Thursday, Day 1
Just after midnight on New Year’s Day, she was gone—my long-distance running buddy, Rylee, an obedient 18-month-old German shorthaired pointer. She had been sleeping on the couch, and as our friends exited the front door after a fun New Year’s Eve party, out she ran, spooked by the fireworks. My wife, Allison, screamed, “Grab her!” as I felt her smooth hair slip through my hands. But it was too late. She was gone into the black night.
Our gated south Florida neighborhood is surrounded by water and fencing. Rumors of hungry alligators and of poisonous Bufo species toads abound. Where could she be? Her collar with her rabies tag, which was removed before bedtime, was lying on the kitchen table.
One of our friends jumped in the car to search with Allison. The other couple took a second car, while I ran with a flashlight up and down the street calling her name. We notified the local police, who joined the search at 2:30 a.m. with bright lights, but there were too many places for her to hide. At 4:30 a.m. we suspended the search until daybreak.
By 6:30 that morning I was on my bike and riding through the community—15 miles up and down streets, stopping in backyards, calling out her name. Nothing. Allison was outside hanging up posters in our community, but I felt I had to do more. Upon my urging and against her better judgment, Allison secured a helicopter and a pilot to help me scan the dense bushes and waterways that surround our homes. To complicate matters, the sky was darkening, and it began to rain. Within minutes, we were over our community, hovering 300 feet above our streets and waterways for over an hour. Still, no sight of Rylee.
Allison announced Rylee’s disappearance and our plight on Facebook and bought advertising to reach 40,000 people. She posted Rylee’s picture and information under the lost-and-found section on Craigslist and FindFido. I drove to the Fort Lauderdale Humane Society and Animal Control to make sure she wasn’t picked up, turned in or dead. No one had seen her. I dropped off her posters at all the local veterinary practices, hoping that someone might bring her in if she was found injured.
Her second evening out alone was quickly approaching. Allison called a pet psychic, who saw a large hedge next to a swimming pool and Rylee still in our community. She recommended that we fry some hamburger meat (not something that we vegans would have on hand), walk down the block near an open field, sit on the curb and loudly remark how the food tasted. Allison found a can of beef dog food and fried it. At 11 p.m. we walked home to an empty yard once more.
Friday, Day 2
Allison and I were up by sunrise, walking behind the homes in the community to see if she was in the underbrush. Our “gated” community is rife with areas of downed fences and sharp wires poking up. She could have easily crawled out and headed west to the Everglades or into someone’s car.
One of my clients emailed the website of a professional pet tracker, Karin TarQwyn from Nebraska, who employed a local tracker named Jamie. The company boasts a 90 percent recovery rate. Ironically, the longest track they’d done was 50 miles for a German shorthaired pointer, just like our Rylee. Her first suggestion was to get larger laminated signs from an office supply store, wooden stakes and zip ties. Jamie would meet us at 10 a.m. on Saturday with three tracking dogs to begin the search. She advised us to get an object with Rylee’s scent and wrap it in gauze.
Saturday, Day 3
At 5:30 a.m. I met with my running group outside our neighborhood, asking them to be eyes and feet on the ground. I spent the next four hours running through swampland calling Rylee’s name to no avail. Jamie, the tracker, arrived at 10 a.m. with three of her dogs: Fletcher, an air-sniffer tracker; Kaya, a nose-scent tracker; and a third dog that we weren’t introduced to. The office supply store let us know that the order of 100 signs was too big for them to handle and that they could get the order done in three days rather than by 5 p.m. as promised. Jamie argued with the manager, and they informed us that some or all of them would be ready by 5 p.m.
Fletcher was all business. Jamie gave him Rylee’s scent and he began tracking. When he was finished, Jamie took the second dog out, who followed the exact path. Jamie emailed the route to Karin in Nebraska. Both felt Rylee was out of the community. Jamie asked us if we wanted Karen to bring the super tracking dogs from Nebraska. The answer was “yes.” Karin made plans to bring three of her dogs and placed her other dogs in boarding, promising to be at our house in 29 hours. Allison went to pick up the signs, argued with the manager (who wanted to charge double the quoted fee), brought them home and attached them to the stakes. From my office, Dr. Hannah Duranleau, Dr. Elizabeth McMorran, her husband Siggi, our son Dr. David Bellows and Tiffany Grande got directions from Jamie on where to place the signs. Allison and I were out until midnight, exhausted, with 12 more signs to go. It was going to be Rylee’s third night alone, and we hoped she was dognapped—at least she would be inside.
Sunday, Day 4
I went out with the remaining signs by 6:30 a.m. and discovered that all of the signs placed in the local country club were gone. Their management doesn’t allow them. Allison took a call at 9:15 a.m. from a man named Bob, who lives about a mile from our house. He said he had Rylee. He explained that he saw something in the bushes near his home as he was walking his dog and went over to see what it was. He could see that it was a dog and was able to coax her out from the bushes. She was in bad shape, he explained, couldn’t walk and tried to pull herself toward him. He picked her up and carried her to his home. He then called us after seeing the posters. Allison and I sped to the home and found Rylee. She was lying on the floor bleeding from her mangled paws, but she was alive. Time to have a good cry.
Once we found Rylee, it was time to assess her injuries. All four of her feet were swollen and bleeding. We’re not sure why.
Perhaps she was trying to claw her way out of danger on her way toward home. Her blood values were consistent with infection, dehydration and malnutrition (a low protein concentration). Culture of her feet found multisensitive bacteria.
Part of Rylee's rehabilitation for her sore feet involved acupuncture.
Relaxation was also prescribed.
Now, three months later, she is back to running mega mileage, but she still has a claw bed disease where the sides of four claws grow but not the middle, creating hollow keratin structures.
We are not sure where Rylee spent the four nights—did she make it out of the community but then claw her way back? Why were her feet in such bad shape? She was a runner, used to 20 milers without a scratch. What happened? Only Rylee knows, and she is not talking. (Click here for an overview of what measures worked—and measures didn't work—in the search for Rylee.)