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(Reunited) How do you help a skittish dog like Mika?
Mika accidentally escaped from the petsitter about 11 AM on Sunday, we later learned. UBS first learned of her when people started posting about her on Facebook, running around Wallingford. I arrived on scene about 3:00, and followed Mika for four hours, before she went into the humane trap. Once trapped, it only took about twenty minutes to earn her trust, with cheeseburgers, so we could read her tags and call her owners.
During the four hours I followed her, I saw dozens of people do what people instinctively do when they want to help a dog. In this case, these behaviors were more likely to get her killed. Before I list these common behaviors, take a moment to think about what you would do if you saw a stray dog.
1. Call, “Come here, boy.”
2. Make baby talk at her.
3. Make eye contact.
4. Move towards her.
5. Get down low.
6. Toss food.
7. Chase her.
The first six things may work with some dogs. The last item, chasing a dog, never works unless you happen to get very lucky and the dog runs into a fenced yard.
So, if all of the above things, which work on some dogs, just make matters worse for a dog like Mika, then what should you do?
First, if you see a stray dog and you want to help, do things in an order that they won’t make matters worse. First, you observe, and see how a dog is behaving before you take any action. If people would do this one thing, they would learn that most wandering dogs are actually very close to home, and can be reunited quickly. In the case of a dog like Mika, skittish and a mile from home, observing her will tell you many things. As I watched Mika, I saw her fall right in behind a pair of women walking down the sidewalk. She followed these women for half a block, until they noticed she was there. The moment they made eye contact with her, she turned away and wandered off. The first thing we learned about Mika, from observation, was don’t make eye contact. Also, if I stayed in my car, I could follow her everywhere and she would mostly ignore me. She only paid attention to people who got out of their cars. In four hours of observing Mika, I saw at least three dozen people interact with her, calling to her, getting low, holding out a hand, and chasing her. Just ten minutes of observation would have told me that those approaches wouldn’t work, but four hours of watching the same pattern over and over definitely underscored that the common approach to a lost dog is the wrong approach for dogs like Mika.
What can you do if you can only observe and ignore a dog? People would ask me, when I said I was helping the stray dog and asked them to please ignore her, “Well, what are you doing to help her?” I replied that I was watching her and keeping her safe, and I would bring in a humane trap if necessary. At the mention of a humane trap, most people seemed to hear the word trap and ignore the word humane. “Well, what are you going to do with her if you trap her? Take her to the pound?” The way this question was asked often implied that taking a dog to the pound was the same as killing her. I replied to these questions by saying that if I trapped her, I would read her tags and get her home, which seems rather obvious, and is what we did eventually. If a humane trap doesn’t work, we have other methods, which are more time consuming, but one way or another, we would help her.
I didn’t ask a volunteer to bring a humane trap right away because I thought Mika was close to home and she would get back home soon if people would stop chasing her. I also thought that people in the neighborhood would eventually recognize her and make the connection with the owner. I asked people to take a picture of her and share it on social media such as local Facebook pages and NextDoor. Mika kept roaming an area 7 blocks by six blocks, from Burke to 2nd Ave NE, and from 45th Street to 38th Street. Both my assumptions were eventually proven wrong, but by just observing her and learning more about her, I didn’t make matters worse, and I didn’t ruin our chances for trapping her.
A volunteer, Dina, was able to bring a trap about 7:00. After 4 hours of observing Mika, I could predict that she would usually just go one block before making a turn. I watched Mika make the turn, and called Dina to have her deploy the trap quickly, at the corner of Meridian and 39th. Within ten minutes of Dina setting the trap and baiting it with cheeseburgers, Mika went in the trap. She was mildly startled when the door closed behind her, but not so upset that it distracted her from eating the rest of the cheeseburgers in the trap.
Mika’s owners were out of town, and the petsitter hadn’t even called them to tell them that Mika had escaped. Every moment she roamed, the chances of her being spooked and running into traffic increased. The usual methods people use were harming Mika and increasing her chances of serious injury or death. Only because a UBS volunteer happened to see a Facebook post, and volunteers took the time to work with Mika on her own terms, were we able to get her back home safely.
What can you do to help dogs like Mika? Don’t automatically do all the usual things, like call to her, make eye contact, or chase her. First, just observe a dog and see how she is behaving. Keep her safe from traffic while you learn the right approach to helping her. You can also call UBS at 206-552-0304 to get help with a stray dog in Pierce, King, or Snohomish County.
You probably don’t have a humane trap, or experience in dealing with hard-to-catch stray dogs, so another way to help dogs like Mika is to support UBS. If you support us with donations, then we can help more dogs. If you support us by volunteering, we can train you in the proper ways to help a stray, and we can get you connected with other volunteers who can support you. A simple way to help dogs like Mika is to simply share the UBS page, so more people are aware of this option for helping stray dogs. Facebook only allows a limited number of people to see the pages of nonprofits like UBS unless we pay for promotion, but if you like and share our page, we can reach more people and help more dogs.