Reyna is one of the most traumatized dogs that SHUG has had in foster care. In Spain, Reyna belonged to a hunter with a reputation for being harsh with his dogs. (This is like saying he was the mime that all of the other mimes found annoying.) As a result, Reyna has a fear of men that she's struggled to overcome. This is all a roundabout way of saying Reyna is possibly the worst dog in the world to get loose during a walk.
But that's exactly what happened. Reyna's regular foster mom was away on vacation and her temporary foster lost her hold on the leash during a walk. Near a busy highway. It was pretty much our worst nightmare.
If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that one of SHUG's most important strengths is our network of truly awesome volunteers. When the call came in on Monday afternoon, we dropped everything and mobilized. Volunteers took to the streets putting up flyers, to the woods searching, to the phones making calls, and to social media. When you've lost a dog, Facebook is your friend.
Within hours we had the word out and that meant sightings! Reyna's first day out, we spoke to literally a dozen people who saw her. She crisscrossed between the two main roads in the area, making a well-defined circle . . . then nothing. No sightings after 3 p.m. We ended the day cold and scared, knowing that she was, too.
Not too cold, though. One of our lucky breaks in this search was that Reyna was wearing a very distinctive purple coat. It made taking sighting information much easier. It also made Reyna much safer. Not only was the fleece coat warm and water resistant--it kept our little fawn Galga from looking like a deer.
After a quiet night, action picked up again bright and early the next morning. By 7 a.m. Reyna was again making her well-defined circle across two busy streets, giving us all ulcers and permanent hair loss. Again, dozens of people saw her. When the phone would ring, the first question I'd ask was -- WHEN!? She was covering just a couple of miles, but her unauthorized shortcuts were much faster than our cars could travel by road. By the time we'd get up and around through several lights and over to her new location we'd get a call that she was already back on the other side of the highway!
By the end of the day, it seemed that Reyna had finally settled into one area. An RV park and a church that backed onto a large park. Here's the twist . . . the church's back lot had been set up as a haunted "park." Over several acres of woods, there were large sheets of black plastic hung between trees, abandoned cars, 2 school buses full of life size skeletons and clowns, multiple sheds and shacks full of headless dolls and other dismembered body parts. It was unbelievably creepy.
Our second lucky break in this rescue, was that it snowed (just a little bit) that first night. Not enough to endanger Reyna, but just enough to show footprints. Just outside a little red barn full of hay in the middle of the haunted park, we found footprints--and a long straight line next to them in the snow, which looked like the trail of Reyna's leash. Inside the barn, a Galga-sized indentation in the hay convinced us this is where she had spent the night.
Kristie and Travis, who had fostered Reyna when she first came from Spain, drove hours to join the search. They stayed in the haunted woods, and had our last sighting of Tuesday--at 10 p.m.--near the barn, which had become the center of our search. The wusses among us--of which I am one--high tailed it out of those woods when it got dark. Like Kristie and Travis, I had also fostered Reyna for many months, so after spending all day traipsing through the woods and getting good and stinky under four layers of clothes, I left my tank top in the little red barn in the hopes it would entice her back.
We also left something even more important, a live trap donated by Greyhound Rescue, Inc. Jenny of Her Majesty's Hounds drove pretty much through the dead of night to bring the trap back to the haunted woods and a very, very brave team of dedicated volunteers set it up amidst the ghouls and ghosts. We were ready!
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There were no sightings all day Wednesday. Volunteers checked the trap every couple of hours. I fielded texts and calls through the night and always the same. Nothing. By noon, panic had set in. We had another trap donated by the local SPCA but our concern was that Reyna had been chased out of the area by the flurry of activity the previous day. Or worse. She could be caught by her leash somewhere deep in the park. Volunteers scoured the area for any sign of her.
So we had to stop and rethink our strategy. I made the decision to pull everyone out of the woods. We asked all volunteers to stay away from the area and refocus on flyering the neighboring communities. That meant we would have to close the traps. It was just too cold to risk her getting caught in one if we weren't going to be checking them. And if we were checking them, we thought she wouldn't come back to the area. It was a classic Catch-22 scenario.
What made the situation slightly more bearable was the addition of cameras. Sandra, a local dachshund mom, and Cindy, a volunteer with Greyt Expectations Greyhound Rescue, set up cameras near the little red barn and we all backed quietly out of the woods.
On other fronts, the search continued. Volunteers put up a more colorful new flyer, and I spammed all of Northern Virginia with a robo call by FindToto.com. Within hours I had 7 calls from people who had seen Reyna . . . the day before. 🙁
It was a very long night.
We woke with a new plan. If Reyna didn't come back to the little red barn, we would have figure out her new location. To that end we contacted a tracker with a scent dog who had a good reputation with other rescues. She was searching for a cat that day (I shall make no comment.) but could come out on Friday.
As we were planning for the tracker and trying to find a good "scent" item of Reyna's, Cindy and Sandra headed back to pull the memory cards from the cameras. And ran right into Reyna at the little red barn! The hunt was on again! Although Reyna ran away from them, they had her on film! Reyna had arrived back at the little red barn about an hour after we had vacated the woods the day before!! The time stamped pictures showed Reyna just hanging out, wandering around the area, eating the food we'd left, investigating the closed traps, and basically having a lovely vacation at the expense of a our peace of mind.
This was when we decided to bring out the big guns. I hopped into the Target down the street and bought a camp stove, 3lbs of bacon, and new underwear. The camp stove and the bacon was plan A. Reyna had spent the night curled up with my tank top. If we didn't get her today, the underwear was plan B. (I was willing to sacrifice the current pair, but I wasn't driving home commando.)
Just before noon, we set up the camp stove in the clearing in front of the little red barn and commenced Operation: Bacon to the Rescue. The cooked bacon went into the two traps, the grease was poured in a trail in front of them, and the smell went . . . EVERYWHERE. Around 12:30 the trap was laid and I retreated to the church parking lot with Cindy, her Greyhound, Sandra, and Sandra's little dachshund Mandy. There may have been some snuggling.
An hour later, we were all starving, so we came up with a plan. I'd sneak back into the haunted park to check the trap and then we'd go get lunch. It sounded great in theory, but I'm not very sneaky. I really didn't want to scare Reyna away if she was in the area, but the snow had melted, revealing the leaves again, which are very noisy.
Over the past three days, I felt like I was the only one who hadn't actually gotten a glimpse of Reyna. I was always on the wrong side of the highway or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. So when I crested the top of the hill and saw that Reyna waiting for me patiently in the trap, it was pretty awesome. I'm not sure what I did or said, but I clearly remember Reyna wagging her tail at me and looking not at all sad to have been caught. Of course, she was also full of bacon.
Shockingly, Reyna was in excellent shape. Her pretty purple coat wasn't even dirty! She was dehydrated and did need to get subcutaneous fluids, but she emerged from the haunted woods remarkably unscathed. I'm not sure the rest of us can say the same. This week will definitely leave a mark--but I think it's one we'll cherish. We've made new friends and feel like we've accomplished something amazing. We've once again gotten to see the wonderful things people (especially dog people!) can do when they band together for a common cause. And as stressful as this has been, that's pretty darn awesome.
Thank you. To everyone who came out to help search for Reyna, to Fawn who manned the phones, to Holly and Mimi who helped keep us organized. To volunteers from other rescues and groups who pitched in, donated traps, and their time. To everyone who called in sightings. To everyone who kept Reyna in their thoughts and hearts over this week. Thank you.