Dexter’s Story – A Newly Adopted Dog is Lost in Frigid Temperatures in Northern Wisconsin for 7 Nights

As told by Esther Maina, Lost Dogs of Wisconsin volunteer

Dexter, a shy and timid dog, was surrendered by his former owners. After four weeks in the shelter he was finally adopted. When they arrived home, before they could grab his leash to help him out of the car, he ran off. His timing couldn’t have been worse. We were in the middle of a deep freeze up here in Northern Wisconsin with nighttime temperatures dipping as low as -40 below. There was also a concern of him getting tangled up as he was dragging a leash.

The owners immediately notified the shelter who in turn posted an ‘urgent’ message to their followers to help find him. Dozens of people drove to the area to look for him. At one point he was spotted out in the middle of the frozen lake and a person chased him down with their snowmobile. They tried to outrun him thinking they could get him to run back to his new home. Instead, a very scared Dexter disappeared off the other side of the lake and wasn’t seen again the rest of the day. The owners diligently handed out flyers and the shelter brought a live trap to the home. The owners put out food and heated water.

The next day someone with a flyer alerted them that they had seen him on their street (about a mile away). But when they arrived to search, no Dexter. There were no sightings for nearly two days. Temperatures were subzero during the days and evenings. One of our LDOW volunteers who is experienced with trapping and luring in lost dogs volunteered to assist onsite to help find Dexter. On her way there the owners texted her that something had eaten the food in the trap. They did not have trail cams set up so we could not be sure it was Dexter but we were hopeful. She set up a wireless trail cam facing the trap and food station and placed four additional cams around the lake (that would need to be checked manually). She grilled bacon, sausage and hot dogs both at the trap location and in various locations around the lake and quietly left. Dexter spent a fourth night in the subzero temperatures and no further sightings.

That weekend the family had to leave for a couple of days because their daughter and friends were planning to stay at the cabin for their 12th annual ‘girls’ weekend’. Our volunteer and their daughter assured them to not worry as we’d all continue with the process. The next evening our volunteer arrived at the site to refresh the food (grilling) and to check the cams around the lake. The temps were -26 and we knew it was not likely a lost dog would venture out but we wanted to do all we could to continue to lure him to the trap. After she checked grilled and checked cams (no sightings) her brand new car refused to start! Roadside service was called but they couldn’t get to her until the next morning. She was stranded an hour away from home in subzero temperatures. She knocked on the cabin door and explained her situation to the ladies staying for the weekend and they warmly welcomed her with food, a bed and a brand-new toothbrush. Roadside arrived bright and early the next morning to get her back home. Tip: Leave car running if possible when checking trail cams in subzero temperatures! Dexter had now been out five nights out in subzero temperatures.

The next afternoon around 2PM the owner’s daughter and friends spotted Dexter in the trap eating the grilled goodies! Our volunteer also received images of him at the same time. The first thing we noticed was that his leash was chewed off! Given the location of the ‘chew’ we do believe he was caught up or wrapped around something restricting his movement.

Now that sightings had resumed and we could confirm he went into trap we could begin the trapping process. The trap door had been bungeed open and the back had been taken off creating a ‘tunnel’. This allowed him to enter through both sides of the trap. It’s a technique used to help get a dog comfortable going all the way in (and through). We still needed to make sure he would still go inside the trap with the back door replaced. We replaced the door and the food replenished and waited. No Dexter. That night temperatures dipped to -33 below. Our volunteer kept vigil on her trail cam during overnight hoping to see Dexter, no luck. Then finally at 8:30AM he arrived! He looked great and we were ecstatic that he survived the coldest night of the week and was still coming around for food. We had one more step and that was to try to confirm that he didn’t bump his head on the trap door while entering (it was being held up with a bungee cord so if he bumped it, it would not come down). If he bumped his head on the door there was a risk of it coming down on him allowing him to back out. Being a shy and timid dog if this occurred it would more than likely prevent him from entering the trap again setting us back days, weeks or even months. So while it was extremely cold, it was more important to be patient and get it right the first time. Dexter would need to spend a sixth cold night on his own before we could visually confirm he ‘ducked’ his way into the trap. The next day the owners arrived, refreshed the food and waited. Early afternoon they visually watched him enter the trap with no head bump, we were ready to set the trap!

Our volunteer immediately drove to the site to help with the trapping process but on the way there suggested the owners set the trap on their own so we did not miss an opportunity. They all sat inside the lake home watching through the massive windows waiting and waiting. No Dexter. They waited until nearly 10 pm but unfortunately had to bungee the door open and Dexter needed to spend yet another (seventh) night out in the subzero cold.

That night our volunteer woke up at 3AM and immediately checked her trail cam. There were nearly 80 images that were sent during the night. Dexter was laying in the trap! He had not moved from the same spot all night so she began to worry that he may be injured. She could also see the temperatures had dropped from -8 to -14 and then at 4:00AM to -26 degrees! She began texting the owners hoping they’d wake up and at 4:30AM they finally responded! She suggested they warm up the food (which included sardines) and set the trap. She knew if they ventured outside he’d run off but because he was comfortably laying in the trap she assumed he’d come right back to the smell of food. By 5:30AM the trap was set.

Hours passed but no Dexter. The owners remained calm and patient. They had confidence in the process and stayed inside to ensure the location remained quiet. Finally NINE hours later our volunteer began receiving images from her trail cam. The third image showed Dexter safely in the trap! Relieved she called the owners who were already on their way outside to carry the trap inside their home. They had watched the whole event take place from their window.

There were many lessons learned. First, never chase a scared and shy dog. While the people walking the area whistling and calling for him and the person on the snowmobile all had good intentions, it was terribly frightening for Dexter. This only caused him to run further away. Second never assume a dog dragging a leash will get tangled up and die. This was a nylon leash and Dexter was able to chew it off. Third never assume a dog will freeze to death. They are survivors and will find a safe place to hunker down out of the elements. Dexter had so many things working against him and many people assumed he’d never survive but his new owners stayed positive. They trusted the process and after seven nights during a polar vortex was safely trapped and now enjoying his new home with his new ‘sister’ Phoebe. Welcome home Dexter!

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Check Your Trail Camera Photos Carefully!

We received the following message today from Karen L, the woman who helped capture Ocatavia, a missing border collie who had been on the run for several months. If you are unfamiliar with Octavia’s Story listen to it on Let’s Talk Pets Radio by clicking here.

“I can’t believe it!! Tonight I was looking through an SD card that I used in a trail camera looking for Octavia. Missing in Wisconsin May 4th 2020 – Found August 2nd 2020. In 3 months we never had her on camera until 4 days before she was caught…….or so we thought.Turns out WAYYYY back June 22nd and 23rd we actually caught Octavia on camera in Concord, Jefferson County – HWY E near River Road!! This was actually the very first house in Concord that I put the camera at and I think it was actually the day I initially set the camera up!! I learned a lesson….REALLY look through all photos your camera takes!!”

Octavia was safely captured but this is a good reminder to really study those trail camera photos on a laptop or desktop computer where you can adjust the lighting. You might see a picture of your dog!

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2020 Year End Reunion Numbers

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Pumpkins, Corn and Squash are Food Sources for Lost Dogs

Local wildlife and lost pets can enjoy snacking on squash, corn and pumpkins set out for fall decorations. They will make a viable food source for a lost dog at this time of year. Make sure you check yards, farm fields and local pumpkin patches for signs that your dog has been visiting. Deliver flyers and ask that landowners keep any eye out for your dog. Ask neighbors and business owners to check their security cameras or doorbell cameras.

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Thank You Signs Help the Next Missing Dog!

If you have successfully captured your long lost dog it is a great idea to let the community know that he or she has been caught. This Thank You sign helps in three ways:

1. It encourages people to help again the next time a dog is missing in their area

2. It educates people who may have been doubtful about your dog’s ability to survive.

3. It gives people with long lost pets hope.

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Allow Your Lost Dog to Have a Hiding Spot

Dogs lost from fireworks usually bolt and then hide. They may remain in hiding for several hours or several days. This is okay. Dogs are safe in their hiding spots. They are safe from being hit by cars or from running and getting overheated. They are safe from drowning or being hit by a train.
Let your lost dog have his hiding spot! Let him rest and he will come out when he is hungry or thirsty. Lure him home with scent items, smelly food and a bowl of cool water. He will probably wait until darkness to venture out. Never chase, call, whistle to, follow or pressure a lost dog!
Instead of “searching” for him, use the time to deliver flyers door to door so that if somebody does see him they know who to call and that they shouldn’t chase him.

For an indepth series of how to catch a shy lost dog click here.


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Keep Your Pets Safe This Fourth of July!


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How Are We Doing? Year to Date May 2020

May 2020 LDOW stats

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How Are We Doing? Year to Date April 2020

LDOW April 2020

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Tips for Newly Adopted Dogs or Foster Dogs Who Get Lost From Their New Home

dog-1543329_960_720More and more people are choosing to adopt their new best friend from a rescue or shelter. This is a wonderful thing! Many dogs, through no fault of their own, need a new home.  Unfortunately though, many people are unprepared for the challenges of living with a dog who may be shy, fearful or stressed by the changes in their lives.  These dogs are considered “high flight risk” and go missing with alarming frequency from either their new owner or a foster family who may be temporarily caring for them until a permanent home is found.  Many owners bring home their new dog and within a few hours or few days, the dog has slipped out of his collar, out of the yard or out of the house.

By far, the greatest risk to these dogs when they go missing is that they will be hit by a car and killed. It happens far too often and this article was written to give you tips to help you safely capture your new pet.  Although it sounds like a horrifying situation and many people panic, the good news is that with a calm, clear head and a good plan of action these dogs are usually quite predictable in their actions and can be successfully recovered.

Although we never say never,  please consider these tips:

  • These dogs do not generally travel very far – often staying VERY close to the spot where they went missing from.  We find this to be true even if they are unfamiliar with their new location. They generally do not head for an old home or shelter,  or set off on long journeys unless they are chased or pressured.
  • The MOST important thing you can do is to spread the word to everyone that is helping you to NOT call, whistle, approach or pursue your dog. The dog needs to be lured back to the spot it went missing from, as if you were trying to lure a scared cat or tame a wild animal like a squirrel or chipmunk.
  • Using scent articles (the dog’s bed, his kennel or crate, toys, and dirty articles of clothing or bed sheets from the person most bonded with the dog) will help keep the dog in the area. If the dog is not yet bonded with you you may want to ask the shelter or rescue to provide clothing of the kennel attendant or foster parent who cared for him.  If the dog had a kennel mate ask if you can rub an old towel over that dog to use as a scent item also. Place the scent articles somewhere safe (well away from roadways) along with smelly, tasty food and water. When hunters lose a dog while hunting they leave their coat out on the ground at the place they last saw their dog. The dog is often lying on it when the hunter returns the next day.
  • If you see your dog, immediately sit down on the ground and toss a few tasty treats out around you.  It may take a few minutes, or a few hours, but your dog might approach you.  He may circle around and approach you from behind.  Be patient and speak softly or not at all.  Do not be surprised if he does not respond to his name.  Newly adopted stressed dogs do not usually respond to sound or sight. They respond best to the smell of familiarity.
  • Flyer the area heavily and use intersection signs to alert passing motorists about your missing dog.  Again, remember to stress “Do NOT Chase” on your flyers and signs. The greatest risk to a shy lost dog is that he will be chased into traffic and killed.
  • Be patient.  Dogs lost from a new home or foster home may hunker down for a day or two and then creep back out to where they went missing from – lured by the tasty food and scent items you left.

Please read through the rest of our articles on Shy Lost Dog Strategies.  If shelter and rescue staff and volunteers are helping you please ask them to read through our series Harnessing the Energy to give them pointers on how to most effectively use their time. Never give up! Your lost dog is counting on you to bring him safely home.





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