Our dog, Zoey, got loose on a walk on November 18th in Ottawa. We were visiting and she got scared when her retractable leash dropped (first lesson: throw away all retractable leashes) and as she ran it banged behind her, terrifying her.
A husky/sheppard mix, Zoey was fairly new to us but already a cherished member of our family.
The last report of her was that she was running fast and into heavy traffic on Hunt Club, at 4:30pm.
I hit Twitter with a plea for help with the hashtags #Ottawa and #lostdog, specifically in Arlington Woods where she got lost.
Suggestions of what to do began pouring in. Who to call, where to look, people started posting her picture and details throughout Facebook on different rescue and lost animal network sites. Within 48 hours there were thousands of shares.
- we were visiting from PEI so she wasn’t familiar with the area
- Zoey looked, from a distance, like a coyote which there were hundreds of in the area
- it started to get abnormally cold for November, close to -20 degrees Celsius plus windchill
- Zoey is very photogenic and we shared a number of photos
- my children said we couldn’t return to PEI without Zoey.
Right away Twitter people began re-tweeting my tweets and pictures about Zoey. Someone posted it on Reddit and we got a number of offers of help from people with dogs who could possibly track her.
The first Saturday there were more than a dozen people out on the coldest day of the season and this was when we had our first sighting of Zoey, in the CFIA field. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency have 2200 acres where they test crops, diseases, etc. and it includes a lot of scientists, vets, and farmers. The facility is considered to be very high level security with CSIS level clearance to enter the property.
I began a Facebook page for Zoey to try and centralize all of the comments and suggestions from this dog rescue community of Ottawa that we were becoming familiar with. The page quickly garnered many “likes” however, I still wanted to get as many eyes as possible looking for Zoey so I bought Facebook ads for a post that described her distinguishing features which included her collar, tags and skittish disposition.
The post had 30.000 views and soon people were slowing in traffic and rolling down their windows asking if we were looking for Zoey and wishing us luck. Dozens of people started coming out to monitor the CFIA fields with binoculars and telescopes. There were people there day and night, people bringing food, calling, giving out posters, showing up with dogs to search… it was astounding.
I tried to field as many comments, messages and texts as possible but it became too much. It was emotionally and physically draining being up at 6am everyday and working sometimes until midnight. One night we stayed out in a ravine until 3am after putting KFC in mesh bags all around an area where we suspected she had been.
One of the community members took over the Facebook page and took charge. There was an organic effort by all to not allow any negative comments and to try and tone down the heightened emotions. We were speaking to experts everyday who were instructing us what to do.
Another interesting time was when I went door to door on the Wednesday after she was lost and every third house or so said that they had already heard about Zoey on either Facebook or Twitter and were already keeping an eye out.
An email went out with Zoey’s information to several key community lists in Arlington Woods and other neighbouring subdivisions. I drove slowly through Manordale and spoke with people who were aware and keeping an eye out.
People were sharing very insightful and valuable information on Zoey’s Facebook page about how to approach a lost dog, one who might be frightened and disorientated. We were receiving numerous private messages per day offering support and encouragement, as well as success stories about finding dogs.
We were going on week 2 and I was becoming concerned about being away so long from my children so we started making contingency plans of how I could get home to PEI. Around this time, CBC picked up the story and came with radio and a tv crew to interview us. Stu Mills from CBC had retweeted for me the week before and was really helpful.
The story reached PEI and Zoey’s former owner reached out to me with great information about Zoey’s demeanor. They even sent a video of them calling for her and their dogs barking. It was really touching as she also sent some puppy pictures of Zoey.
The people on Zoey’s Facebook page started talking about fundraising for me to fly my children to Ottawa, to help with costs due to lost work for Dave and I for the two weeks, for any other expenses. Dave didn’t want to do this but we were convinced to be okay with it as we could donate any extra to rescue organizations of our choice.
Strangers raised $3000 in less than 24 hours using a crowdfunding site called Go Fund Me to help cover lost income, our expenses and possibly flying me home.
On the last two days, we had sighted her but it was important at that point that she wasn’t chased or scared away. We asked repeatedly that if anyone saw her to just let us know immediately… but this was where social media went awry. People were trying to “get her” and our efforts were unintentionally thwarted by attempts by well meaning people who scared Zoey away.
Also, as there always has to be a villain in all good stories, there was a woman who began writing disparaging comments about our efforts, trying to undermine how we were trying to get her back. This woman also had called us saying that she saw Zoey enter a trap and was “circling round and round, panicking”. When we got to the trap there was no Zoey. After that, and without apology, she blamed us for taking too long to get to the panicked dog (?) and threatened to call the SPCA. She was the only person we had to ban from the Facebook site.
The Facebook likes for Zoey’s page went up to 1700.
The day that I found Zoey and posted her picture on her page, it reached 122,000 people, 2,600 likes, 1,200 shares and close to 800 comments.
There were many tears of joy, suggestions for Zoey’s adventure to be turned into a movie, offers of portraits, massages, a quilt, etc. Thousands of comments flowed in over the next few days as we posted our thanks and updates of how Zoey was doing.
The media immediately contacted us, within minutes, and a camera crew were waiting for us at the vet clinic to report on the story. Zoey became a celebrity!
We were asked to continue Zoey’s Facebook page as many people became attached to her through social media and having put such effort into searching for her. Those who couldn’t make it out to look helped by praying, sharing information, donating and offering kind words of support. Without social media we could never have garnered the incredible outpouring as we did.
I received a lovely note that summed it up nicely:
I just wanted to thank you and Zoey for inspiring an entire city of almost a Million people. I have never seen my facebook light up as much in the last 3 weeks since my nephew was born. You and your fiancee are an inspiration to dog owners out there.
The silver lining was the inspiration that we derived from the incredible support of virtual strangers and the gift of having our sweet girl back in time for Christmas.