(Adopted) I helped save a dog on Whidbey Island. She had been living outdoors, running loose, for nine months. We caught her safely and gently, and I ought to have been elated. I was depressed all day, and it was hard for me to figure out why. Maybe I was depressed for unrelated reasons, you can’t always know. If I was depressed about the capture of this stray dog and the opportunity to save her life and give her a new home, it was because I could have trapped her six months earlier, but I didn’t. Why didn’t I catch her sooner? It was a little inconvenient, but it wasn’t exactly difficult. Pretty much any volunteer could have done what I did, with a little coaching. It didn’t require that much special knowledge. I let her down. I think that’s probably what I was depressed about. I let her down by not rescuing her sooner. I let a bunch of nonsense get in the way. Every day, all day, there are dogs and cats I could help, fairly easily, but there are just so many. I try to be as efficient as I can, and help as many as I can, but some slip through the cracks. When deciding which cases to take, it is my natural inclination to prioritize those that have less unnecessary drama getting in the way.
When I walk Viktor, a pair of crows comes along with us. They announce their presence in the most gentle possible ways. They will glide up behind me and run their shadows over my shadow to catch my attention. I absolutely love this. It’s so gentle and sweet and clever. I try to always have peanuts in my pocket so I can reward them for the subtle way they said hello. Crows can be horribly dramatic, as I’m sure you are aware if you ever offended one. That they can deliberately communicate with subtle kindness is amazing and fascinating. Another way they get my attention is to land on a branch near me so that the tip of the branch waves in my field of view. The bird is out of sight, but I see the branch bob, and I look for the source. This is not accidental. The crows engineer this method of alerting me, and they somehow calculate, with their tiny little brains, brains that are probably smaller than walnuts, just where to land on a branch so that it dips enough to get my attention, ten feet down the branch. Other ways they attract my attention are to land on a wet cedar branch and send down a little shower of cascading droplets. Perhaps my favorite way they say hello is that they will sometimes glide down the road behind me and then turn up behind my head to send a gently rush of air on my hair and ears. I have often thought about why they do this. I would like to think that the crows are my friends, and I hope that they think so too. A more plausible explanation, from the viewpoint of evolution, is that the subtle crow can access a resource provider without attracting the attention of other crows. I have witnessed this. We have a plum tree in our yard, and when the plums are ripe, the crows will come and harvest them as quietly as they can, trying not to tip off the mob that ripe plums are available. It is their secret treasure. I feel like I am their secret treasure. Of course, they could also consider me a friend, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
When humans try to get my help, they can often be quite dramatic. I understand that people are upset when their family members are missing. My dogs are the most important things in my life. I would definitely be upset. Also, there is some truth to “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” People who demand help often get it. I remember a dog that we saved many years ago. He had been lost for two months. His weight went from 60 pounds to 30. I had helped the owner with advice, but the advice had not been strictly followed, it seemed, and his owner was not as involved in his rescue as she might have been, for whatever reason, I don’t know. I woman who knew me asked me to help the dog. I said I had already tried and that I had a long list of dogs and cats needing help, with owners that would collaborate with me and facilitate their capture. This woman would not let up on me. She told me that if I didn’t help the dog, he was going to die, and it would be my fault. This made me angry, and it made me not want to help because it was basically emotional blackmail. I got over my anger, and I did get involved. A group of about ten people gathered together and we eventually saved this dog’s life using proven techniques applied in a logical way. In a way, you could say that one person’s approach of being overly dramatic saved this dog’s life. Another way of looking at it, and the point I’m trying to make, over and over again, is that dramatic rescue would not have been needed if sensible, proven advice had been followed. There were at least a dozen points in this dog’s adventure where boring, simple, undramatic steps could have been followed and he could have been saved easily and quickly. Most importantly, the owner could have followed any number of loss prevention measures, and avoided the whole disaster. A GPS collar would have saved a lot of drama. Once he escaped, she could have used calming signals to get him back instead of shouting dramatically and spooking him farther. She could have put up the signs properly, the way I instructed her. She could have quietly persisted in her search for him, since he was obviously in the area the entire two months he was missing. People who saw him running as a stray could have used calming signals to attract him, instead of what people always do, approaching a stray dog directly and chasing after him. Although a dramatic appeal did save this dog’s life, it should never have been necessary to have the problem get to that dramatic point before he received help. Quiet, simple interventions could have saved him at a dozen points in his dramatic history.
I guess that’s why I was sad about the rescue of the Whidbey Island dog. She is so sweet. Compared to my dogs, she is much easier to handle. I mean, if anyone had tried to capture one of my dogs the way we caught her, my crazy animals would not have been so calm about it. People, in the overly dramatic way people can be, described her as a wolf hybrid and a dangerous dog. She is a sweet little husky mix, and I gave her every opportunity to bite me. I don’t think she would bite me if I stuffed my hand in her mouth, although I didn’t try that. Six months ago, when I was ready to trap her, I asked for fosters and volunteers, and no one stepped forward to foster her. Where she was running loose, she was at risk of being hit by a car, but I couldn’t see the point in catching her if I had no place to take her and no one would accept her. For whatever reason, I was told the shelter for that jurisdiction would not accept her unless a volunteer nonprofit was already lined up to accept her. Although I run a volunteer nonprofit for stray dogs, Useless Bay Sanctuary, and we ought to be just the sort of organization that could help her, we were full. We had already used up all of our space and resources for all of the dogs like her that we had already rescued. I would personally foster or adopt every dog if I could, but I already have five dogs. There’s no room at the inn.
This sweet little non-wolf was eventually rescued because people spread the word on social media that she would likely die if no foster stepped forward. Someone eventually did. Although I don’t know the foster personally, my impression is that she is someone who is already doing too much of the heavy lifting in dog rescue, like most of us. She knew she could help, she was already going above and beyond what anyone could ask of her, and she volunteered to give even more because there was a dog in need. Why didn’t she, or another person, step forward when I asked for a foster 6 months earlier? Because I wasn’t dramatic enough? All day, every day, I deal with dogs and cats that are at serious risk of injury or death unless they get the help they need. I feel like screaming every day that the house is on fire, which it is, but eventually people say, meh, your house is always on fire. I mean, I’ve stopped reading news stories about Ukraine. The war isn’t over. It’s still a terrible situation, and I want to help. I just don’t know how reading another article about how much Ukrainians are suffering, and how unjust this war is, is it really going to help. I mean, the best way I can think of to help Ukraine is to stop buying gas, to bring down the price of oil and cut off the money supply for Putin. But as I’m driving along in my poor little old Prius, I am surrounded by gigantic pickup trucks with huge knobby tires, with only a driver and no passengers, and the trucks aren’t doing work other than to burn as much fuel as possible. These huge trucks are pristine, with none of the telltale scratches you would see on a truck that did actual work. Often these 7-mile-per-gallon trucks have stickers blaming others for the cost of gas. Are people dying in Ukraine because I don’t care enough? Does it even matter how much I care if ignorant people can so easily cancel out my contributions to the problem’s solution?
Ukrainians are dying, their country is being destroyed, children are dying horribly in their classrooms, the planet is still on schedule to burn even though we have known the solution to the climate crisis for decades, and also there is a poor little dog that is going to die unless you help. Well, I’m always going to help the dog if I’m available. I want to help the climate and the children and Ukraine as well, but because my specific skills lie with helping dogs and cats, they will always be my priority. But I can’t save them all, not by myself.
The reason I started this newsletter was to help lost pets, obviously. I want to reach the widest possible audience and educate people about the many ways they can help lost and stray cats and dogs. Most importantly, I want to educate people about loss prevention, so that so many of these dramatic situations can be avoided entirely. The sweet little Husky on Whidbey Island is a perfectly nice dog, and there was no reason why her original owners couldn’t manage her much more easily than requiring an entire community to come together to save her. So much about her situation was avoidable. They just didn’t care. Because they didn’t care, it took an extraordinary amount of care and attention from caring people who are already giving too much.
I want people to read my newsletter so they can learn how they can help their own cats and dogs, and how they might help stray dogs in particular. To be effective, I have to get people’s attention. Sometimes I try to write stories in a dramatic way. I could do that with the Whidbey Island girl, and tell you how she avoided capture, and maybe I could offer you a dramatic recounting of how she was so cautious around the big trap, and how the little Dachshund named James helped lure her into the trap, how the door didn’t close the first time and how we eventually got her in the second time. The truth is, this girl could have been helped, very undramatically, at a dozen points before we got to this dramatic capture. Further, unnecessary drama was actually one of the reasons I didn’t make her case a priority. Although a lot of kind people were trying to help her, in many instances they were hurting the situation by doing too much handwringing and not following proven advice.
When I am walking with the dogs, very often one of them will get stuck on their leash. When I say stuck, I mean that the leash got behind their legs, and they started pushing back against the pressure. Fozzie is especially guilty of this. I understand he is a little dog walking with big dogs and a big human, so he often backs out of the danger zone to avoid being stepped on. However, when he backs into his own leash, all he needs to do is to take half a step forward, or even stop pushing. No, he pushes back more and looks at me like he got his leg caught in a steel coyote trap. A little thing for him to fix, with no effort, becomes a big drama where he needs to be rescued. He has been walking on a leash for 10 years, at least. He’s seen how I fix it when he gets stuck. It would take no effort at all for him to stop pushing. He could even just spin around and get it unstuck. A lot of times he spins around just for fun, so it’s not like it would be a hardship for him to spin around and release himself. Of course, I’m happy to play a part with the little drama my sweet poodle cooks up, but it’s not so cute when humans do this.
If I am helping humans with their lost pets or with stray dogs, it is very common for people to not listen to what I’m saying. I understand I am giving a lot of information at once and it can be hard to remember everything. That’s why it is all written down in my various guides for helping lost dogs and cats and stray dogs, always available on the internet for free, easily accessible. Lost dogs and cats have the best chance of being helped when I can collaborate with people. There are certain things that I can do better than most people because I have experience and practice with them, such as working with a scent trailing dog or assembling and rigging a large kennel trap. There are many other steps in the process that could be handled by others if they could focus on information and actions. I’m not telling people to stifle or ignore their emotions. My emotions are why I do this work. I love my dogs more than I can even tell you. You don’t need to persuade me that the life of a lost cat or dog is critically important. I am already spending every waking moment doing everything I can to help as many dogs and cats as I can. Sometimes it seems like we could help more cats and dogs if we could go ahead and skip over some of the drama and just get to work.