When I got the message about a small German Shepherd running loose near the intersection of a highway and a major arterial, I didn’t want to go because it was 10 PM, I had just gotten into bed with all my dogs, and I had been up since 3 AM helping lost pets all day. I was really hoping someone else could help. I almost didn’t go, but the tipping point was that the dog looked like a small version of Tino. What if it was Tino wandering near heavy traffic? I would hope someone would help him. So, Tino and I responded to the call with a humane trap and a package of hotdogs.
When I got there, a kind woman was very close to the dog. She could almost reach out and touch him. She looked directly at his face, and her body language was all turned toward him. A blind man could see that all of her attention was focused on the dog. This was intended as kindness, of course, but it had the effect of making the dog tense. She was looking right at the dog, but she seemed not to read his obvious body language. He wanted to be near her, but you could tell that all of his muscles were poised to spring away if she tried to grab his collar. I tried to coach her on Calming Signals. She listened somewhat, but it’s not always easy to give or receive this type of training right in the moment. The dog had been wandering for at least four days, according to reports, and the people involved felt a sense of urgency, naturally, wanting to protect him from the dangers of fast cars nearby.
I finally convinced her to step away from the dog and let the trap do the work. Quite often, it is less stressful on a dog to go ahead and deploy the humane trap. I’m thinking of Wilson, the American Bulldog, that I spent hours making friends with. Even though he liked hanging out with me, I could tell he wasn’t ready for me to touch him or grab his collar. I led him over to the humane trap, and I sat down about eight feet from it. My calmness gave him confidence to check out the trap, and he went in within five minutes. I could have spent all day doing calming signals and still not have been able to put a leash on him. Also, the longer you try to work with a dog, using calming signals, the more likely it is that someone is eventually going to come along and, with good intentions, interfere and spook the dog. A trap can often be the simplest, least stressful method of capture.
With this dog, once I set the trap and we sat down on the grass a little ways away, he did go for the hotdogs. He also cheated, sticking his nose under the trap, wedging it up slightly, and grabbing the hotdogs with his teeth when they fell through the mesh. I had to re-bait the trap, this time wedging the chunks of hotdog into the wire mesh where he couldn’t reach them and they wouldn’t fall through. It only took a couple more minutes for him to go in and be trapped. He was a little nervous once inside, but he didn’t freak out. I was able to shoot a video through the wire grid, and catch his tags at just the right angle. I enlarged a frame of the video so that I could read the tag, a King County pet license. I gave Lily the license number, hoping she could somehow track it down in the middle of the night.
I loaded the trap into my car. Tino and the dog sniffed at each other through the grid. They were both interested and not too worried, no signs of fear or aggression. I opened the trap to offer him some water because he had been eating tater tots and hotdogs, and i figured he might be thirsty. He wasn’t interested in the water, but he was interested in Tino. I scanned him for a microchip, using the chip scanner that is always in my car. I couldn’t find a chip. He let me pet him. I was parked in the driveway of the house where he had been hanging out. Lily sent me the phone number of the dog’s owner. It turned out that, in king County, their automated phone system has a way that you can punch in the license numbers and it gives you a contact phone number for the dog’s owner, which is pretty cool. Just as I was about to call, the homeowner pulled up. I was parked in his driveway. It turned out that this was his dog, named Panzer.
His dog had been roaming for four days, in and out of traffic, but the owner did not seem happy that we had caught his dog. He seemed more annoyed that there was a commotion in his yard. He called for Panzer, but Panzer seemed to want to hang out with Tino in the front seat. I called Panzer and he came out to his owner. As the owner called for him to heel, and go to the house, Panzer turned back toward me. I petted him under the chin, and told him, “It’s okay, go ahead, go home,” and he turned and went behind his owner, not wagging his tail, not overjoyed to be home.
I was glad Panzer was not running in traffic anymore, but I was saddened by his owner’s indifference. Maybe Panzer has a great owner who takes great care of him, and maybe this guy just felt like he was being judged or implicitly criticized for not being able to keep his dog contained. Maybe once they were home, Panzer would have a great life in a loving family. I had a suspicion that it wouldn’t be the last time we would hear of Panzer running loose in the area. Of course, I would have loved to take Panzer home with us, so he could be a mini-Tino, following him around like a shadow, but I can’t take them all.
When people don’t value their dogs the way I value mine, I think it is sad for the dogs, of course, but it is also sad for the people. They seem not to realize what magnificent creatures we have living with us. Earlier yesterday, Tino and I followed a scent trail for six miles, working together as partners, and then we went and played in the lake together, then he went home and played with Mu and Sky and Fozzie, and had snacks and naps, and he was beside me as I answered phone calls and emails to help lost pets, and Tino curled up in my chest to sleep, (before we got the call to help Panzer). Tino is a magnificent creature, beautiful, a giant wolf who is also a little puppy, playful, happy, with never a thought of harming any living thing. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to share a lifetime with Valentino, the best dog anyone could ever hope for. Panzer is no less an excellent dog, capable of so much good. Panzer is obviously very kind and gentle, a sweet soul. I hope his owner appreciates him even half as much as a value Tino, but I fear he does not. When humans undervalue the core goodness of the common dog, people rob themselves of a unique, synergistic symbiotic relationship. No where else in nature have two species come together, voluntarily, to create a life so much better than they could live alone, apart. Perhaps now that Panzer is back home, his family will value him more and take better care of him. I hope that if Panzer does escape again and needs help in the future, that someone will contact me, and I hope Panzer will remember his friend Tino, and let us help him again.