Q. Do you really think Marisol is still out there? Why?
Dogs are tough, and we’ve heard many stories of dogs being found several months to multiple years after being lost. Mari in particular is a savvy dog. She was born in the streets of Puerto Rico and survived for 7 months on her own before being rescued. We adopted her a week after she was taken off the streets. We are realistic and know about all of the threats out there, from cars to other animals to the weather, and we’re also working with realistic professionals. They’ve looked over our sighting data. The sightings indicate she’s still out there, so we’re keeping up the search.
Q. What is the rescue plan?
At this point, Marisol is a feral dog, which doesn’t mean that she’s dangerous, just that she isn’t thinking like a pet. If she sees someone, her instinct isn’t to run up to them and play but to hide, watch, and stay safe. Her first priority is safety then food and then shelter. This makes catching her tough.
The recovery plan is simple:
- Collect sightings to figure out where she is.
- Set a feeding station to try to get her to visit one spot regularly.
- Set traps to catch her. (This is where the Animal Rescue League steps in).
We’ve had sightings in a narrow enough location to set feeding stations a couple of times but haven’t had luck at that step yet. A couple of things have happened to bump her out of areas where she’d settled. Most recently a coyote found the feeding station and returned several times and then marked the area. Mari hasn’t been to that area since (thankfully), so we’re trying to figure out if she’s settled down in a new spot yet and if so where that might be. That’s where sightings come in!
Q. Should I leave food out for her?
While this is a generous impulse, please don’t. The goal is to attract her to one spot, and if Mari’s finding food all over the place, there’s no reason for her to visit the feeding station. It sounds cruel, but we aren’t even supposed to leave much food at the feeding station. The point is to keep her a little hungry so she keeps coming back, and then we can trap her. The Animal Rescue League told us that we should set no more than two feeding stations, and those should be at the edges of where she’s roaming so if she doesn’t get to one, she can still find the other. If the area is fairly tight, one station is okay.
Q. Why not put sedatives in her food?
Sedatives can take several minutes to kick in, and Mari can wander some distance in that time. It isn’t safe for a sedated animal to be out in the wild when she can’t fend for herself or run away from a predator.
Q. If I see Marisol, should I make eye contact with her?
While humans find eye contact to be reassuring, to dogs it’s a sign of establishing dominance. Trying to make eye contact with Mari could appear threatening to her, and we want her to feel safe. Looking away and letting her look you over and sitting down so you’re physically smaller are two ways of appearing less threatening.
Q. If I see Marisol, what should I do?
Try not to startle her. She won’t bolt unless you chase after her or call at her, so just be quiet and still, and if it’s possible, try to look her over as she checks you out. Is she wearing a collar? What does her tail look like? Does she look skinny or a normal weight? Also get a good sense of your surroundings, and then call us right away with a description of where you saw her and how she looked. She probably won’t approach you, which is fine. As mentioned above, we’ll need to trap her, and we need sightings to help set feeding station locations, so those are extremely important.
Q. What does “roaming dog” mean?
Lost dogs have different behaviors based on how they got lost (did they escape from a backyard or was it a traumatic incident?) to how far they’ll wander. Mari is in one of the trickier categories. She’s a roaming dog, and they usually travel a 1-2 mile radius in a circle. She has been doing a loop of about a 1 1/2 mile radius. She has revisited several spots across all of the towns that border the Fells, but her loop is so large and spans so many days that it’s hard to identify a regular pattern unless she picks a spot and settles down for a bit.
Q. Does Marisol have a collar with tags?
When she was lost she had a collar with 3 tags (her 3 year rabies vaccination, the town license, and her name + phone number). We had two sightings in February when two people reported seeing Mari or a Mari-like dog who didn’t have a collar. At this point we don’t know. It’s possible she lost the tags and has the collar or that everything was obscured by her fur (which gets really thick in the winter!). The sightings could also have been of another dog (they were close together).
Q. Is there a pattern to the sightings?
We’ve had fairly contained patterns a couple of times, which is when we set feeding stations. At other times Marisol wanders following her own dog logic, and we don’t know if something bumped her out of the area or if she moved to try to find a better food source. The main thing is that she’s sticking to the Fells and surrounding neighborhoods, so even when she’s wandering, she’s keeping to her 1 1/2 mile radius.
Q. How far can a roaming dog travel over a 24-hour period?
Any dog can travel several miles in a day. When Andrew and I would take Mari hiking in the Fells, we’d do 4-5 mile hikes in an afternoon. The biggest issue with recovering Mari isn’t distance, though. Since the warm November when she’d come out and play with other dogs, she has become much more of a hider during the day and is scavenging overnight. Extended daylight hours and warmer weather help and will hopefully bring her out more, but given her current hours, we’re (understandably) getting fewer sightings.
Q. How did Marisol get her name?
We adopted Mari during a trip to Puerto Rico when we were volunteering with “sato” rescuers. Her shelter name was “Mahiru” which we liked but was a little tough to say, and we wanted to give her a Puerto Rican name. “Mar y sol” means “sea and sun” which we thought was perfect for our new Puerto Rican pup.
Q. What does it mean for the search that she’s thinking like a feral dog and not like a pet?
The first thing is that Mari isn’t dangerous — just because she’s feral doesn’t mean she’s going to attack people. What it actually means is that in surviving on her own for all of this time, her priorities have changed from those of a pet. A pet gets regular food and shelter and has a pack for protection. Mari as a pet was confident and quirky and playful. Right now she’s trying to survive, so if she thinks something might be a threat, she isn’t going to stick around to investigate, she’s going to get somewhere she knows is safe. Her top priority is safety and then food and finally shelter, so she’s likely to keep on the move to stay safe and to find food, and if she finds a quiet area with a stable food source, she may stick around long enough to settle into a regular shelter.
Q. Is it possible that she will approach a person who stays quiet and lies low while putting out a treat of some sort?
It’s possible but not probable. Experienced animal rescuers have all told us that when a dog has been out for this long, it can take hours of patient sitting and waiting for a lost dog to even approach her owner. It varies from case to case, but basically, a dog is much shorter than a human and sees legs, not features. When humans speak, she isn’t listening for words and commands. Noise is simply a warning, and a loud calling noise is a threat.
Sitting so your face is visible and you are physically smaller helps — it makes a dog more likely to approach — but we’ve heard stories of owners who got dogs into feeding station routines and instead of trapping would sit by the station and wait for the dog to approach. Owners (even with treats) have had to sit for several hours while the dog ran back and forth wanting to approach and then backing away because of those feral instincts. Sometimes it takes a trap to catch these dogs. Sometimes familiarity overrides instinct and they approach. In either case, it takes a lot of patience and understanding.
Q. What makes a “good” sighting?
We’ve only had two sightings which we think are 95%+ certain — in one instance, Mari ran up to a dog she knew, played for a minute or two, realized she was surrounded by people and dogs, and bolted back into the woods. In the second, we had two sightings in the same area within minutes of each other, and the second caller got close enough to give us an extremely good description.
When we have follow up questions, we ask about size, coloring, markings, tail shape, collar, tags — any details the caller can remember both about the dog’s appearance and behavior. Most sightings are 50/50 — could be Mari, could also be another dog with similar coloring — and we plot those on a map to try to see if sightings match up or if details from one set can help eliminate another. We know of a couple of Mari lookalikes now and have marked them down, as well!
Q. Where was Marisol most recently seen?
We stopped posting locations of sightings after we unintentionally flooded the Fells in an attempt to catch Mari. As soon as the area got busy, she left, which was really upsetting because we’d been getting regular sightings in the area until then.
The good news is that she has been sticking to the Fells and the surrounding neighborhoods — she isn’t running off into other towns — and every so often she finds a smaller area to settle into, which is when we set comfort stations to try to bring her to us.
Q. I really want to help. What’s the most useful thing I can do?
Spread Mari’s story and let people know that this is an active search. Also let people know what they should and shouldn’t do if they see her (basically call us right away with as many details as possible and don’t scare her by chasing her or trying to catch her!). Simply posting to Facebook and Twitter helps us spread the word exponentially.
When it comes to setting comfort stations and trapping, we’re working with a couple of dog rescue professionals (who are working together!) to figure out locations and setup. If you live near the Fells, talk to your neighbors and peek out your window during trash night just in case she’s out scavenging.
There’s an awesome team of volunteers (Marisol’s Army) who poster, check websites, do email outreach, and call shelters/rescues. If we ever need additional volunteers, we’ll post a call on the blog. We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by all of the support and kindness from complete strangers, and I hope Mari can somehow sense the giant pack that’s behind her and rooting for her.