning and evening feedings. They often saw the dog coming for food. He seemed to be waiting for them, and would even respond briefly to a call or a whistle. But when they got too close, he ran back into the underbrush.

Cancelling an off-Island family Christmas trip, the couple arranged their days around the search. Outdoorsman Cooper Gilkes lent Mr. Cusack night vision goggles. For several nights they left food in their car with the hatch door opened and Mr. Cusack on the roof ready to slam it – hoping Waylon would jump in.

Tom Shelby, a professional animal behaviorist and dog trainer, dog trainer Karen Ogden, and Kerry Scott, owner of Good Dog Goods, and other experienced dog lovers offered valuable counsel and insights.

Although Waylon seemed safe and healthy, the Cusacks knew the weather could turn frigid, the dog could wander, and outdoor living had its perils. They wanted a back-up plan. Mr. Cusack looked for a trapping cage big enough for a dog and finally ordered a bobcat cage from Florida.

The cage arrived December 27 and was quickly set up beside Waylon’s familiar crate. They held off trapping, wanting to acclimate Waylon to the cage so he would go far enough inside to trip the latch. After several tries, the dog entered the cage for food and they were ready.

Tension was high on December 28 as the couple headed to Hidden Cove at evening feeding time. They packed tempting dog favorites into the long cage and waited.

Waylon emerged from the woods, came closer, and at last went in. The door fell shut. They had their dog!

“My heart was racing! I was so ecstatic,” Ms. Corsiglia said. “It was amazingly easy after all we’d been through.”

When the Cusacks got a close-up look at Waylon, they were relieved to find no injuries, despite plenty of scratches and abundant ticks. He was skinny, but he ate well and seemed surprisingly at ease.

Again the word went out online and again friends and dog lovers across the Island and beyond responded, this time with delight. There are many lost pet searches on the Island. Few of them turn out so happily.

By New Year’s Eve while his owners, thrilled to have their dog back, enjoyed a comfortable dinner at home, it was hard to believe that Waylon had been living in the wild only days earlier. He lounged by the woodstove, chin on his white paws, followed Ms. Corsiglia around as she cooked, snuggled beside Mr. Cusack on the couch.

Mr. Cusack imagines that Waylon was testing them with his two-week walkabout, making sure they would be good owners. “I guess we proved our worthiness to him,” he said.