Pet sitters, whether they know it or not, are defacto dog catchers. Our experience enables us to safely catch loose dogs, and our already trashed cars and pickups are ideal for their transport. After a few years I lost track of how many dogs I'd safely delivered. Some had ID tags with addresses; in these cases I simply brought them home. Some had only phone numbers, which I called then often waited for the owners to pick them up. If they had a collar only, or nothing at all, I took them to the humane society where they would be scanned for a microchip ID. Sometimes the dogs just came to me, like the time I opened the door of my car right outside my San Mateo apartment, stepped away for a moment, then got in to find a Rottweiler sitting in the passenger seat.
In one of the most amusing cases, I assisted the police in rounding up two dogs. I was driving down Ralston Avenue in Belmont sipping my morning coffee when I spotted four officers running in four different directions, holding leashes. Two large dogs, an Akita and a black Lab, were running in traffic and doing a good job of avoiding the officers. Noting the general direction in which they were traveling, I drove past them and pulled over. I got out of my truck, opened the back -- in my experience many dogs would simply jump in -- and grabbed two leashes. The Akita was the first to arrive; with lolling tongue, the big brindle ran right up to me and it was easy to put on the leash. The Lab wasn't entirely sure of me, but he saw that I had his buddy, so he submitted to the leash. I waited a few minutes for the tired officers to catch up, then handed them the dogs when they did. I got kind of annoyed while they talked amongst themselves and ignored me, so I said, "Can I have my leashes back?"
"Oh, these are not your dogs?" they replied.
"No," I said, "It just looked like you guys needed a little help!"
I seldom got any thanks, in fact many people said not a word as they reclaimed their dogs who had narrowly escaped death in traffic. Some people, embarrassed perhaps, would say that their dog was stupid for always getting out, the dumb mutt. There was one owner, however, who gave me a thanks I won't forget.
The Changs didn't have a dog, so I was quite surprised to hear growling as I approached the door of their Woodside home. I was scheduled to take care of their two indoor cats, and I began to wonder if they'd acquired a dog and not told me (this did sometimes happen). I paused for a moment to take out my cell phone and check voicemail ... no new messages. Another step forward, and the growling resumed. I looked around, confused, and spotted a very frightened-looking yellow dog about the size of a coyote cowering behind a large decorative pot. Ah, another lost soul. I wasn't about to get too close, but neither could I leave the poor creature out to starve or to be hit by a car on Sand Hill Road, where speeds often exceeded 60mph. I remembered the days when Rusty would help me round up lost dogs; I'd let him out of the truck, he'd go and make friends with the strange dog, then jump back in the truck, usually followed by his new friend. I wondered if my grumpy three-legged mutt Cassie, who happened to be riding along with me that day, would be willing to do the same. I let her out of the truck and she didn’t disappoint; coaxing the lost dog out from behind the pot and sniffing her curiously; she kept her distracted long enough for me to slip a large noose around her neck. Realizing that she was trapped, the yellow dog struggled for a second, then gave up. I spoke softly to her and walked to my truck, encouraging her to jump in, which she did. She was less nervous now, and I was able to locate ID tags on the furry neck. I dialed one of the numbers, and a woman answered. "Hi," I said, "Are you missing a dog?"
She gasped, then said, "Yes, it's my son's dog! Please give me your number, I'll have him call you right away."
I gave her my cell number, and minutes later I was on the line with an excited young man who said he would come right out. A small truck was soon coming up the long driveway, and the man jumped out of it as soon as he stopped. "Is this your dog?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied, "that's my ... that's my ..." then at this moment he flung his arms around the yellow neck and burst into tears. His face turned all red and he sobbed as the dog's tail wagged. When he was able to breathe again, he thanked me over and over, saying that the dog, Ginny, had become spooked and gone missing during a hike in the woods over the weekend. Since it was now Wednesday, that meant that Ginny had been missing for three days, and they were beginning to think she was dead. "She's shy," he explained, "No one else can handle her except me and my family. We knew she wouldn't approach anyone. I don't know how you got her. Thank you." I watched with a smile and patted Cassie's head as the truck drove away, a wagging yellow tail just visible through the back window.