For Golden’s Maria Scales, there is not much as unsettling as someone’s beloved dog not being at home overnight, lost in an area with predators such as bears, wolves and coyotes.
Scales organizes teams to relocate and recover lost dogs in the area, taking the lead as a sort of dispatcher and investigator. Her crew has recovered 10 dogs so far and each success story is a relief.
Golden is a risky place to lose a dog because there is so much woodland to search, she told Black Press Media. Scales believes the network of volunteers works because it provides mutual security. If she lost her furry companion, a team of volunteers would assemble to help find her 10-year-old retired sled dog, Shadow. Lost dog posts on Facebook can make Scales lose sleep.
“The ones that don’t make it home, it bothers me. It will bother me forever. Car accidents, a train or coyotes (are the leading causes of death). One recently was caught by a coyote,” Scales said.
If someone with a lost dog accepts help from her, she will assemble a search team from her network. Each lost dog has a slightly different team of volunteers, depending on who is available.
Most importantly, Scales visits the last place the dog was seen. Scales has a heart condition disability, so she mostly coordinates the search from her home after this first step. However, she has to see the last known location and talk with the lost dog’s owner to jump-start the rest of the process.
Most dog owners are in a panic, so she prompts them for details such as the dog’s appearance, nickname and favourite food. Knowing the dog’s comforts and fears are also important.
“You have to get as much information as you can,” she said. “If the dog is scared of men, you are not going to send men up to search, because it is just going to push the dog further into the woods.”
She puts up a trail camera and a kennel in the woods near the last known location. The owners walk to leave a scent trail from the last known location to their home and Scales’ kennel.
Volunteers go for walks in the area and a handful can sometimes bring extra resources like commercial drones and sniffer dogs. Scales contacts vets, shelters and rescue organizations like Little Mittens Animal Rescue. A volunteer prints posters with the information Scales collected at a local paper store.
She first learned the steps to find a dog from a professional hire who travelled from Calgary, Alta., to help a woman who lost her dog and was injured in an accident that had recently left her widowed.
While learning from the Calgary professional, she saw how pinpointing where the dog was last seen is extremely important. The injured woman’s lost dog was hit by a train after there was a 10-kilometre miscommunication about the dog’s last known location. Scales believes the pup could have been saved if the Pomeranian’s last known location was not misidentified.
Many owners of lost dogs need someone to keep their spirits up, so Scales encourages them to stay positive as the days drag on. One of Scales’s teams recovered a dog who was lost for nine whole days.
Scales is also trying to encourage more veterinarian access in Golden, establishing the Golden Find a Vet Facebook group. In 2020, Scales’s dog, Miri, died after having to wait a week to be seen by a veterinarian in Calgary. She is trying to recruit a satellite veterinarian to the area but has not had any luck yet.
She helped organize two pet first aid workshops with Calgary’s Chasin’ Tails Dog Care Centre, to teach pet owners in the Golden how to keep an animal alive until veterinarian care is available. She hopes the group will return in September for another workshop.
Scales’ income comes from disability assistance, so she is grateful for the donations people have given her to buy supplies, she said. She recently bought high-visibility vests for her volunteers to help protect them when they walk alongside roads after dusk.
She is seeking donations to buy more trail cameras, kennels and roadside signs to tell people to slow down in a lost dog zone. The extra supplies will help Scales recover dogs after events like thunderstorms, which commonly spook dogs.
“Sometimes I do not get a call for three, four months. But if I see many lost dogs in one night, I need the gear to set up for all of them.”
Scales is available on Facebook to be contacted about volunteering or donating.