Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Curly Update: Trip to Columbus, OH

So in the past few years I've done a lot of long distance driving. A LOT. Thousand mile days have not been unusual for me. The result of this is that when I hear about things like Curly being on the loose in Columbus, OH, I start looking at Google Maps and thinking... well, 500 miles isn't THAT far.


Enough thinking like that, and eventually I've decided to go. Got in my car after Sunday afternoon's show and headed for Columbus, arriving late Sunday night and joining the search party on Monday morning.

The next two days are sort of a blur. The area Curly is lost in couldn't be worse for finding a dog - it's a section of semi-rural Ohio that has some residential subdivisions, but also a lot of open land - big farms and heavily wooded areas. There's water all over the place - you can't go 1/4 mile in any direction without hitting a water source of some kind - and where there's water, a feral can always scavenge food.

Because Curly is very scared of strange people, if she's spooked/chased by strangers, she tends to run - and keep running. This has made her difficult to track, because once she's running scared she might continue for miles before stopping. She's very fast and very smart.

The local volunteers tracking her on the ground are tremendously impressive, more so because they don't know Curly at all - they just responded to a cry for help. There are people posting signs, people answering spotting calls from the public, drivers following up on those calls interviewing people who think they've had a sighting and surveying the area, and people with extensive experience tracking and trapping feral dogs. One of the trappers has not only volunteered her time but also provided the use of four of her humane traps. The skill, experience, and dedication of these folks cannot be overstated and is incredibly impressive.

On Monday we concentrated mostly on a residential subdivision where we had a positive sighting, but it was clear by Monday evening that she had left the area and hadn't been there for quite some time. We had a fairly educated guess at the general direction she had headed in, but no more. At nightfall we posted more signs and then headed to bed. A TV report about Curly aired on Monday evening publicizing the contact phone number, which we had high hopes would result in some solid leads.

I can't imagine doing this without technology, and they're making the most of it: GPS for drivers to find locations quickly, satellite images from Google, online real estate records to find landowners for interviews and permission to be on their land, constant use of cell phones and text messaging to coordinate information and movement , and of course good old paper maps and plat maps to map sightings and try to predict movement.

Early Tuesday morning we noted a pattern of phone calls coming from two separate locations. With tracking teams back on the ground, we followed up to both locations trying to determine if either of them were legit - they were too far apart to both be her. We made and posted many more (and larger) signs on Tuesday, but couldn't verify exactly which area she was in - until just after I started driving home on Tuesday night, when we had a positive sighting by one of the trackers in one of the areas we had guessed she might move to.

I regret having to leave on Tuesday night, but I can't imagine a better group of people to track her down. It is hoped that now that they know the area she's in, they can set up a feeding station, get her to trust it, and ease her into a trap. I have very high confidence that she will, eventually, be caught.

As I drove back I was turning the whole thing over in my mind, not only our processes and what could be done, but... well, why do we do it? To put it simply, this is an unbelievable amount of resources to devote to a lost dog. Dogs are lost every day that don't get this kind of intensive search, and it's only Curly's backstory that has focused so much attention on her particular case. Daily, there are tens of thousands of dogs dying in shelters because no one has stepped forward to adopt them. Why focus on one dog?

For me, the answer is simple and twofold: one is a very important principle common to Best Friends and Pets Alive that animals who are accepted into our care have care and support as necessary for life. A condition of Pets Alive and Best Friends adoption is that if they ever, for any reason, have to be given up, they come back to us. We do not give up or abandon animals in our care, even years after they have left us. That is a very important commitment and one that has obviously made a huge impression on me. As with many others at Best Friends and Pets Alive, I knew Curly and was touched by her. That's reason enough.

The second part of the answer is that it's important to do something positive when you are able to. The only way to tackle a large problem is to break it down into tiny, tiny pieces and tackle whatever is in front of you, whatever you are able to do. If you keep questioning if what you're doing is effective in terms of a bigger picture, all too often it leads to a paralysis where nothing is done. If something strikes you and you think you can help - at all - do it. That's the way, in the end, big things change. Maybe the only way.

I hope Curly is soon found. This weekend will be a key time. Think of her.

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