By Marlene Petersen
It’s one of the worst moments a dog owner can face: the beloved four-legged member of the family is missing. Anxious and often untrained on how to conduct an effective search, families frequently meet with mixed success. But now, thanks to a volunteer group in Minneapolis known as The Retrievers, dogs are coming home.
The group was founded in March 2014 by Devon Thomas Tredwell, Jen Eidbo, Greg James and Jessica Peterson. The Retrievers’ mission is the same today as it was a year ago: “We help families bring their missing dog home and ensure the safety of stray dogs,” says co-founder Devon Thomas Tredwell. “We do this to bring peace and closure to families and to prevent the death of dogs on the loose.”
The four founders originally worked together as volunteers for Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota (RAGOM), a Golden Retriever rescue, where they discovered a need for their specific skills in recovering lost dogs.
“After working individually on a few searches for lost RAGOM dogs, we formed a team of volunteers that would be ready to respond with established processes, equipment and techniques whenever a RAGOM dog went missing,” says Tredwell. “We realized we could help many more dogs if we had an independent group. We now have about a dozen people on the team, including those in training.”
As the only volunteer lost dog team in this part of the country, The Retrievers’ offers their time and services at no charge as a public service, relying on donations to fund recovery efforts.
Looking high and low
Far beyond placing flyers around town, The Retrievers find lost dogs by setting live, humane traps; maintaining trail cameras and feeding stations; and offering phone consultations and tutorials on its website. One of the co-founders even invented a special enclosure that has proven more successful than some commercial traps.
“For one case involving a missing puppy mill dog in the northwoods of Minnesota, Greg James invented an enclosure trap which was much bigger than the commercial small trap that the family was using to try to catch [their dog, Missy]. We sent the trap up north, and the first night it was deployed, Missy was caught. Word spread about ‘the Missy Trap,’ and we began getting requests for trapping non-RAGOM dogs.”
Although the group primarily provides services within the state of Minnesota, The Retrievers offers consultations and advice to those farther away, including one Oregon family whose Husky had been lost for almost seven months. After consulting with The Retrievers and building its own Missy Trap, the family found its dog within days.
Ending the search
Unfortunately, not all of The Retrievers’ cases go smoothly; sometimes even getting started can be a challenge.
“Often, the hardest part of this job is steering owners and volunteers toward the most effective tactics,” says Tredwell. “What brings a lost dog home most often is awareness—an entire community who knows about the dog and is watching for him. But so often, instead of passing out flyers or putting out intersection signs, people just want to walk around and look for the dog. Unfortunately, this tactic has a very low success rate.”
Even with the best tactics and most dedicated volunteers, the search can take weeks and still end in tragedy, as was the case with a missing Rochester dog, Jackson, this winter.
“At the point when I got involved, the family had already set out a live trap,” recalls Tredwell, “but it was not being monitored by camera. I brought a Retrievers trap and cellular trailcam, which takes a photo when it is activated by motion, then sends it via email to our team within a minute. We also put one of our cameras on the family’s trap.”
The family and other volunteers worked with The Retriever team to create and monitor a Facebook page, saturate Rochester with signs, and document sightings using Google Maps. These tools revealed that the dog was travelling all over Rochester, never settling in one spot, something crucial to a successful trapping situation. Eventually, a family member spotted the dog in Bear Creek but wasn’t able to catch him.
“We had to try to slow him down,” recalls Tredwell, “so I asked supporters in Rochester to put out feeding stations at their homes in the hopes that he might stumble across one and make a habit of returning to it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. He was apparently too anxious and never found an area where he felt safe enough to settle in.”
Sadly, the long, difficult search ended tragically when a Rochester resident called and said she had found Jackson’s body in the backyard of her home near Indian Hills.
“It’s always crushing when a search ends this way,” says Tredwell. “Retrievers’ team members grieve alongside the families of deceased dogs. We console each other too, because sometimes it’s our own teammates who find the dog’s body, and that’s a hard sight to see—harder still to break the news to the family. The only silver lining is that the dog was found, and the family can be free to begin their healing process.”
Marlene Petersen is a Rochester freelance writer.
For more information about The Retrievers or to make a donation that will help more lost dogs come home, visit www.theretrievers.org or follow The Retrievers’ cases on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheRetrieversLostDogTeam.