ST. STEPHEN – A non-profit, volunteer-run organization is helping to locate missing dogs.
First established in 2020 and based in Sussex, Sherry Chase Doucette and Heather Scott formed the Bay of Fundy Missing Dog Rescue to reunite owners and dogs in an area encompassing Grand Bay, Saint John, Charlotte County, the Fundy Islands (including Deer Island, Campobello Island and Grand Manan Island) and St. Stephen, and up to but not including McAdam.
“It’s a huge area,” Doucette noted. “We’re both dog lovers, to begin with.”
While Scott has no formal training, Doucette took a dog rescue course.
“There was a dog in the Saint John area that had been missing, and that’s when Heather and I first met,” recalled Doucette. “We just decided she was really, really easy to work with. We planned things, and then the bond formed.”
Although there are other similar organizations in New Brunswick, Doucette said their group “does this particular rescue.”
“That’s how sort of we started to get an identity,” said Doucette. “We have it so people can contact us and we could just, each time we get a call, we are able to sit down and formulate a plan and help the owner.”
Along with dogs already in the province, Scott said there are others from outside New Brunswick.
“We have a lot of dogs that also enter the province, that when they come in here, they have no home,” she noted. “When they get introduced to this new family, they escape, they’re scared, they’re whatever so a lot of the dogs aren’t necessarily dogs that are missing from someone’s house, they’re missing from Texas or someplace else.”
Doucette agreed that those dogs are “misplaced.”
“Because they’re not properly on a leash, or tethered, or however you want to say it, they escape,” she said.
Doucette said the group wants to “empower” owners to get their dogs back.
“We never know when we get the phone call the history of the dog. Every dog is unique, and every rescue is unique. We tailor each of our rescues to what the dog is and what the dog needs at that time,” she said. “We offer lots of valuable techniques to start with, and then we assist in tailoring the rescue to that specific dog. Our thing that we tell everybody is that we believe in this dog and its natural ability to get home.”
The group uses “certain techniques” to get the dog home, said Doucette.
“Everything we do is on the dog’s time. We don’t rush a dog to do anything. We let the dog be a dog and to come back naturally,” she said. “Sometimes the dogs will go into flight mode and then you have to adjust to what a dog needs while it’s in flight mode, and what to do, how not to scare the dog.”
Doucette said she is an administrator and works with other administrators on lost and found pets Facebook pages.
Most dogs return, Doucette said, as Scott noted that about 70 per cent go home.
“Do not chase the dog, do not call out for the dogs, just let the dog be. Most dogs go home on their own,” she stated. “If they’re just left alone, they go out and they can smell their way back home. But if you insert people that start chasing the dog, start yelling for the dog, the dog becomes more frightened, and then it becomes fight or flight stages. Once it goes into a flight mode, the dog views everybody as a predator. It’s not going to be the same dog that just left the property, it’s a different dog, and you never know what scared the dog to make the dog run away. It could be chasing a rabbit or a deer, it could be a dump truck that went down by them and let out a big bang.”
They said that successful rescues are not dependent on how far a dog roams, but on their environment.
“It depends on where it’s at. If it’s in the middle of the city, no, if it’s the woods, yes,” said Scott. “Sometimes those dogs that get in the wily wags of dense trees, it is definitely harder to find them.”
Doucette said putting up signs helps spread the word, and humane traps, some of which are 100-feet in diameter, also help the rescue process.
As part of their process, Doucette prefers not to use the word “missing” but instead that the dog has “gone on an adventure.”
“Missing can be negative and we try to keep everything positive as much as possible,” she said.
“We’re convinced the dog doesn’t think it’s missing,” Scott added.
The group has a Facebook page, Bay of Fundy Missing Dog Rescue, and gets direct messages from dog owners, said Doucette, in addition to word of mouth. She said they don’t make their phone numbers public.
“As you know, that’s where you get a lot of prank callers and scammers,” she said. “The last dog rescue, someone had posted on one of the lost and found sites and somebody said, ‘please contact Bay of Fundy Dog Rescue,’ and they tagged my name and Heather’s name. Those people will then reach out in a private message to us and then that’s when we’ll reach out. We normally don’t reach out unless the owner has reached out to us. When a dog is missing, it’s really a private thing, but yet publicly on Facebook, it can get out of hand.”
Scott agreed that when word spreads quickly, “crowd control” is needed at times.
“I did one on the weekend, and when I approached it, there were at least 12 people walking on the street,” she recalled. “Not one of them had a plan, not one of them had a leash. If they saw the dog, I don’t know what they were going to do because there was no way to secure the dog. There’s not much you can do other than go home and leave him, just leave him.”
Empowering those helping in a search involves getting the message across that they need to help the dog relax, Scott pointed out.
And when they are first contacted, Doucette said owners are often upset, and they have to take time to calm them. Once that is done, she said rescues are more successful.
“When a person first calls us, or we talk to them, it’s very scary for them; they’re panicking, they’re anxious, and they think the worst-case scenario,” she said, noting that people think their dog was taken, killed by a predator, or drowned. “What we have to do is bring the owner back to reality.”
Scott said one-third of their time in a rescue is spent trying to ground the owner, with the remainder of the time spent waiting for sightings, then putting out traps and setting up cameras that are constantly monitored.
“A dog can sniff around a trap for two days and not necessarily take the bait and go in,” she said.
“If another animal gets in, we always have a plan in place when a trap is set that whatever animal goes in, leaves within minutes,” noted Doucette. “We just make sure we have a very structured plan because we don’t believe in any animal being trapped any longer than someone is there to release them.”
While not all rescues are successful, Doucette said some dogs can return after two or three years because they are very resourceful.
“We do have dogs that have never been found but we don’t give up. We’re still looking. Unless there’s a body, we’re going to still look,” she stated. “Unless something tells us that this dog is never coming back, we believe in the dog. We believe in that dog’s ability to come home.”
Along with Doucette’s request for searchers not to chase dogs, Scott asked that people not look for them on ATVs or snowmobiles or with using drones.
“It’s on the dog’s time. When that dog decides to forage for food, when that dog decides to surrender, it depends on the dog,” added Scott. “We think all dogs are smart; they’re very smart. They know when to burn energy and when not, they know when to go lay down, they know when there’s very little water, they know how to utilize that water to the best way they can.”
After thanking the communities and people they serve for their assistance over the past three years, Doucette and Scott added that Bay of Fundy Missing Dog Rescue will have a booth at the Charlotte County Homesteaders and Farmers Fall Fair on Sept. 16 and 17.