Bloodhound, good Samaritans help locate missing cat
When Scooby Doo escaped from the house this week, Jane Conlon was frantic. After all, she had only adopted the 9-year-old cat just a week before. And since he was a house cat, he wasn’t at all familiar with the mean streets of Jamestown.
Conlon got Scooby Doo by responding to a Craigslist ad placed by a woman in Warwick who was moving and couldn’t take the cat with her. What Conlon didn’t anticipate was that the cat would be able to take advantage of the dog door that allows her two golden retrievers unfettered access to and from the house on Howland Avenue. But one morning this week, Scooby Doo managed to do just that.
“I was walking up and down the road, knocking on doors and putting up flyers,” said Conlon, who volunteers with the Potter League for Animals. “I was desperate because she doesn’t have claws and couldn’t defend herself. I really thought she was gone.”
Finally, Conlon turned to Facebook. She posted a message about the missing cat on her page. That post was seen by Cathy Gregory, Jamestown’s former animal-control officer. Gregory, who held the position for 11 years, reposted the message to a page called Furbaby Alert. She created the page along with LuAnn Botelho last fall for this very purpose.
Within minutes, Gregory and Botelho, a Jamestown school bus driver, were at Conlon’s door. The women were accompanied by Abby, one of Botelho’s two bloodhounds that are trained in search and rescue. The rescue team requested a blanket that the cat had slept on.
It wasn’t long before Abby picked up the cat’s scent, and within a few minutes she had tracked Scooby Doo to a shed on a neighbor’s property. Conlon had already checked the shed, which had a couple of inches of open space underneath, but Abby was insistent.
“They told me that he had the scent, but I couldn’t see anything under the shed,” Conlon said. “They took a stick and cleared away some leaves. There was the cat. I was crying my eyes out.”
Last year Botelho co-founded a volunteer group called American Pet Search and Rescue. There are five members of the group, all bloodhound owners, but Botelho is the group’s only representative in New England. Both of her bloodhounds are certified in tracking and trailing for humans. The bloodhounds rely completely on scent in their searches. Botelho also has an Australian shepherd.
“Abby is really good at pet search and rescue,” Botelho said. “She really knows what she’s looking for. She’s my more experienced dog.”
Beginning in 2007, Botelho and her dogs have been able to locate a number of other dogs, as well as a pet duck and a horse. Her dogs have also helped to locate coyotes on the island so that tracking collars can be put on them. Botelho often hears from shelters that have gotten calls from concerned pet owners. She has also been called in to help with Alzheimer’s patients who have wandered away.
“Last June, an Alzheimer’s patient went missing,” Botelho said. “The dogs honed right in on her.”
Botelho said that a bloodhound will follow a trail no matter what. Even if someone were to jump off a bridge, the dog would follow them over. For that reason, the dogs are always kept on a leash and never allowed to run free. They’re simply too dedicated to their job for their own good, she says.
“They like to pull. They’re very strong dogs. Once their heads are down, it’s tough to control them. You just hold on.”
Gregory said she had just signed on to Facebook when she saw the post from Conlon’s daughter, Molly. She immediately called the Conlons and asked if she would be averse to having the bloodhounds come out. Conlon said she would be happy if they would. Gregory called Botelho, who was just finishing a bus run, and together they headed to Conlon’s house.
“Before I left the house I posted the alert on Furbaby because there are a lot of people in Jamestown who will come and help us,” Gregory said.
According to Gregory, she founded the Furbaby Alert site with Botelho because in the past, when there was a missing pet, their phones would ring nonstop while they were out searching. The calls were coming from people who wanted to help. So the Facebook site became a central location for people to look. When an alert is posted, people who have signed up get a message on their phones providing them with details of the search.
“It cut down on a lot of phone calls being made while we’re out in the field,” Gregory said.
The two women say that the site has grown rapidly since it was started last year. Postings are coming from Newport, Narragansett, Providence, Warwick and even out of state. It helps keep people up to date not only on missing pets, but animal owners can access the site to see if their missing pet has been found.
“This was major training for that dog,” said Gregory. “The fact that the dog was spot on for a cat in an area where there are so many animals, plus our scent was all over the place, is amazing. Kudos to LuAnn. If this was a child, or a person with Alzheimer’s, this would be a good resource for the police to use.”
“It’s so nice that people would even bother,” Conlon said. “I wouldn’t have found her. She was petrified because she’s not used to being outside. It was really nice that people who don’t know me that well would take the time out of their day. It’s a really nice story.”