Bringing home... Riley

Riley was missing one  month... to the minute!

Me and Riley... reunited

First night home... finally everyone can sleep!

Skinny boy... safe!

One tired dog... glad to be home

Hey Karin,

I tried to write what the past 4 weeks have been like for me. It's lengthy.

I am an actor who works as a tutor to make ends meet. On December 16, 2011, I started an acting class that was supposed to change my life.
My life did end up changing that day, but not the way I expected.

After class, I had a student in Malibu. Toward the end of the lesson, I received a phone call from my friend who was watching my dog, Riley, while I was in class and working. This friend often watches Riley when I'm on vacation or working for more than a few hours, and her dog is Riley's best buddy. As I was still teaching, I ignored the phone call and finished with my student. When I left the student's house at 8pm, I listened to the voicemail from my friend. "Veronica, this is Viki. Call me back as soon as you get this." I knew at once that something was wrong with Riley. When I called her back, Viki informed me that when they got home from their gig that evening, they couldn't find Riley anywhere.

On my way home, I tried to calm myself down. Riley is a pretty anxious puppy. He doesn't like to be away from me. In fact, when I leave him at Viki's, he knows that when it gets dark, it means that I will be there soon, so he waits by the front door. He had pretty bad separation anxiety from the time that I adopted him from the Seal Beach Animal Shelter, and, though it's gotten better over the 3 years that I've owned him, he still pines for me when I'm not there. So I thought that, surely, he couldn't have gotten very far. He was probably so scared that he would stay close and they'd find him before I got home.

I was wrong. I arrived an hour later, and there was still no sign of Riley. Viki and her husband Sean, my roommate, and a few mutual friends had been combing the neighborhood for over an hour by the time I got there, and no one had seen Riley or met anyone who had. My roommate and I walked the neighborhood and surrounding parks for hours. Eventually my boyfriend got off from work and joined us, but to no avail. During the wee hours of the morning, my roommate suggested we quit for the night. "I don't know how to stop while he's still out here," I told her, and then for the first time, I broke down and cried. We did go home, but that way of thinking stuck with me through the next 4 weeks of hell. I think that's what kept me from giving up - I didn't know how to stop looking while he was still out there.

The first 2 days, we didn't know what we were doing. We made up flyers and hung them on lampposts and signs on the major streets around where he was lost. We left them in all the businesses that had something to do with pets - there's a petco right around the corner from where he escaped; we gave them to vets that were close to the area as well. By the end of day 3, I was an absolute mess. I wasn't sleeping; I wasn't eating; I wasn't really able to function. My boyfriend, in passing, said, "Wouldn't it be cool if there were a person who used bloodhounds to find missing dogs the way they do missing people?" We got home, he did a quick Google search, and yes, it turns out that there are people who do this. We found Landa Coldiron, and finally, we had a focus. Landa reorganized our search efforts and gave us a clear plan to work with. We stopped hanging
8.5X11 inch flyers and started making fluorescent posters instead. We also made banners to hang at major intersections since the posters are a little small to read while driving. We all felt better, knowing what to do and having clearly defined tasks to accomplish.

We had quite a few setbacks. The city of Burbank doesn't allow the everyday citizen to just hang posters or banners. We didn't find this out until the city called me to take them down. I had to apply for a permit, take down the posters, re-size them to fit the specifications of the city ordinance, and rehang them. I also had to take down all the banners because, unlike the permit for posters, the permit for banners is not free. We wasted 2 entire days that could otherwise have been used to search, just taking down what we had already hung and redoing it. The take-away is this: if your pet is missing, find out the laws in your city BEFORE you go around hanging things. Some "concerned citizen" might turn you into the police, like what happened to us. And then you've wasted time. Do it legally the first time and save yourself the extra stress.

We finally had the posters fixed to the correct specifications and now it was just a waiting game. I'm not so good at waiting. While we waited, we posted on Craigslist every day in both Spanish and English, checked the found dog ads, placed an ad in the local paper, went to every shelter in a 30 mile radius (and by the way, SOMEONE needs to make a list of all the shelters in Southern California, both public and private so that there is an easily-accessible list.)

We met some really amazing people along the way. Our first sighting actually came through one of these amazing people. We visited the South LA Animal Shelter, and a woman named Andrea asked us for a flyer. She sent it to everyone on her email list, and those people forwarded it to everyone on their lists. A friend of a friend of Andrea's saw Riley about 3 miles north of my friend's house where he escaped. At this point, he had been missing 10 days and we had had zero sightings of him. This sighting took place 8 days after he went missing, and we didn't hear about it for 2 days after that. As it turns out, Riley had already moved on, but we didn't know that yet.
We went to the area and hung posters and handed out flyers, talked to people on the streets. It seems that Riley was invisible to everyone but this one woman. So we waited again.

A week later, I received another call. At this point, I was trying alternative methods of finding Riley. I had spoken to two animal communicators.

 I received a call. A waitress at a restaurant called TallyRand had seen Riley at 7:30 right outside the restaurant.
She tried to capture the stray dog, but when he saw her, he turned and bolted in the opposite direction. She didn't know about me or my plight until she went into work and saw the flyer we had posted in the restaurant. She called me then. By the time we got over there and confirmed the sighting, it was 9:00. We still put up a bunch of posters in the area, drove through the neighborhoods, calling his name, handed out flyers and talked to people. No one had seen him other than this one woman. There was a trend developing.

That night, which was New Year's Eve, we attempted what's called a feeding station. We set out food in the area he was sighted and hoped for the best. We stayed there for a few hours. A cat turned up, but that was it.

By this time, we had "celebrated" Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day without my baby. But it didn't feel like the holiday season without him. Nothing felt right. There were so many times that I wanted to give up. Not because I didn't want to find him, but because I couldn't handle the grief. The not knowing was literally driving me insane. At this point, I called Landa again. At the beginning, Landa had informed me that she specializes in toy breed dogs and cats. Other than that, she doesn't really use her search dogs to find what's termed "roaming" dogs. At this point, though, I was almost begging her to make an exception. She returned my phone call, saying, "I have a colleague I think you should get in touch with." She gave me the phone number for Karin TarQwyn, canine Private Investigator.

Unfortunately, Karin was out of town on another case. She gave me the phone number for a former student of hers, who suggested I try the feeding stations again. We did for several days with limited success.
Something was eating the food - turned out to be a cat. One more disappointment.

Just a few days after the second sighting, we received another sighting. This third sighting was over 5 miles away from the second sighting. At this point, if all the sightings were correct, Riley was roaming an area of about 18 square miles. The man who called thought it was a good idea to let me know that he narrowly avoided hitting Riley with his car. The call came in right before the first dress rehearsal for the play I had been cast in only days before Riley went missing. I have never in my life skipped a dress rehearsal until now. My director was obviously less than pleased, but I had to go. As soon as I reached the area, though, I knew we wouldn't find him. The area was large and very industrial. There must have been 50 parking lots with manufacturing plants, all with hundreds of places to hide.
At this point, the sheer enormity of what I was facing settled in yet again. That night I was barely coherent. I was sobbing - literally sobbing - in the car almost the entire time my boyfriend and I were searching. This was probably my lowest point. I imagined that Riley was probably dead, and of course, my mind went to all the worst possible scenarios because that's the way I think. It took me 2 hours to drag myself out of bed the next morning. It seemed so futile. At this point, he had been missing almost 3 weeks, and it seemed less and less likely that I would ever find him or know what happened to him.

I can't stress enough how lucky I've been in the people I met throughout this. There were obviously some jerks - for example, I receive prank calls and experienced someone taking down my signs. But those few negative people we met were vastly outnumbered by the amazing people who turned out to help us. People I'd never met were calling me almost on a daily basis to let me know that they were driving around looking for Riley. The Burbank Shelter was also very helpful, calling me when there was a sighting of a dog that matched Riley's description, and coming out to help search whenever I got a sighting.

The most incredible story of what good people are still left is probably this: When we finally did get a chance to hire Karin TarQwyn, we had already run through my entire savings trying to find Riley, so we didn't have the money to book her. One woman we randomly met at a gas station suggested we start fundraising. So we did. The response was immediate and overwhelming. We collected over half the money we needed in less than 24 hours! One woman even donated $500 to our recovery efforts! We hired Karin and set a date for her to come down with her search dogs to start tracking Riley. In the meantime, we were to count the posters that were still up and alert Karin if there were any more sightings. I wasn't hopeful.

On Friday January 13, exactly four weeks, to the minute, after Riley went missing, I received a phone call. A man said that there was a dog that matched Riley's description living underneath his friend's house. He gave me the address and phone number. Once I was on my way, I called Karin. She wasn't scheduled to come until the following Tuesday, but she was kind enough to walk me through the procedure of luring a roaming dog to you. After a certain amount of time, dogs revert to a very instinctual way of surviving. They don't really register the people around them - even their owners. Karin warned me not to be surprised if Riley didn't recognize me. She told me it could take quite a while to lure Riley out of the crawl space, if it was even him under there. There was a very specific protocol to follow to make sure I had the best chance of recovering Riley. I was to have some chicken with me to throw in his direction to try to get him to come closer to me so I could grab him (absolutely no lunging allowed).
If I couldn't get him out with food, then after 30 minutes, we would try luring him with his best doggie friend. If that didn't work, we'd have to corral him using safety fencing from Home Depot and have someone crawl in after him, knowing he would probably bolt out the other way. Karin walked me through every step and made sure I understood everything before I got there.

When I reached the house, the very nice couple who had been leaving food for Riley showed us where the crawl space was where he had been hiding. Luckily, the yard was fenced in, so if we did have to crawl in after Riley, he definitely would not be able to bolt away. The husband had checked right before we got there - the dog was definitely in the crawl space. He shined the flashlight into the crawl space, but I was unable to see the dog to ascertain his identity - he was hiding from the light. I had my chicken ready to throw into the crawl space as Karin had instructed. I called Riley's name like she told me and was just about to throw the chicken when he poked his head out and slowly but steadily made his way to me. "Viki, it's him" was all I could say.
He took the chicken gently from my hand, then jumped on me, whimpering. I took hold of his collar, with no sudden movements, just like Karin told me to do. "The goal is to get him in the car," she had told me, "Don't celebrate or love on him until he's in the car.
You don't want to scare or startle him. Just get him in the car."
And that's exactly what I did. I held tight to his collar - not because he was trying to get away, but because he was trying to jump up and lick my face and Viki's. I worked very hard to maintain my calm as Viki was crying next to me and Riley was whimpering and trying to jump on me from the other side. I led him from the crawl space to the car - I say I led him, but really, he was ahead of me, struggling to get the car as soon as possible. He knew the car was his way to safety and home. I am very proud of myself. I held it together quite well as I got him into the car. Once I shut the door, I broke into tears. It was finally all over.

This has been the single most stressful 4-week period of my life. I
am no stranger to crises or grief, but not knowing where he was or what was happening to him was worse than the deaths of grandparents or my sister. That might seem weird or unnatural, but at least after the death of family members, I wasn't worried about them being hit by a car or getting eaten by coyotes. I also lost a lot of weight really quickly, and not in a good way. I've been telling my friends, "This is definitely not the best diet, but it's the easiest one to stick to
- too queasy from stress and grief to eat." Another common joke my friends and I have been saying: "If we tried this hard in our careers, we'd all be famous by now." This experience has dominated and changed my life. I certainly appreciate the people in my life even more than I did before, and I have learned a lot about keeping my family safe.

If your pet is missing, please, don't give up. He/she is out there somewhere, and if you're persistent and tenacious, you will be able to find him/her or at least find out what happened to him/her. I know throughout this, what kept me from giving up is the thought of what I would have to go through if I did give up. Persistence was really only the lesser of two evils: I knew I would not be able to forgive myself if I never found out what happened to my baby boy. I got really lucky, and I'm very aware of how lucky I got. But know that you can be that lucky, too. If you give up, you won't be. Taking the easy way out to avoid grief will actually only prolong it. I am proof that even if nothing seems to be going right, you can still have a happy ending.

Veronica W... Burbank, CA.




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