You’re in northern Penobscot County and you see a dog.
It’s a German shepherd-greyhound mix with tan and black hair and a handsomely graying snout. You realize that it is Marvin, the Mexican mutt who escaped a crash near Medway on Nov. 25 and whose disappearance has alarmed dog owners across Maine.
What do you do next?
Gary Urso has some thoughts about that. A field adviser and dog trapper for a statewide volunteer group, Maine Lost Dog Recovery, the 49-year-old Winthrop resident has advice for those who have lost pooches or have found lost pooches:
Do not approach the dog. Take a picture and call 911 to immediately report the sighting to police or local animal control officers.
Taking a picture will help the dog’s owners confirm sightings and know where to search.
“You want to get the word out. It is better than chasing the dog. It’s the point last seen. It’s information,” Urso said. “That’s what people who want the dog need to know. Where can we go to find our dog?”
“Sometimes dogs can travel 5 miles in a day,” added Urso, who has helped in 100 cases of dogs gone missing over the last three years and given talks to animal control officers.
Marvin’s owner, folk singer Jacob Augustine, and his sister, Sarah McLaughlin, last week started advising those in the area where Marvin could be at large not to approach the canine.
Augustine and friends of their family are still searching for Marvin, an effort that includes putting up fliers in the Lincoln area, his sister said.
“We are asking that people not approach him and call me immediately [at 207-290-3457],” McLaughlin said Thursday. “He darted when one of the people who possibly saw him in [Mattawamkeag] tried talking to him.”
“We are hoping if those three sightings were Marvin, that he continues to go towards Lincoln where the population is greater, making the chances of him being recognized higher,” McLaughlin added. “Lincoln is our hometown so it will be familiar territory for him.”
Marvin’s escape from Augustine’s minivan after it hit a patch of black ice and rolled over on I-95 around Medway has prompted the animal shelter run by the SPCA chapter of Hancock County to hand out harnesses and seat-belt attachments to the people who adopt rescue dogs, said Diana Delossantos, the Trenton shelter’s director and animal control officer for Bar Harbor and Mount Desert.
Augustine is not the only person to lose a dog due to a crash. A dog was killed Nov. 20 in Stonington after it leapt out of its owner’s Mercedes Benz, which had slid off the road, and was hit by another car.
In August, a tourist lost a dog for two days following a crash in downtown Bar Harbor. The owners were lucky the dog was found that quickly. Mount Desert Island has a lot of woods, particularly with Acadia National Park, that animals can get lost in, and the dog was headed toward the park, Delossantos said.
Another dog, a Welsh terrier named Braylon, was lost for two weeks in almost the same area of Augustine’s crash after escaping from his home in Mattamiscontis Township in 2016.
Like Urso, Delossantos urges dog finders to avoid rushing at lost pets.
Let the dog approach you. Get down on the ground near the dog. Human height can be perceived as threatening. Make quiet noise ― clicking your tongue can work ― and mime eating to keep the dog’s attention and respond to what is likely the animal’s most immediate need.
“Dogs want to know, what are they doing? They want to see what you are looking at. That one instant of interaction can make a huge difference,” Delossantos said.
Avoid direct eye contact, but keep the dog in the periphery of your vision.
A dog who gets lost or, like Marvin, experiences trauma can be skittish and will likely be hungry. Such dogs perceive threats everywhere and must first see that whoever approaches is safe, Delossantos said.
People who chase lost dogs are doing the worst thing, Urso said.
“When I first started doing this, I thought there would be a lost dog and you would just trot over and grab it and that would be it, but it’s a lot more complicated than that,” Urso said. “You really have to let the dog come to you or let it settle down and feed it.”
At the scene of the disappearance, leave food, clothing or other material that carries a familiar scent, and surveillance cameras.
Marvin’s dozen or so searchers did this alongside the highway at mile marker 239, where Augustine’s van hit black ice. The food helps keep dogs where searches are most likely to occur, and the scented items offer reassurance, Urso said.
The cameras help dog owners who can’t monitor areas constantly, Urso said.
“People have used home security cameras to try to capture video,” he said.
Alert police, animal control officers, organizations such as Lost Dog Recovery and SPCA, and residents of the area where the pet has gone missing. Use Facebook pages, town government web pages and fliers to spread the word.
Maine Lost Dog Recovery’s Facebook page has 43,571 fans. Lost Dog Maine’s page has 1,054. That’s a broad reach. Police and local animal shelters usually have pages or websites that feature lost or recovered dogs.
Maine Lost Dog’s page lists canines that turn up in shelters, and the group’s approximately 20 volunteers will lend dog catch boxes to searchers.
“We have them stashed all over the state,” Urso said.
Once recovered, treat a dog like an escaped prisoner. If the dog is in a trap box, open the box only in a building or other enclosed space.
Repeat escapes are common, usually with some combination of especially independent dog and unmindful owner. So are rescue animals with new owners who don’t understand their new companions, Urso said.
“A big problem here is that a lot of adopted dogs don’t even know you or like you,” Urso said. “It takes two weeks minimum to bond a dog to you – longer if the dog has been through trauma.”
Once home, keep the dog confined for at least several days.
“Let them de-escalate,” Urso said. “We have had dogs that were six months out, or longer, that took awhile to calm down. They are pretty wild so they don’t trust. It takes them a while to trust.”
Make sure the dog has a collar and license, and devices such as implants, which are especially helpful in cases in which the dog escaped by getting out of a collar.
A surprising number of owners who lose pets don’t do this.
“A good 95 percent of the time they are embarrassed because they don’t have proper ID on an animal,” Delossantos said.
Lost dog searches and captures consume a lot of time, and they’re common, Delossantos said.
“If there are 52 weeks in a year, I probably get reports in 40 of them,” she said, and especially during the summer, when Mount Desert Island is flooded with tourists.
“People come up here with a brand-new rescue all the time. They don’t know the area well, the dog doesn’t know the area at all, and we’re searching for animals for weeks,” Delossantos said.
“Sometimes you get lucky. A lot of times you don’t,” she added. “We have found animal remains with a collar. And that’s an unfortunate ending for someone, but at least that’s closure.”