Date: 2018-04-12Writer: Pamela
My dog Sierra is a meat truck rescue. She was abducted and then shipped to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival with over 100 other dogs when volunteers and law enforcement intercepted the truck and rescued all of the illegally-obtained dogs.
Originally we brought her home as a foster; we were going to keep her for awhile until she found a new home. But within the first minute she had entered our home, I fell in love. I told my husband we would keep her. Forever.
About 7 months later, April 1, Sierra was hit by an ebike driving at full speed. She was off-leash and chasing my friend who had crossed the road on his way home from visiting our apartment. Usually we let her off-leash when walking her in this area. There is a long, sturdy fence separating the sidewalk from the road on one side, a long stretch of grass of about 400 meters long where she can roam more freely, and a dense forest to the other side. But on this occasion, she must have thought that my friend’s trotting across the road – one of the only gaps in the fence in the area -- was an invitation to playfully run after him.
At that exact moment, an ebike and driver fitted in yellow waimai regalia was passing by at top-speed and struck sierra. Luckily the ebike did not run over her; it just bumped her back hips and sent her tumbling. The ebike and driver himself also fell over and hit the surface of the road hard, the driver separating from his ebike, which skidded down the road ahead of him. Luckily there were no cars around, no injuries and no damage.
Faster than my brain could process motion, Sierra had regained footing and sprinted across the road, to the left towards Meicun metro exit A, and was soon out of sight. It was 9:45 p.m. My friend heard the commotion (and a small crowd had formed around the scene of the incident) and came back to me. After having noted Sierra’s trajectory, I stopped to ask the ebike driver if there were any damage to him or his ebike, offering to cover repair costs, but he insisted he was okay, quickly remounted his ebike and left. My friend and I ran in Sierra’s direction. I told myself she was likely waiting at the courtyard of his apartment complex, which was the direction in which Sierra had run. She had visited their home several times, even staying with them when we had returned to America. I was hoping she would be waiting there for us.
Unfortunately security footage would show otherwise.
We obtained the CCTV camera footage from their complex – first Xinshijie Liyuange Block 2 (新世界荔园阁二期) and then through block 1 (新世界荔园阁一期) – and it showed her running, terrified, at full-speed, straight through both complexes and then to the left. She was running as fast as she could away – in her mind, probably for her life away from impending danger – and was not staying within the areas where we had walked her before.
At the time of writing, it’s now been 11 days since Sierra ran away. We haven’t stopped searching for her – and likely never will. After all, it is the owner’s responsibility to do everything they can to find their dog and bring him/her back to safety. Here’s what we’ve learned in the process, and here’s what we’ve done so far:
1. It takes weeks or months to find a dog, according to successful dog-recovery stories.
Dogs are very resourceful and good at hiding, which means that they will be able to get by on trash and food scraps for a long time. They won’t shrivel up and die; they’re resilient creatures. At the same time, they are far better at hiding than we are at searching. A scared dog will find a surefire way to conceal themselves.
This is why even 11 days after she’s gone missing, we are still going full-speed ahead trying to find her: hanging up and passing out print posters in public, sharing the digital poster on WeChat, spending over 30 hours a week on-foot looking for her, setting up automatic animal traps, watching public security footage, and organizing search parties.
Sierra has not simply disappeared into thin air; she is out there. It is more a matter of time than a matter of survival.
We have also considered the possibility that she was abducted by a dog meat seller or the like, (such as is detailed in this article by Shenzhen Daily: http://www.szdaily.com/content/2018-01/25/content_18335606.htm), but after consulting Chinese animal rescuers, it seems to be the least-likely possibility. Still, we are considering ways to investigate the presence of illegal dog meat sellers in Futian and nearby districts.
2. Finding a dog in a Chinese megacity is not like finding a dog in a less-urbanized nation.
Most of the guidance we find online (which is in English, since my Chinese is not good enough to comprehend literature on this subject) provides advice on finding dogs in suburban or rural areas. Furthermore, many English-speaking countries already have dog-recovery systems in place, which makes the chances that a stray animal is caught, brought to a shelter, and reunited with its family much higher.
The China-specific, Shenzhen-specific, and urban-specific methods we have learned are in the following notes:
·CCTV footage is your best friend. The absolute first step after the dog has run away is to consult the CCTV camera operators in the area (both government- and commercial-run). We made a mistake in this regard the night she ran away by setting out on-foot to check areas she’s familiar with rather than consulting footage, which would later show us that she ran in a direction we had never brought her in before.
The fact of the matter is that when it comes to a lost, scared, or excited dog, it is impossible to predict their movements. Are they scared? Are they adventurous? Are they food-motivated? Or will they prefer to hide rather than find food sources? Do they avoid other dogs or gravitate towards them?
Camera footage provides evidence – and an advantage that is not as widely-available in English-speaking countries – that is a 100% more valuable lead on the dog’s whereabouts than a gut feeling or educated guess.
And time is of the essence in this type of situation, since the longer the dog has been lost, the further he/she may have run away. So checking CCTV footage should be the owners’ absolute first move when their dog is lost in an urban environment, helping them set the right trajectory for the first moments of their search.
3. Enlist help as early on as possible. When Sierra first ran away, I was so distraught and upset that I didn’t want to speak to a single person. Instead, I set out on-foot alone, searching over 10 hours on my own within the first two days, barely contacting anybody else about the situation, and definitely not asking for much help.
Luckily, my husband’s approach to the situation different. He mobilized as many people as possible to help. One day three of the search, we had 12 individuals (many of whom we had never met) travel to the area to help search for her.
In retrospect, I can see that I was hoping to be able to find her on my own without “bothering” others or asking for help. But as a matter of fact, droves of people were immediately concerned when they heard what happened and offered to help by searching on-foot all on their own.
Now, I only wish I had called upon other animal lovers for help within the first 12 hours of when the incident took place. With less time for Sierra to travel far, we may have been able to find her earlier on with several sets of eyes canvassing the area, before she hid or relocated outside of Meilin.
4. A poster will be the lifeblood of your search. Since our print posters were consistently removed from where we stuck them around public within 12 hours of posting, we quickly learned to hand them out to key members of the public: dog walkers, security guards, people running convenience stalls, any type of pet store or vet… basically any one whose attention is outward-facing throughout the day.
Through poster distribution done by myself and dozens of friends, I have now collected scores of contacts who are pledging to keep an eye out for Sierra and reporting sightings.
5. Follow up on every single sighting that is reported, and request people to send photos of the sighted dog. At this point, we have had dozens of sightings, and sadly, none of them have been 100% confirmed to be Sierra. Despite this, somebody is sent to follow up on every single report.
I even followed up on one sighting at 1:30 a.m.; the lookalike dog was the same color and size as Sierra and even had a red collar of almost the exact same hue as hers.
Many reports will be of people repeating the sighting of the same lookalike dog. But in order to be thorough, an owner must follow up on them all. Since a lost dog can be mobile, there is a likelihood that she may have ventured into an area where false leads were reported before.
6. Automatic animal traps. We bought 3 large automatic animal traps. Animals are first lured inside with food, and then the door automatically shuts after they enter and set off a tripping rod. Besides food, we also filled the trap with things that smell of our home, since dogs are known to have an extremely acute sense of smell: a pillow, our clothing, our pet rabbit’s toy, and our pet rabbit’s poop.
Using automatic traps allows us to have a way of catching her even without anyone outside on-foot looking for her.
7. Spraying key areas with my urine. Yes, you heard right. I collected my urine in a spray bottle and we also sprayed poles and trees surrounding the trap with it in hopes that she would recognize the scent.
8. Creating trails of bedding and towels that have our scent on them to lead her home, again, hoping she would recognize the scent.
9. Organizing a “sweep” of the area. On the evening of Tuesday, April 10th, we had 20 people help canvas the area at one time. Although myself and others had gone out to search for her every day since she’s been lost, having a crowd of people all scanning different locations at one time eliminates the chances that we are searching one area while she is travelling through a different area.
On this occasion, we instructed each volunteer to search specific “zones” in four “quadrants” of the entire area, and we all then worked out way inward to a central meeting place (where we then enjoyed drinks and food).
10. Maintain local efforts while expanding outwards. Since the sweep did not result in Sierra’s recovery, we are now exploring options for expanding our search territories by organizing targeted campaigns with vets.
11. Lastly, remember: losing a dog is often due to factors beyond the owner’s control.
Many people see a dog owner who’s searching for their dog whose run away and are quick to scrutinize the owner’s judgment or ability to raise the dog. This kind of thinking – besides being emotionally out-of-touch and serving no practical purpose – is inaccurate.
Even people who have undertaken extensive efforts to train their dog to stay by their side or obey commands may find themselves searching for that dog one day. This is because there are many factors besides the owner’s capabilities and obedience training that leads a dog to run away. In the end, a dog is an autonomous individual synthesizing a multitude of decisions and emotions in any given moment.
A dog who is perfectly composed and attentive one moment may transform when faced with danger; he/she could become aggressive, cowardly, disobedient, loud, silent, and so forth. Despite all the training in the world, we don’t know how a dog – or any creature, including oneself – will react on-impulse to an alarming environmental stimulant.
As a rule, though, if you know your dog to have a nervous, easily-frightened, or aggressive edge to his/her personality, it is best to keep them on-leash at all times. Although Sierra had achieved a high degree of obedience and responsiveness to my commands, she was known to be a timid and scared dog. Although we had gone hundreds of walks without a severe incident, she was unable to control her impulses after being painfully struck by an ebike.
In the end, this all means it will be necessary for the owner to cover all bases at once, keeping in mind that since dogs have legs, it is just as possible that they have left the area as it is that they have remained.
The thing I find myself thankful for now is that there doesn’t seem to ever be a shortage of people who want to help. I have gotten remarks from friends who guess that people in general will primarily help because they want to acquire the 5,000rmb reward. Based on the scores of individuals I’ve interacted with over the past eleven days, though, I do not believe this to be the whole truth.
One memorable incident was with a street cleaner who, upon being handed the rewards poster, assured me and my husband that he would help to find the dog and that the reward money did not matter to him.
In another encounter, I found myself inside the public security office of a small urban village. The middle-aged male officers in uniform there served me a wonderful cup of strong tea, asking me question after question about my dog. As I left, they repeatedly told me they hoped I would find her and that they would help.
In another instance – the one during which I arrived to follow-up on the sighting at 1:30 a.m. – the young man who had called me to report the sighting handed the reward poster back to me while leading me to the dog who looked similar to Sierra, saying he didn’t want the prize money.
All of these individuals, rather than wanting to make a gain off of another person’s pain, are sincerely helpful. Of course there is no way my husband or I would allow the individual who recovers our furry family member get away without the full reward, the sentiment of such people is beautiful and transformative.
It’s sometimes hard to discern whether our world is mainly one of pain and suffering or of love and tenderness, but through suffering the loss of my dog, I have been exposed to more tenderness from perfect strangers than I could have ever estimated before.
One beautiful thing about undertaking missions like this – animal rescue, or anything to do with helping the vulnerable – is that you will inevitably find yourself surrounded by the most caring people the world has to offer.