The dog was beautiful, rambunctious and obviously lost.
No one knew where she had come from, but she was sending the final moments of a 26-teenager sleepover at our church into utter chaos.
The dog was a German shepherd. She had bounded into the church parking lot Saturday morning from who knew where. As parents picked up their kids following an all-night event — a sleepover in which barely anyone had slept — the dog kept trying to nose her way into every car door that opened.
She looked to be a half-grown puppy and was certainly wild: barking occasionally, wagging her tail, jumping on every kid that exited the church and darting away from my attempts to catch her by one of the two collars she was wearing. Then she ran across a busy two-lane road next to the church – twice – as my heart leaped to my throat.
“Come back!” I yelled. “Come back!”
We are dog people. Our family owns a couple of them — two lazy, good-natured mutts that we adopted from a fantastic local rescue and pet adoption agency.
More than 40 million households in America own at least one dog. Like most of those folks, we consider our dogs to be part of our family. Our four kids love the dogs unconditionally and treat them the way we wish they would treat each other. (We have two cats, too, but they consider themselves to be estranged members of our household. They show up only when hungry and have never forgiven us for adopting the dogs.)
Two collars, no tags
This German shepherd was obviously part of someone else’s family. And she did come back to the parking lot.
As she tried to make friends with another kid, I caught her in midleap. Then I checked the two collars – one red, one blue. Neither had any identification – no rabies tag, either — but one of the collars was linked to a brand of invisible fencing. I held the dog away from the departing teenagers and had my wife bring us a leash from home.
Then I put the dog in the car, dumped some water into a cup holder for her to drink and started driving around. The dog was happy, riding in the front seat as if it had done so 100 times.
I was looking for signs of invisible fencing (hard to find for obvious reasons) or somebody with a leash in hand, forlornly calling out a dog’s name.
This was not our first ticket on the “Found Dog” carousel. It was actually our fifth.
We live in a very rural area, so occasionally a dog wanders up to our house. We have found their owners twice before – once by going door-to-door through a couple of neighborhoods and once by calling around.
One time — for an enormous, slobbering bulldog that looked like the University of Georgia’s mascot and showed up on Christmas Day — the return took about 24 hours. The other time, for a smaller mixed breed, it took only about 12.
On two other occasions, we never had any luck. We ended up finding those two dogs good homes, though – we fostered one of them for nine months first.
We have figured out it always makes sense to go to the nearest veterinarian when you find an unidentified pet. Sometimes they know the dog. At the least, vet offices are full of understanding, pet-friendly people with good ideas. They also can often check to see whether the dog is “microchipped” with a form of identification that has been inserted under the skin.
This sounds great in theory, but we were already 0-for-4 in microchip technology working for us after we find a dog and get it “checked for the chip.”
Look, pet owners, if you’re going to have a microchip, you have to update the microchip company with your contact information or else it won’t do you a bit of good.
A 49-pound puppy
Sure enough, the German shepherd had a microchip, but it wasn’t registered to its current owner. It was registered to a breeder. The microchip company left a phone message with the breeder, who didn’t answer the call that day and still has not called back.
The invisible fence tag was also a dead end. It was not up to date, either.
The vet examined the dog for free and weighed her, too (49 pounds). He said she appeared to be a purebred pup that was about 9 months old. She had recently been spayed. He also said she might need a rabies shot given her lack of a tag, so I bought her one.
“Can you take her home for awhile?” the vet asked.
We put her outside our house in a large dog crate, worrying a little about introducing a large German shepherd puppy into a house where two smaller but somewhat territorial dogs already live.
The three dogs couldn’t see each other, but they sure smelled each other. An avalanche of barking ensued.
Facebook can be a pet owner’s best friend, and so I posted a picture of the German shepherd and a few details about finding it. It was quickly shared more than 100 times as people offered various suggestions as to how to find the owners. Several people said they would adopt the dog themselves if the owner wasn’t found.
'The man who lost the dog'
About three hours after the dog first came into our lives, the phone rang. It was the vet’s office.
“The man who lost that dog is here,” they said. “You want to speak to him?”
I had the man identify a few details about the dog that weren’t evident in the photo or in what I told the vet. It was his, all right.
The man had been at work all night, he said, and while he was asleep the next morning, the dog had broken through her invisible fence. He lived fairly close to the church where we found the dog. He promised he was going to update the microchip technology, the dog’s tags and its fencing situation. He sounded sincere and apologetic.
Twenty minutes later, my 10-year-old daughter and I watched as the dog hopped out of our car and bounded into the man’s arms, licking him repeatedly on his face. It was a cool reunion.
Moral of the story
The whole thing took only about four hours on a Saturday morning. And it had nothing to do with sports.
But if you are reading this far, you are probably a dog person, too, and I thought you might get a kick out of it. If you have a similar tale, email it to me at email@example.com – I’m a sucker for dog stories.
And there’s one final moral to all this that bears repeating.
Please, if you own a dog, make sure it has updated, identifying information somewhere on its collar and tag. Of the five dogs we have found and tried to return over the years, not a single one has had anything like that.
You owe that not only to yourself but to your dog. And, if you also have a microchipped pet, make sure that information is updated, too. No one wants to unnecessarily lose a best friend. But in our experience, it sure happens a lot.