“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Thoreau.
The above quote by Henry David Thoreau only fits this story if the reader is enamored to irony.
This was hands down one of the best experiences of my career. I learned a ton, messed up huge, looked like an idiot and still somehow came out of it all with an awesome new client who owns two awesome dogs. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
It was an odd phone call on a Thursday afternoon. One of the clients I have been fortunate to get to know personally called with a problem. Actually, the problem belonged to a woman she had just met. I got the rundown from my client and decided to call this woman I had never met about a problem I sort of understood. Right now anyone in just about any service profession knows that this situation can only lead to hilarity.
The woman – let’s call her Becky – had adopted a dog – let’s call her Sandy – from a rescue group. To say this dog had a rough life before being placed with the rescue group would be a touch of an under statement. The poor dog did not know how to live with people and would not come inside. So they were keeping her in an outdoor pen. The problem was; she escaped the pen and had been living in the woods by their home for a few weeks. She would eat food they left out for her and she stayed near their home but she was living in the woods. Winter was coming. As was hunting season. We wanted to have her inside before the flurries and the shooting started.
I thought long and hard about how to trap a dog that was living outside and didn’t want to be trapped. I called and emailed all of the people I could think of. I looked it up online, synthesized what I found online with responses I received from a few experts in the field of wildlife medicine and finally arrived at a plan I thought had a decent chance of success. I called Becky back and we set up a day for me to come out to the house and try to sedate her and capture her.
The day was mild but overcast. A technician and I – let’s call the technician Jess – drove out on the gravel road into a thick hardwood forest with expansive pastures and the beautiful homes that can only belong to craftsmen. The type of homes that someone has to build over a lifetime rather than have thrown up in a few months as a second home near their favorite ski mountain. We pulled into the drive of Becky’s house and met her husband – let’s call him Dave – we chatted a few moments while I laced some canned dog food with the tranquilizers we were going to hopefully capture Sandy with. I made friends with their older Labrador retriever – we’ll call her Lacey – and we discussed the plan. Then we loaded ourselves into the back of an ATV and rode down a carriage path into the forest. We stopped a few hundred yards short of where she was typically fed and we found a comfortable point on the forest floor to wait. It was an old growth forest with tall and sturdy Sugar Maples making up majority of the population. The gravel road was a few hundred yards to our left and just about twenty yards to our right was a steep hill that led to a marsh pond.
The sun burned off the cloud cover while we waited patiently for the dog to eat the laced meal. The plan was simple, after she ate the food and was properly sedated, we would sneak up on her and contain her with a slip lead on a pole. This is sometimes endearingly referred to as the “rabies pole.” Once she was on the rabies pole we were going to place a muzzle on her and lift her into a large crate. There she would peacefully sleep off the tranquilizers and we would get back to the office so I could see afternoon appointments. It was a foolproof plan.
Unfortunately, I’m not a fool. I’m an idiot. And the plan was not idiot proof.
Becky sneaked quietly up to where Sandy ate and placed the laced dog food. We waited patiently and quietly out of sight while Sandy made her way over and ate the meal. It took about forty five minutes for her to become drowsy and eventually she bedded down in some tall grass and didn’t move for over ten minutes. It was time to make our move.
We quietly made our way out to the gravel road and traveled down until we were lined up with where she was laid out on a small knoll. We crept through the brush until I caught sight of her and then with the rabies pole in my hands like a spear held by a gladiator, I began my approach. She saw me coming – likely from the road – but waited until I actually thought I was going to get her on the first attempt before she decided to make a drunken run for it. I was horrified she was going to stumble down the hill and end up passing out in the pond, so I gave chase.
Sandy stumbled her way through the brush because she had been drugged. I stumbled my way through the brush because I am just under six feet tall and uncoordinated. There were a few times where I came close to her but she eventually gave me the slip all together and I made my way back to the house. A little discouraged but not defeated. I still had another dose of tranquilizer. If she wanted to make like she was the Keith Richards of dogs, I was going to indulge her. When we made it back to the house I had Jess return to the office in my car. This was taking a little longer than I expected but I was determined to have Sandy in custody before I left that day.
I mixed up another batch of drug laced canned dog food and we locked Lacey in the house. We were waiting for Dave to get back with the ATV and decided to grab a few glasses of water while we waited. I set the plate of drug laced dog food down on the porch and stepped inside for a moment to place my empty glass by the sink. I opened the door to return outside and Lacey brushed past me on her way back into the house. I went to pick up the plate and noticed something wasn’t quite right about it. In fact everything was wrong. The plate was completely clean. Licked clean. By Lacey. The old, not scared very docile dog had just received a rock star worthy dose of tranquilizers. You know that pit of your stomach feeling when something goes terribly wrong? You know that skin too tight feeling when a well thought out plan has gone completely sideways and there’s no hope for success? I had both of those feelings at the exact same time. I could have burst into tears. Thankfully, before I did that I caught sight of the bumper sticker on Becky’s car that read, “Proud Mother of a United States Marine.” I couldn’t break down and cry over a little set back like sedating the wrong dog and not being able to capture a loose dog on the first attempt in front of a woman who had raised a Marine. She probably wouldn’t have known what to do and might have had to put me down out of pity. So I swallowed hard and tried to shrink the lump in my throat before explaining to Becky what had just happened. She took it surprisingly well and I did my best to explain that Lacey was going to be just fine and would sleep off the dose she had taken while simultaneously trying to keep her from seeing my fingers crossed in hope behind my back.
We went back out in search of Sandy and while we had a few more attempts at snaring her with the rabies pole, we ultimately concluded that it would be best to return another day. We went back to the house where we found a passed out Lacey blocking the kitchen door. I moved her to a dog bed in the living room, apologized for the outcome of the day and walked to the end of the driveway to sulk, call work and wait for a ride back to home base. I dialed my wife to hopefully get some words of encouragement and my phone beeped at me twice to remind me it needed to be fed some electricity and then powered itself off. I sat back and tried to enjoy what had become a sunny and warm Autumn day.
Jess picked me up about fifteen minutes after I called. I took over the driver seat and we drove mostly in silence the whole way back to the office. Once at the office I immediately set out to purchase a blow gun with injection darts and prepared to make a more aggressive attempt at capturing Sandy.
I received a text message a few days later that Becky had finally captured her. I am happy to report that both Sandy and Lacey are doing fine and neither dog has lost any of their faith in me. Fortunately, neither has Becky.
I still haven’t used the blow darts to restrain an animal but I practice all the time and am pretty good with it. So if you ever have a need….
Thanks for reading.