February 13, 2019
January 7, 2019 Vancouver, Canada
On Monday it was raining in North Vancouver. In January it’s always raining in North Van.
I climbed into my rain gear and hiking boots, and collected my lunch, phone, travel mug of coffee, and wallet. With the phone attached to the dash, and the day’s first podcast lined up (the Archers, a long-running BBC soap opera) I checked my schedule and pulled my indestructible Ford Ranger pick-up truck out onto the road.
Like most writers I have always had a day job: I co-own a dog-walking company called Four Legs Good, and take groups of dogs out for off-leash trail hikes in the mountains outside of Vancouver.
See the lovely dog riding beside me in my truck? Do you know her name? I don’t. I had just finished loading six dogs into my truck after an hour and a half on the trails. This happy girl became an extra passenger.
I met her as she wandered down Millstream Road in West Vancouver, following her favorite mail carrier. He even knew where she lived, so I tried to take her home, but the house was locked, and no-one answered the door.
Finally I dropped her off at the West Vancouver SPCA. All in all this little girl cost me an hour or more of my time, a side trip from the British Properties down to Park Royal, and her owners the time and expense of recovering her. Plus who knows how much worry when they found that she was gone. All for the sake of a five dollar name tag.
As a commercial dog walker I’m handling dogs all of the time. And like most other walkers, I also wind up taking care of lost dogs on a regular basis. Whether it’s the time of day, or the truck, or just a positive doggy “vibe”, you can bet that the dog that’s been wandering your neighbourhood all afternoon will come up to me and say “Hi! I’m lost! Please take me home!” And truly, I’m delighted to do it, but first I have to know who she is and how to find her owners.
If you own a dog it needs a collar. A collar that’s around his or her neck, and fastened securely. And on that collar you need a name tag, with the puppy name, and the phone number to call when I find her. Yes your dog has the proper municipal license tag, and possibly a rabies tag as well. He or she is likely micro-chipped and tattooed to boot, but none of these are much use to me, or to most people who might meet your dog on the street. What we really want is your phone number so that we can bring Rover home.
Now, about that collar. It has to be on the dog. All the time. Yes, I know that Fluffy likes to lounge about sans collar at home, but he’s just not organized enough to put it back on before leaving.
I’ll repeat: the collar has to be on the dog. All the time. Just because your dog is at home – even if he or she is inside the house, with the doors locked and the alarm set – you should still assume that a Great Escape is imminent, and leave the collar on.
Having your dog escape is not a reflection on you, or your worth as a dog owner. Sooner or later every dog finds a reason to wander off, chase a squirrel, check out the neighbor’s garbage. It’s a dog thing, like shedding, and drooling, and snatching that piece of toast of the kitchen table when your back is turned.
Our poster girl? She wasn’t wearing a collar or tags, but she was wearing a electric fence “shock” collar. Was it turned off? Were the batteries dead? Was she just happy to ignore it as she dashed off of her property? I have no idea, but it didn’t slow her down.
Nine times out of ten when we find a lost dog it’s slipped away from home – through the back door, under the fence – you would be amazed how many ways a dog can escape. Trust me. My own dog has been known to sneak out of the house and go play in Princess Park.
As an owner your obligation is to expect it, and be prepared. It’s good to check your fences and fix holes. It’s good to teach your dog recall, and encourage her to respect boundaries. But it’s also good to plan for the worst – just the way you would with a young child. The dogs that we find are only a block or less from home, and half the time the dog owner is at home too, but there’s no way we can know that.
The first step is always to look for a name tag, and call the owner. So do yourself, your dogs, and your local dog walkers a big favour and add a tag saying “My Name is Fang, and my phone number is 555-1212.”
Special hint: If your dog does get lost while you’re hiking the North Shore trails you can ask any commercial dog walker for help – we’ll spread the word to everyone walking that day to keep an eye out.