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Behind Every Stray Is A Story
Has a lost dog ever wandered into your life?
Will a (temporarily?) homeless Husky turn Sarah into a dog person?

A reader comment submitted earlier today to my post about a dog shot in his backyard caused the old cogs to rotate—in not altogether happy directions.


First, here’s what Sarah wrote: “I read this piece with growing alarm...there is a dog, right now, in my backyard barking! It is not my dog. It has no collar and seems lost. It seems to be waiting for us to find its owners, but I gotta say I don’t know how! Can anyone help me? Is there a place out there I can post information about this poor poochie in my backyard? I’m not a ‘dogperson’ and I have small kids so I’m afraid to take the dog into our house, but have offered it food and water. What I’d really like is help finding its owners, sans collar. Thanks.”


I emailed Sarah, and learned that this self-described non-dog-person had the charity to bring the Husky stray into her home (wisely into a room separate from her children and cat). She’d also checked with neighbors—unsuccessfully—to see if they might know the dog. What next?


The Humane Society of the United States provides a primer on how to respond. The next step on Sarah’s to-do list: Contact your shelter. I know if my dog disappeared, the shelter would be my first phone call. Still my heart did sort of sink at the thought of the handsome Husky in Sarah’s basement carted off to an unknown fate. I entertained, for a moment, images of a happy now-complete-with-dog family tableau.


But then an old bit of advice surfaced in my brain: Never assume a dog’s been dumped. Kat Albrecht, pet detective and founder of the Missing Pet Partnership, once told me, if a stray looks a mess and acts skittish that doesn't mean he's been abused. Every couple of months you read about improbable reunions across thousands of miles or after long periods of separation; those dogs probably didn’t look so great when they surfaced either. (This also illustrates why posting “Found Dog” signs to locate an owner probably won’t cut the mustard.)


On her site, Albrecht (featured in Bark, July/August 2006) offers additional, hard-won advice for troubleshooting a stray, including this interesting trick: “Place a long leash (and secure collar) on the dog and tell him ‘Go Home!’ Unfortunately, some people do allow their dog to roam off leash and it is possible that you found a dog that knows exactly where its home is.”


Twice in my life—when I was younger and denser—I passed strays wandering along the narrow, winding roads of Westchester, New York. Both times, I drove on in a rush to be somewhere important. And both times (I’m a slow learner), I returned along the same road to discover the dog had been hit by a car. I now keep an extra leash under the passenger seat—hoping for a chance at redemption.

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com
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Submitted by Sarah Flygare Riley | January 28 2009 |

Hey, thanks for the information! I went to Bark when I found this dog because I thought of all people...so thanks a ton. Things really escalated last night. When we first let the dog into the house, we kept him in the basement but every time I'd go to check on him one or two or three of the kids would want to come and before long, it was apparent this dog wasn't going to hurt anybody no matter what so he came upstairs with us and when my seven-year-old went to bed, said lost dog jumped right up next to him and put his head in my boy's lap and before I knew it, we'd temporarily named him "Sparky" because the fire was snapping, and then, this morning he jumped up into bed with my husband (!) and then that dog followed my boy around all morning as he got ready for school and my son is awfully attached--wants to buy a collar--but knows I'm going to try to find the owner today.

So here is my new question. (Sorry I know so very little about dogs!) I let "Sparky" out to pee in the middle of the night and at six this morning he was sitting on the porch, waiting for me to let him back in. Then when my son left for school, he went out again, around 8, and he wandered off! Just half an hour ago or so. He very slowly sniffed through a very doggy family's yard across the street and then headed behind their house to the woods back there. I am thinking I made a mistake letting him out again...is this normal? Will he come back? Was that a really dumb thing to do? Is he likely to come back or go off and try to find his old home? If he doesn't come back, should I still contact the shelters to report that he WAS here?

My husband thinks he might be a victim of the economy...that somebody maybe just decided they couldn't afford the dog anymore and dumped him...thanks for your advice not to assume.

Hoping not to be hoping for a chance at redemption...missing 'Sparky'...

Submitted by Sarah Flygare Riley | January 29 2009 |

Okay, dog people. We woke up this morning really missing "Sparky," the stray who sheltered with us for a night and being cat people...being used to a creature who roams on his own and comes home for a can of food whenever it suits him...we weren't surprised when 'Sparky" wandered off, but come evening he still wasn't back. I assured my kids that given the weather, he probably just needed a place to stay on his way home, and that by now he's back with his family. BUT. I'm not so sure. I STILL harbor a fear that he might be a victim of the economic decline....a pet-situation I imagine will escalate in the months to come.

So today I called all of the shelters in our area to see if "Sparky" may be a guest. I got answering machines, mostly, and one very kind receptionist who sounded truly worried about "Sparky." What scares me is the message says, ""We'll keep the dog for three days." What does that mean? My plan was to let this stray stay with us until his parents emerge, but at this point I've just left my number everywhere. I hope Sparky is there...I hope Sparky isn't there!

Submitted by Sarah Flygare Riley | February 2 2009 |

Hey. In case anyone is interested, the shelters are still calling me back, though the machines swear those dogs get 72 hours, max. Nice people, no dog. I've listened, daily, to the lists of found pets and I think that is a great thing...I just wish I would have known ahead of time to be smarter and keep that dog in the house! Thanks, Bark, for listening! Over and out.
sarah, the sparky-less one...

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