Astro Ball’s Nice Massive Journey started one sweltering July afternoon when the 5-year-old, 80-pound Nice Pyrenees-collie combine escaped the yard of a member of the family who was pet-sitting him whereas his circle of relatives was on trip.
That began a far-reaching odyssey as Astro traversed Baltimore County, together with Timonium, Historic Lutherville, Nation Membership Park, Orchard Hills, Kenilworth, West Towson, Ruxton, as far south as Lake Roland, and within the tunnels underneath 695. As distraught homeowners Kathryn and Alex Ball (each former staff of this journal) frantically made their approach again from their tenting journey, they started posting their plight on social media, the place one man was tagged many times.
That man was Bob Swensen, a 59-year-old Baltimore County native, identified amongst canine-loving circles because the Misplaced Canine Man. His Misplaced Animal Useful resource Group has assisted with 1,500 lacking animal instances this previous yr alone. That features canines, cats, horses, turtles, “and different critters.” Swensen, who’s all the time coated in canine hair and is often sporting one thing emblazoned with a canine design, is, no shock, a canine lover. He and his spouse, Jen, have fostered near 80 canines.
However there was one which stood out. Mira—brief for Miracle—a Bichon-poodle combine rescued from a pet mill, is the explanation Swensen obtained into the lost-and-found enterprise within the first place. Mira, who had an affinity for escaping, rehabilitated with the Swensens earlier than being adopted and escaping but once more. Tapping into the foster neighborhood, Swensen realized about monitoring, feeding stations, traps, and the significance of plastering an space with posters. Using these abilities, Swensen, an IT man with an analytical thoughts, discovered Mira, this time in an elevator shaft. It appeared Mira was telling them one thing—in order that they adopted her.
“She’s my lady,” Swensen beams, flipping to footage of Mira on his telephone. (When you ask Swensen what number of canines he and his spouse have he deadpans, “I’ve the authorized three restrict.”) Says Swensen, “After Mira, I simply began serving to folks.”
Most canine homeowners imagine that if their canine obtained free, it could come operating the minute it heard somebody calling its identify. (Or no less than smelled its proprietor holding a deal with.) However that’s not often the case.
“You possibly can’t catch them,” says Swensen. “Survival mode does unusual issues to a canine. It places them in a feral, virtually wild-animal intuition. They’re going to keep away from each risk, each noise, and each motion, even from the homeowners.”
The Balls skilled that firsthand when, on the fourth day of Astro’s escape, they’d adopted some sightings to the sunshine rail tracks in Historic Lutherville close to Entrance Avenue. There they noticed Astro and obtained inside a number of yards of him, however he merely checked out them and walked again into the comb and woods close to the tracks.
“It was heartbreaking to be so shut and be unable to succeed in him or have him acknowledge us in any respect,” says Kathryn. “After we known as Bob and advised him what had occurred, he confirmed that Astro was in ‘survival mode’ and we needed to change our techniques to get him again.”
Within the ensuing days, this occurred a number of occasions. The worst incident was when staff at 84 Lumber advised Kathryn that they heard howling early within the morning and thought they’d noticed Astro by the sunshine rail tracks adjoining to their enterprise. Kathryn, a well being care lawyer, instantly went to the tracks the following morning, the place she heard the distressing sound, too.
“It was like he was lacking his pack. He was hidden in very dense weeds and brush, and I couldn’t see him, however I might hear him. I known as Bob on the telephone, and he talked me via a number of completely different techniques to see if Astro would come to me.”
At one level, Kathryn was inside 10 ft, and Astro turned and checked out her after which trotted off within the different path. “There have been too many weeds and brambles between us for me to seize him. He didn’t even acknowledge me. I couldn’t imagine it. He’s our glue canine—by no means removed from any of us.”
For Swensen, who is continually studying, becoming a member of trapping teams, and innovating, plenty of what he does is educate pet homeowners to recalibrate their considering. He’s half therapist, half detective, half canine whisperer.
“It’s important to be a relaxing drive,” says Swensen. “They’re torn up, emotional, damaged, frantic, and distraught.” He asks plenty of questions (there’s additionally a prolonged consumption type on the web site) and finds that specializing in solutions calms folks down. “When you give them a objective and a path it’ll assist, get them out of panic mode,” says Swensen. He’s used to seeing folks at their most susceptible, but it surely doesn’t get simpler. “It’s important to management your feelings but it surely’s exhausting.”
The nonprofit Misplaced Animal Useful resource Group (LARG) was began two years in the past by Swensen, together with co-founders Denise Harris and Carmen Brothers. “We by no means ever ask for cash,” says Swensen. (Although there’s a payment if a household needs to make use of a service known as Skilled Pet Trackers run by Brothers.) All of LARG’s traps, ideas, reassurance, perseverance, and recommendation is free.
Though social media has been extremely useful in spreading the phrase a few misplaced pet, Swensen says there’s no substitute for good old style leg work. When the Balls first contacted Swensen, he advised them to rise up no less than 100 “misplaced canine” posters round city—that approach when somebody noticed Astro, they knew whom to contact. They hung indicators in neighborhoods, eating places, supermarkets, and gave them to each postal service round. Quickly the telephone calls and texts started flooding in. Astro was seen by a mailman, mild rail operators, a UPS driver, a runner, and the employees at Lutherville Animal Hospital (which simply occurs to be Astro’s vet)—and the Balls began marking every sighting.
“We created a shared map displaying date, time, and placement to assist Bob and our household and buddies who have been attempting to identify him,” says Kathryn. There was clearly a sample—Astro was staying alongside Roland Run and the sunshine rail tracks north and south. “I obtained a number of texts and calls almost on daily basis for the primary two weeks. We realized the texts stopped when he ventured exterior of the world the place we had hung up the indicators.”
So, they hung up a further 100 posters within the space close to Lake Roland. “Canines often return to the purpose of escape, house, or the final place they noticed their household,” says Swensen. That seemed to be the case with Astro. “He was proper in between of the place he obtained out and residential—actually proper within the center.”
Someplace round Day 18, a person noticed Astro in his yard, between 695 and Kenilworth. Swensen went to the placement and observed that it regarded like Astro had slept there for the evening. So that they arrange a feeding station and Swensen enlisted the assistance of a Nice Pyrenees proprietor who lived close by. “She introduced her two canines to the spot and allow them to stroll round and mark the territory,” says Kathryn. This apparently attracts canines again to their pack. And it labored. “Astro got here again and ate the meals from the feeding station for the primary time. We have been getting nearer. He was signaling that he was prepared to come back house.”
“DOGS USUALLY RETURN TO THE POINT OF ESCAPE, HOME, OR THE LAST PLACE THEY SAW THEIR FAMILY.”
Whereas having a pet on the lam is extremely upsetting for the animal proprietor, Swensen’s tales of rescue and restoration provide a lot hope. There was the household whose canine, Holly, obtained free on a trip in West Virginia. The household stayed of their camper for 3 months whereas LARG helped them monitor and finally seize her. There was a lady whose canine, Dobby, bolted from her automobile after an accident. (That occurs rather a lot.) Canine trackers finally led the search occasion to the Car Emissions Inspection middle on Pulaski Freeway and, whereas Swensen was canvasing the world with the girl and her father, Dobby was noticed. But it surely wasn’t as straightforward as snatching her. They sat down on the bottom and utilized calming indicators—one of the crucial essential classes find misplaced pets—which incorporates ignoring the canine, not being a risk, and remaining calm since canines can sense anxiousness. Says Swensen, “Dooby got here up and circled her after which went proper to her.”
Then there was a canine named Bolt. “Don’t ever identify a canine Bolt,” Swensen chuckles. Bolt obtained out as he was being transported to a PetSmart in Ellicott Metropolis for an adoption occasion. Finally sightings put Bolt in a close-by neighborhood the place he would go to a household’s yard and their two canines. They might by no means catch him, however they would depart meals out and he knew it was a protected area. The household contacted Swensen and allowed him to arrange a drop web, a 25-foot soccer web that lures a canine with meals, of their yard. Swensen and Harris did a stakeout within the household’s basement—ready and watching. Lastly, the online dropped, they usually raced towards it—you often solely have a number of seconds earlier than the canine can untangle itself from the online. Swensen makes use of a “fortunate blanket” to throw over canines till they settle down.
“Normally after I peel the blanket off, they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s occurring?’ like nothing ever occurred.” It labored like a attraction on Bolt.
Not each search ends with a tail-wagging canine. “There’s a share that you simply by no means discover once more or get killed,” says Swensen. However that makes the completely satisfied endings that a lot sweeter.
And on Day 19, Astro obtained his completely satisfied ending. He had ventured onto the porch of a lady in West Towson—scratching on the door to be let in, simply as he does at house. The girl acknowledged Astro and known as the Balls instantly. Alex raced over however Astro had run off once more—or in order that they thought. It turned out he had simply gone underneath the porch. Alex, a software program engineer, crouched down however didn’t make eye contact, as he had been taught.
“Astro ran proper to Alex, jumped up on him, and was prepared to come back house,” says Kathryn. “It was wild.”
They’re each sure Astro wouldn’t have come house with out Swensen’s assist.
“We have been buoyed by his fixed positivity and reassurance,” says Alex. “If it hadn’t been for Bob we’d have carried out all of it improper and who is aware of the place Astro can be at this level.”
When Astro’s Nice Massive Journey—which had performed out on the Nextdoor message board (over 300 feedback) and Fb—lastly got here to an finish, strangers celebrated. Feedback ranged from “I’m nonetheless excited that Astro is house, although I’ve by no means met him!” to “Anxiously ready for Astro to pen his memoir.” Folks cried, donated to LARG in his identify, and supplied grooming “on the home.”