How Good Intentions Can Kill a Dog
I lost my dog. I had only had him a week when he escaped my house by prying boards off a cat door that was blocked. It was the worst feeling in the world to walk into the room and find him missing. Because I had been helping people find lost pets for years, I knew I had a good chance of finding him again. A few days later, we got a call that he was seen 10 miles away. I went there and saw him. I was keeping him close, and keeping him relaxed, by using calming signals. A kind and helpful person, with no malicious intent, came out of his home with a fishing net. It was a net on a hoop at the end of a pole, like you would use to scoop up a fish you had caught with a fishing pole. I told him, thanks for wanting to help, but he’s too big to fit in the net. Anyone could see that the only way the 35 pound dog could get into the net would be if he ran directly at the opening and dove into the net, which of course was something he would never do. I had spent 5 weeks catching Viktor as a stray the first time. I had taken many precautions to keep him safe, including boarding up the cat door, which failed, and putting a GPS tracker on him, which also failed. I had found him again, using all the methods I knew that had a good chance of working. I was ten feet from him, and I was keeping him safe with calming signals while we worked on a plan to capture him. This kind and helpful person was about to ruin everything with a cockamamie scheme that obviously couldn’t work.
He crept closer to Viktor, saying, “I’m sure this will work.” I asked him a second time to stop, and he ignored me. I didn’t know what to do. I wished I had a giant net on a pole so I could drop it over this man and stop him from approaching my dog. I couldn’t yell at him, because that would spook Viktor. I could run and tackle him because that would definitely spook Viktor. I asked him a third time, gently but emphatically, to please stop approaching Viktor and to please don’t try to use the net. He crept a little closer, and then he swung the pole in a fast arc and whacked Viktor with the frame. It hit him from the side, and there was zero chance he could have gotten the net over Viktor. Of course, Viktor panicked and ran. He ran up the block, where two more volunteers chased him. I asked them to stop but they didn’t listen. I was forced to watch and do nothing as my sweet little Viktor ran directly into traffic, towards the cars, because that was the only way he could get people to stop chasing him. Fortunately, several cars missed him by inches and he got away unscathed. It took us four more days to catch him.
That was seven years ago. This week, I saw a tiny black and tan chihuahua sitting beside the street, not far from my home. I pulled over to assess the situation, to see if the dog needed help or if he was just wandering near his home, and he would probably go home soon. Before I could learn much, Good Samaritans came and tried to “help” this little dog, and they chased him across a busy street where he darted across five lanes of heavy traffic. This started a chase involving at least 13 people with good intentions who made the situation worse. Each time a new person would see this dog, you could just see the gears turning in their minds. “That tiny dog needs help. What can I do? Chase!” They would start running and he would run into traffic again.
I certainly understand how people feel. I have desperately wanted to help a dog and felt that the only way I had a chance of succeeding was by chasing her just as hard and as fast as I could. 14 years ago, I caught Sophie by chasing her in the woods in the dark. I tackled her. It was the best feeling in the world to catch her and keep her safe. Even though I got her, and I was the hero of the moment, the one who saved the dog’s life, I knew very well that I had done everything wrong, and that I only caught her because I was extremely lucky. Since that day, I have caught or helped catch thousands of dogs without chasing any of them. I now have the tools and experience to help a scared dog come to me or come to safety. The knowledge I have in my head could save so many dogs, but it’s hard to get through to people in that moment when they feel they have to take hasty action to save the life of a stray dog.
As people chased the tiny chihuahua on foot, I stayed in my car and tried to protect him from traffic. At one point, he was running right down the middle of the four-lane road, and a large truck went around me as I followed with my hazard lights flashing. I laid on the horn and the tiny dog got out of the road just in time. He went to a relatively quiet spot and I thought I had a chance to capture him safely. I had a humane trap in the car, and I had a can of Vienna sausage in the cup holder. I was tossing bits of sausage to him, and he finally got the idea that I was giving him treats. Dogs love Vienna sausage. I have to keep it in a toolbox in my car so that Valentino won’t just chew open the cans and eat all the sausages. I was just getting him to a safe place when another Good Samaritan came out of a yard. He saw the dog, and before I had a chance to say anything, he started running toward the dog and chased him into the busy street again.
In all, I counted at least 13 people, who were all kind and had the best of intentions, who put this dog in greater danger by doing all the wrong things. How would you know that you aren’t supposed to chase a dog? How is the average person supposed to know that the one thing they can think of to do, to help a poor little stray dog, is the one thing they absolutely should never do? Of course, I try to tell people all the time, but I have a small audience. Also, people have a hard time believing me even when I do tell them. It sounds absurd that you should just ignore a dog that is in mortal danger. Most people think they absolutely must chase the dog! It would be inhumane to not try to catch the dog, they think. If people realize, if you can explain to them, that they have very effective ways of helping a stray dog, that they have an excellent chance of catching a dog by not chasing him, then maybe you can get them to stop. It’s very hard to explain my 14 years of experience to someone when they are making a split second decision. The other problem is that once you convince one person not to chase, another person comes along and starts chasing. The person who chases the farthest and the fastest has control of the situation and it’s hard to get ahead of them and block them.
I was helping a dog in North Bend. Her name was Bella. She was a reddish-brown pit bull, very sweet and gentle. She had been ejected from the vehicle when it crashed on the freeway. I received a report that she was seen near the crash site. I drove an hour to get there, and I saw her. I was working on getting her settled so I could use Calming Signals and the humane trap. Before I could lure her to safety, more cars came along and the people got out and tried to catch her. This made her run, of course. She ran at least a quarter of a mile to the freeway entrance, and then as more people tried to corner her, she ran onto the freeway. One person drove ahead of her and blocked her, when sent her back down the ramp. In the intersection, she was trying to decide which way to go. People with good intentions came at her from all directions, making her feel boxed in. I tried to wave them off, but Bella ran up the off ramp, against traffic, and onto the freeway. I drove around to the next entrance, but by the time I got there, she had already been hit. I picked up her lifeless body from the freeway. I could have helped her. I had the tools and experience. People with good intentions killed her with their misguided kindness.
What can I do to stop people from chasing dogs? I don’t know, but in an effort to give them tools instead of chasing, to make them realize every other option is better than chasing, I have set up a web page with ideas and resources, alternatives to chasing lost dogs. Please share this with people so they can get on board with the plan, and stop chasing dogs to their deaths. Eventually, the group of people chasing the little chihuahua cornered him and one of them grabbed him. The tiny dog was safe, and the whole chase team was ecstatic about their success. They most likely learned the wrong lesson, that chasing a dog is the best course of action. The next time they try, it most likely will end badly. The only reason it didn’t end badly for the tiny chihuahua is because we got lucky. Please don’t rely on luck. Use all of the tools available to you to help a stray dog, and never chase.
I will try to follow a dog that is loose from a distance. If it stops. I stop and watch. Ocasionally they go in someones yard and I can sit and watch them out of the corner of my eye and use calming actions to see if they will come near me. If nothing else if I can get a picture and share a location on the Lost Dogs/Pets page for wherever I am. But thanks to you and my many other mentors on finding lost dogs. I know not to chase or try to call a lost dog. I will try to call it if it is a dog that knows me very well and has only been loose a short time. All my friends dogs will come to me when they see me anyway. Because I almost always have treats. I am ok using bribery to make friends with dogs.