Wendy Miller feared the worst when her family’s dog, Scooter, disappeared last February. “It was horrible. We didn’t sleep for three days,” says Miller who lives in Westminster, Maryland. “Our son, Cory, had Scooter since he was two,and they were inseparable.” What also made the situation tough: Scooter, a Maltese-poodle mix, is nearly deaf, leaving him vulnerable and harder to locate.
Then, a friend suggested Dogs Finding Dogs, a Baltimore-area nonprofit that uses highly trained dogs to locate missing pets. Within 24 hours, Heidi, a 5-year-old German shepherd, tracked Scooter to a farm near the Miller’s property. “We were all thrilled,” says Miller. “Scooter had some burrs stuck to his fur, but he was fine. It was a tremendous relief.”
Heidi’s owner, Anne Wills, founded Dogs Finding Dogs in 2007, after a police officer friend invited her to enroll the puppy in obedience training. Soon, Wills realized Heidi was a natural tracker. An idea was born: “Why not use a dog to find missing dogs?” she says. “Dogs have been trained to track everything else–why not pets?”
Before long, Wills–and Heidi–were taking on dozens of missing pet cases. Within six months of starting Dogs Finding Dogs, Wills quit her office job to focus full-time on the nonprofit, eventually training other dogs and handlers. Funded entirely from donations, the organization now consists of 11 volunteer tracking teams in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New Jersey. There is no set fee for services, but the organization asks for a donation once a tracking team is assigned to a case.
Typically, the best trackers are breeds like German shepherds, Labs, and bloodhounds. Each dog completes one year of intensive training in obedience work and tracking on multiple surfaces (like streets and fields) and is certified via the National Tactical Police Dog Association before being sent out on cases.
To date, Dogs Finding Dogs has helped more than 2,000 pet owners locate their animals, with an astounding success rate of over 90 percent. Lost dogs and cats are most common, but the organization has also helped locate missing horses, bunnies, ferrets–even iguanas and tortoises. Clues such as reported sightings and visible paw prints help, but the real work is accomplished through the volunteer dogs’ keen sense of smell, says Wills. “You give the tracking dog anything that belongs to the pet–a blanket it’s laid on or a toy it’s chewed–and he’ll be able to pick out its scent and follow its path,” she explains.
If a worried family lives too far away to send a tracking team, Dogs Finding Dogs offers advice over the phone. “People call us and they are heartbroken, crying,”says Wills. “We try to help every single person who comes our way. Believe me, there’s nothing better than that amazing moment when a pet is reunited with an owner.” Find out more or make a donation at dogsfindingdogs.com.
IF YOUR PET GOES MISSING
1 Flyer up-Fast. Plaster your neighborhood with flyers that have photos of your pet, your phone number, and mention of a reward. Think super local, says Wills. “Most cats stay withing a six-block radius of home; for dogs, it’s three to five miles,” she says.
2. Check shelters and use the internet. Call or visit local shelters. Search Craigslist for lost and found notices, and sites like aspca.org and petfinder.com for photos of shelter animals; post about your pet on Facebook.
3. Put out food. Lure your pet back by putting bowls of wet food and familiar-smelling items (your cat’s litter, your dog’s favorite chew toy) in your backyard.