Saturday, April 18, 2015

How to trap a lost dog

It takes a community to trap a dog.  A dog in flight mode may not be able to be stopped without  a humane trap. The public needs to report sightings, but also has to know not to call, chase or whistle at the lost dog. You may even want to leave the name of the dog off the flyer to make calling the dog more difficult.  This writer spoke with Diane Weissert, who is an expert on trapping. She has made a hobby of it and has trapped about three dozen lost dogs. She shares her expertise in this article.
Weissert says the average time to trap a dog is a week.  Of course these are dogs whose location is known.  She maps the sightings and learns the dog's habits to know where to set the trap.  Knowing when and where to set the trap is part of the puzzle.

Recently she set out to trap a dog named Gretel who had been lost in Texas during transport to her home in New Mexico.  Dogs often go in a circle with a one to three mile radius. Gretel confined her circle to one quarter mile, but that small area was unfamiliar to Gretel and to her family from New Mexico.  Luckily for the family, Diane heard about Gretel and volunteered her services.
People think sometimes that dogs move in a straight line or follow a road or creek.  Of course that can be true and you need to anticipate where a dog may be heading to leave flyers in advance of his arrival, but dogs who are lost away from their home do tend to circle back to where they escaped as Gretel did.

Weissert says you have to spy on the dog and map his habits.  Gretel had been sighted at 5 a.m. going down an alley near a school.  She walked confidently and with a purpose.  The next day, she was sighted at the same location at the same time.

There are common pitfalls to retrieving a lost dog.  Should you see your dog, Diane advises being completely quiet and still.  She says it is a hard lesson that all owners seem fated to learn through experience; even when they have been explicitly told what not to do.  The typical person makes the mistake of screaming with joy upon seeing their dog.  Of course the dog runs.  Gretel ran when her grieving owners saw her and could not resist shouting.   Instead of calling, try going face down in the dirt and only glance at your dog with your peripheral vision.  You want to try and make yourself as small and non-threatening as possible.  From this uncomfortable position, toss a few treats to lure your dog closer.   If the dog does not come to the treats, it is not going to happen.  Your dog is making the rules.  Now you know you must go with Plan B: the humane trap.

Another pitfall is calling animal control.  Animal Control chases dogs.  If the dog is fine and safe, you do not want the dog chased.  Gretel was chased from the area where she was comfortable and into a creek.  After this "help" by animal control, she was not sighted for two days. (Please note this happened in Texas.  Some states do have animal control staff who are trained in trapping.)

Four more sightings came in for Gretel and Diane picked the sighting in the middle as the place to set a trap. It was baited with rotisserie chicken, along with some smelly cat food, and covered with a wildlife cam.  You need to film the trap to find out if the dog is approaching the trap, but not entering.  In Gretel's case, rotisserie chicken was exactly what she was wanting and she went in the trap the first night.  Her family was on their way back to New Mexico from near Austin where Gretel was lost, but they turned right around.  Gretel was moved, still in the trap, into Diane's house to an interior room, where she could settle down and relax and not get outside.   You can see her reunion in the video above.  You will notice her tucked tail indicates how nervous Gretel is.  Some dogs are transformed when they see their family and others take time to adjust.   Gretel obviously knew her family, but do not count on that if you find a dog.  A dog's recognition makes poor proof of ownership.  Some dogs will appear to know anyone.  These are the dogs who run up to strangers and do not need to be trapped.  Other dogs are in a state of shock and will recover after a day or two with their family.

In this case it was a lucky thing that Gretel was caught when she was.  The next day there was much rainfall in the area and the creek that Gretel dashed into became a river. There was property damage and animals were lost.  There is no telling what might have happened if Gretel had been caught in the storm and flash flood.

The joy of the family is the only reward Diane will accept and as you can see from the brief film, she was well paid for restoring Gretel to her loving family.
  • Trapping dogs is a complex topic.  To be successful, you need to have thorough knowledge of what you are doing.  Here are a series of articles explaining some of the risks and how to set a successful trap
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