Saturday, September 21, 2013

Lost and found

One day last week, while Wee was driving back to the shelter from feeding his strays, he chanced upon a furry grey mini schnauzer running along the road. Even though this road leading to the shelter isn't usually busy on weekdays, it is traversed by fast moving construction vehicles used to the quietude of the area.

The drivers of these vehicles were unlikely to pay much attention to a tiny solitary short-legged creature far below their line of sight.

This little pooch was in danger.

What made it worse was... Schnauzer girl had a collar with a bell around her neck and looked groomed. She belonged to somebody and wasn't well versed in the ways of the world.

Being Wee, he couldn't walk away.

The little pipsqueak safely on the van on the way to the shelter.

And so the little nameless dog of the unknown background joined our rowdy gang of puppies at the shelter. Needless to say, our little monsters were extremely curious about this alien-looking outsider who appeared seemingly older than them but so much smaller physically. Their persistent sniffing made schnauzer girl worried and the poor dear scurried into the room to avoid the busybodies.

I didn't get to meet her personally. I received the updates (both photos and videos! we're high tech!) via my trusty phone while sitting at my desk... in my office (oops). Being the resident Facebook administrator, I promptly uploaded her photo on our Page and sought for information about her owner.

She's out of place at the shelter!

Lost dog! Lost dog! The world needed to know this girl was looking for her folks. It was a long shot. There were so many dogs that never found their way after they strayed from the path. But our experience taught us that we'd never know if we didn't try. And so we did.

In the meantime, Florence also contacted Lost Paws, a centralised platform for lost pets and pets for adoption, and they helped spread the word.

To our surprise, it didnt take long for Lost Paws personnel to contact us. They had received a call from our lost girl's owner, Jenny and linked us up with her. We arranged for a same day meet up at the shelter for her to pick up the dog.

We later learnt that schnauzer girl had a colourful history. Her name wasn't really schnauzer girl (haha, but of course). It was Dolly - a sweet name for the sweetest girl. She was six years old and was adopted from an animal rescue group who rescued her from the breeders.

Feng, who was on puppy and medicine feeding duty at the shelter that evening, facilitated the meet up. She said Dolly appeared confused to see Jenny at first. There had been just too many upheavals in her life. A split second later though, as if everything suddenly clicked into place, she started showering kisses all over Jenny in a frenzy. Perhaps it dawned on her that she had finally reached a safe harbor.

Lost and found.

And so, the family was reunited under two days.

The world is huge... What were the chances?

It might not have been Lost Paws - it could have been any one of you who helped Dolly find Jenny by sharing our lost notices. 

We had well over 200 shares for each of our two posts. In the grand scheme of things, 200 doesn't sound like a lot. But with each "share", we were able to access your network of contacts and our reach increased exponentially. You know how social media works...

This vast universe became so much smaller because you stopped, you read and you shared.

I don't know if we expressed our gratitude sufficiently adequately on Facebook. We just want you to know that we are immensely thankful to have a community of such wonderful readers.

We feel a special empathy for owners of lost dogs. Because once, seven months ago, one of our own wandered off the beaten path and lost her way as well. Thinking about her and what could have been still brings an awful ache to the heart. 

Her name was Diki and she was rescued from a forested area along with four of her siblings.

Our baby girl at around 3 months old.

We felt a special attachment to this bunch because we were friends with their mother, a wandering stray we call Dollaris. 

Dollaris was an exceptionally intelligent dog who recognized us and was happy to see us... But she never once let us close. Any unexpected movement on our part causes her to back off in a hurry. Dollaris had an endearing habit of picking up the plastic bags of food with her mouth and bringing them back deep into the thicket where she hid her puppies so that they could eat.

The puppies wouldn't survive in the wild. They were born in an area where the authorities visited frequently to curb the stray dog population. On stormy days, there was absolutely no cover for them. They also had to battle with diseases like tick fever that was so prevalent in the wild. 

When Wee had the chance to get close to the puppies, he sprang into action to capture them. I don't know how he did it, but he managed to grab five of them.

First impressions:- Diki and her siblings immediately upon capture.

But oh, I am digressing. That is just the background of how Diki came to be found at the shelter.

The way she was.

Some months later, she was selected by a family who was keen to adopt and we sent her off on her trial homestay filled with hope that she was headed for a better life. The homestay proved successful and the adoption was made official.

The very day we saw her off on her trial homestay. 
I just admonished her for snatching the treats from my hands and there she is looking so happy. 

"We can't find Diki. She got out of her harness and ran off. What should we do?"

I was on the verge of falling asleep when I received a call on my mobile at around midnight in February this year, some months after the adoption had been finalized. It was the worst possible way to be jolted from sleep. 

It emerged that Diki's folks had arranged for her to stay with friends for some weeks. A family member had returned from abroad and they weren't sure if the latter would take to Diki.

Diki came loose from her harness while she was out on a walk with said friends of the adopter. It was the second week of her stay with them.

A shot of Diki at home...

I hated being the bearer of bad news. But I had no choice. I woke Florence up from her sleep and brought her up to date on the situation. 

Together, we worked out a game plan. We needed to organize a search party and we had to organize it fast. This was a race against time. The longer Diki was out in the open, the further we were from ever finding her

We knew the regulars loved our dogs. But we didn't know if we were going too far by waking them up at this time of the night and have them come down to search for our dog. Some of them lived on the other side of the island!

Desperate times called for desperate measures. Florence decided to take her chances and seek help. These were people who watched Diki grow up at the shelter and whom Diki might possibly recognize and respond to if we did manage to track her down. 

About thirteen of our volunteers turned up for duty, regardless of where they stayed or the time of the day. Some drove down, others cabbed. Such a show of support and kindness in the face of our helplessness was humbling. 

Without further ado, our haphazard search begun. We met at the spot where Diki ran loose and diverged from there. We walked and called her name. We stopped passers-by and asked if they had seen a medium sized, cream-coated female dog in the vicinity.

The only shot I took during the search. Our former charge Wanda joined in the hunt. 

Hour on the hour, the irrational glimmer of hope that we were able to locate our 5 month old puppy in this big, big world began to fade away.

There was too much ground to cover. She could be anywhere. 

The night was cold. This neighborhood was strange. Our little girl, now used to a full stomach and a shelter over her head, must be feeling so alone.

Diki, a couple of days before she was lost.

Into the night, we searched and searched... 

Until we got a hit.

Someone tipped off that a cream-coated, frightened-looking dog was spotted wandering at a particular housing estate. And so we zoomed in on our only lead and focused on the estate.

And indeed... 

We found a dog that fit the description. But we simply couldn't get a good glimpse of it. The moment we spotted it sitting amongst the bushes it darted off immediately. All we caught were flashes of it. 

We trailed the dog across a field and under a bridge but failed time and again to get close. We couldn't be sure if it was Diki. Some of us who got a better look didn't think it was our girl. Its tail looked different, they said. But we couldn't give up without being more certain. We lay in wait for the dog to reappear.

Some of us felt it wasn't a match. The stray dog's tail differed from our girl's. 
But it was our only lead.

Minutes passed. And then hours. Dawn was nearing. Fatigue was setting in. We chased the helpers home to catch an extra wink. They had done more than we could ever ask for. It was time to rest. 

While the rest dispersed, a handful of us made one last futile circle around the neighborhood where we last sighted the brown-coated dog. 

We met a domestic helper who was walking her dog in the early hours of the morning. She confirmed that there was indeed a dog straying in the area. But she also said that it had been doing so for a week now, long before Diki was reported lost. 

Our only trail had turned cold. 

Disheartened, we headed back. It was around eight in the morning. Dawn had long broken. 

We caught about an hour's shuteye back home. At ten in the morning, we were back at the shelter.  Our existing dogs had to be showered, walked and fed. We had a full day ahead. A small group of our volunteers, led by Feng, headed back to ground zero to continue the search. I don't think any one of us was ready to give up just yet.

I had posted a lost dog notice on our Facebook page the previous night and left my mobile number. Even though we didn't put up an offer of reward, people were starting to respond the next morning. While the rest continued searching, I began to follow up on some of the leads received.

Our lost dog notice, back when we thought we had a chance.

I can't remember the name of the kind lady who called my mobile. I received a few such calls from members of the public and my recollection is hazy at best. What I do recall is the lady informing me that she had sighted a dog lying prostrate on the expressway near where we were searching at eleven o'clock last night. The dog had apparently been knocked over.

She said the scene left her heartbroken and so she had taken a good look at the dog. She was confident it was our girl, Diki.

She also said she contacted the National Environment Agency (NEA) to locate the current whereabouts of the dog, as the body had since been removed. She informed that NEA said it would get back to her shortly and that she would inform us accordingly. 

I remember the disbelief and the way my heart caught in my chest. "Could it be?" I asked Florence, who was by now looking slightly dazed from lack of sleep. We both knew deep down that there was a very real possibility the lady was right.

And so we took off in the car, me, Florence and Jiawen to drive along said expressway to search, this time, for a body that might be lying at the side of the road. I was driving and Florence was sleep-deprived. Jiawen didn't partake in the previous night's search activities and was able to provide a fresh and alert insight of the situation.

The kind lady caller eventually linked us up with the NEA rep, with whom we spent some time clarifying the situation and whittling down the possibilities of where the body might now be. It eventually surfaced that the NEA contractors had just collected the body and were on their way. We were just in time to stop them before the body was disposed of and we had no means of ever finding out if it was our Diki.

Through the NEA rep, we managed to contact the contractor and arranged to meet at a certain lamp post along the road shoulder on the expressway. In normal times, my sense of direction was already non-existent. In a time of urgency like this when we needed to get to our destination pronto, any remnants of a sense of direction completely jilted me. Jiawen was one of our youngest regular volunteers at the shelter but she managed to navigate me to our exact meeting point with a calmness and maturity far beyond her years. She also handled all my phone calls in between whilst I kept my eyes on the road. I was proud and grateful and sad all at once. But mostly, I was proud. 

Wee didn't have a navigational problem like I did. It took no time for him to meet us at the agreed meeting point in his van.

And so it was time to identify the body.

Florence unwrapped the body from the black garbage bag it was contained in, took one look and nodded.

Identification was positive. It was our girl.

Yup, t'was her.

I kept asking Florence if she was sure, because puppies grow up and change so quickly. We hadn't seen Diki in a month and we could have gotten it wrong. 

I didn't dare leave the driver's seat for too long. We were parked at a narrow road shoulder near a slip road leading to the expressway. The stream of fast moving cars was endless. Getting out of the car itself was tricky.

But I did. I guess I needed to see her for myself.

At first glance, she looked like our baby. Slightly older, longer, taller than when she left the shelter... But the ears, the black snout, the cream colored coat, the tail... Coupled with the location of the expressway a few kilometers from where she first went missing... 

Our little girl was lost no longer. 

Wee wrapped her up and we brought her back to the shelter. I was slightly frantic when I couldn't start my car. Perhaps the night had taken a toll on me. Wee came over to lend a hand and he had no problems getting the engine to work.

Back at the shelter, Wee lay Diki down on a table and began to clean her. This man and the dog he rescued had come a full circle. My heart ached as I watched Wee tenderly wipe away the dried blood from her mouth and body and gently examine her body to assess the trauma she must have gone through.

We might not have found her the way we wanted to. But found her we did. The same cannot be said for many a dog owner out there whose dog got lost and was never again to be seen. Would we have preferred to be in that situation wherein we would at least have been able to keep our hope alive that she was out there somewhere? Or was it better to have found like we did and have closure to the matter?

Frankly, I don't know. Either way, we lose - both literally and figuratively.

Because her brother Darbi resembled her so closely, I think we all leaned toward Darbi for a little comfort the weeks immediately after the tragedy.

It took me seven months to be able to relate this story rationally and without recrimination. But now, my head is clear. We lost Diki forever but in the process, we found some things as well. 

We found a group of generous, kind-hearted regular volunteers who had no qualms about crawling out of bed at unearthly hours to lend a helping hand. The others who couldn't make the late night search joined in early the next morning. These people were no longer just volunteers... They were our friends in our time of need. 

We found compassionate members of the public who readily went the extra mile without seeking a reward of any kind. Every "share" on Facebook, every message on possible leads, every phone call went a long way in helping us locate Diki. 

To the kind lady caller who led us to our baby... We never heard from you again after that last phone call. I don't think we managed to convey to you just how grateful we are for your intervention. It's a long shot... But if by some chance you're reading this, here's thank you from the bottom of our hearts. 

In times of adversity like this, I once again found I could seek solace in Wee, Florence, Feng and Choo. These people knew what I was going through. While each of them had their own grief to confront, they brought comfort in their own different ways. 

Never lost, always loved.

We lost some things, we found some things. I guess life is always trying to teach us that with the bad, come the good too. There are so many lost dog notices around. Were lost dogs always such a common occurrence? Or is social media simply doing its job in turning the spotlight on what has always been the case?

In a world where good homes are in such limited supply, we truly hope that these lost dogs who are loved and cherished manage to find their way back. In this great big world, locating a lost dog is like finding a needle in a haystack. So remember to keep your furry loved one by your side and don't take things for granted. 

Stay safe Dolly. 

Goodbye Diki. Sleep well with the angels. 


  1. Diki has gone to the rainbow bridgr and is with the angels now. I think u guys are the angels for the dogs that you all are caring for now.

  2. Diki has gone to the rainbow bridgr and is with the angels now. I think u guys are the angels for the dogs that you all are caring for now.

  3. I am so sorry about Diki. You write very well and from the bottom of your heart. I decided to help your shelter in ways that I can. God bless you all for loving and taking care of these dogs like your own pets/children. Keep going.

  4. Adopters must be carefully screened. I do not believe that the harness could come off from Diki. To me, it seems like the family that adopted her did not love her enough. How could the adopter allow her friends to take Diki for a walk? Diki needn't have to be killed from such an unwarranted death.


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