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Flag is Back

Updated: May 12, 2023

LOST DOG 101; FLAG’S LOST DOG RECOVERY STORY

(please note, the term “recovery” here refers to recovering a dog from being lost. Using the term “rescue” refers to abandoned dogs.)


Flag’s Loss and Recovery Story starts on Saturday April 8, 2023, the day he disappeared. Flag was a 16 month old white shepherd and my first experience with an extensive lost dog recovery. He was gone 11 days before we got the call that led to a positive sighting.


1. FLAG’S ESCAPE


Right off the bat, on the day of Flag’s disappearance, I made critical mistakes that contributed to Flag’s escape and 13 days being lost.


First, I did not put on his GPS collar before we left the house in the morning. Oof!!


At 8 am Saturday, I took Flag and my other white shepherd Cristo to Alice and Jimmy at Swan Lake Stables. I left them there while I would be in Orlando to train with Alice’s german shepherd Quilla. Flag is a happy-go lucky guy, loves Alice, the kids and the farm animals. I didn’t think that his attachment to me and to Quilla would cause him unbearable stress in that interesting environment.


I knew that the automatic gate at the driveway to the stables needed repair as it did not close tightly. He has spent time there with me, playing with Quilla. We have never walked through the driveway gate or played near it. With the gate about 100’ from the barn, how would he know he could get through it? He knew it.


Flag ran to the gate and slipped through. He bolted non-stop down South Street almost a mile to where he tried to cross and was hit by a car and spun through the air. I don’t know if he was headed home, around the corner – where maybe he was thinking Quilla and I might be.


Alice and the older teens were right behind him in her truck and on bicycles. Victor and Lucy were witnesses and jumped out to call to him. In panic mode and probably disoriented, he also ignored Alice’s familiar call to him as he sprang back into action, to the west into Fox Hollow Apartments.


Ella and friends following him said that he continued north into Fox Lake Manor. He was next seen in Swan Lake Estates where he played in the mud and water of a swale. As soon as he noticed Peggy and other residents at the clubhouse watching him, he bolted back to South Street and headed north. A couple minutes later he appeared back at the stables dripping wet.


At the stables, friends coaxed Flag with food. He was still in panic mode. He took off through the gate again. Anyone with a bicycle or car was still further south out looking for him. He could have gone north, south or east – it was impossible to tell once he exited the gate. This was the last visual sighting of Flag for 12 days.



2. THE SEARCH


FACEBOOK

Alice’s friend and horsewoman, Maynette, got to work immediately posting on the lost pet pages on Facebook. This effort got huge immediate exposure across Titusville and Brevard County.


With these postings, we started getting questions about did we do this or do that… contact the lost pet agencies and did we post on the Ring and Next Door apps? Not immediately, but along the way I think we covered all of these.


LOST DOG AGENCIES

Brevard County Animal Control, the SPCA, the Humane Society, Titusville Police – all were notified and called often for any reports.


VETERINARIANS

The Titusville and some Orlando veterinarians were notified to be on alert that someone may bring Flag in.


LOST DOG SIGNS

Jimmy designed and quickly got to printing “lost dog” signs the same day as well. I posted twenty signs before the day was over. The signs were removed within two days. I contacted the county, the city and state depts that may have removed them. They did not remove them. Someone stole Flag’s signs.



Jimmy printed 20 more signs which were smaller and I placed them further from the road. Most were stolen within 24 hours. If the govt depts had removed them they would have been stored and available for me to pick up.


FLYERS

Even for the short life of the signs, Flag and his “lost dog” status got great exposure with the signs and the facebook pages in the first few days.


With the removal of the signs, people would assume that he was found. Also, driving the neighborhoods, I talked with so many people without anything to leave with them. I added a lot of new names and numbers to my phone but this was slow going. I needed a flyer to lock in the message that the search was still on. Jimmy put together a flyer that I handed out at Lowes, Publix and Walmart. The reception was fantastic. Animal lovers and many others said they had seen the signs and the Facebook posts. People offered to post and share the flyer on their facebook pages.


Mary created another flyer with a more descriptive photo of Flag to help distinguish his unique character from other white shepherds and other breeds that were confused with him.




SEARCHING NON-STOP

I searched the woods, neighborhoods and businesses of South Street for 9 days. All day, around midnight and in the dark before dawn. I called him, whistled and clapped my hands not knowing that this may have caused him more stress and to dig deeper into his hiding place. I was hoping he would jump out of his hiding place – “hey Mom, I hear you, here I am”.


As I started connecting with people experienced in lost dog recovery, I learned that I should be calm, quiet and keep my eyes open. We just needed a positive lead in the area of his location so that we could focus the search and implement a recovery plan.


I wish I had spent more time handing out flyers; however, I knew the word was out there fairly strong and all I needed was a positive lead.


I returned to work on day 10.


FALSE SIGHTINGS

We had what seemed a likely sighting at Home Depot the day after Flag’s disappearance. A customer called me and a store associate later said as well that there was a white dog alone sitting at the store construction entrance. I thought, of course, Flag remembers that we go into that entrance. By the time Chloe, Alice and Jimmy arrived and I as well, the dog was gone. We searched the parking lots, loading areas, the woods and water behind the store, the restaurants and hotels. No dog in sight. Home Depot’s video did not catch any image of him.


I thought, how could a dog have gotten across the big busy intersection alive? In the calm and quiet of the midnight hours, it would have been possible: I found that after midnight, at the intersection of 50 and South Street there was often just one or two cars in sight. I know street dogs are pretty smart but could Flag, at 16 months and after just one almost hit, be that street smart yet? I thought yes, and included Home Depot on my search route day and night.


My range of the search was from the Forest Hills neighborhood just north of Singleton Avenue all along South Street, Lowes and Home Depot, and the north end of Windover Farms.


Other possible sightings included photos posted on FB of strays in people’s yards in Hickory Hills, a pair of dogs running Rambling Acres and a white husky/shepherd in Imperial Estates. At midnight on the 16th a stray or abandoned dog described as a white shepherd at Sams in Cocoa. Rashell and Jenn lived close by and were willing to get out there and look for him. These dogs were white, but not Flag. This was the point where I knew I needed a more descriptive photo of him and Mary stepped in with a new flyer.


We didn’t have many and only false sightings. It seemed he had disappeared and was not to be seen again.


THE REWARD

Flag matters greatly to me. He has no monetary value to anyone but me. He is cute but not show quality. It is a fact that the white shepherd color is a “fault” in the german shepherd show world and the “White Shepherd” breed is not recognized in the AKC ring.


Flag matters to me because he stole my heart. He is extra careful with children, exudes happiness and hugs me before anything else when I come home from work – literally jumps up to wrap his front legs around me every single time. His return was worth a big cost to me. Also, I knew that I needed everyone’s attention in this matter, not just the people who care about animals. Most people said that they would not take a penny if they could locate him while others may have seen dollar signs – I needed both responses.


SCAMMERS

As always, there are the humans who prey upon weak hearts. After the first couple of times, it was easy to spot the typical “I found your dog” predator. My response, “where did you find him” is followed by their, “You will receive a verification code. Please send me the code so that I can verify it is you.” What they are actually saying is, “so that I can hack your google account”. These scam texts came in quickly after posting his lost dog status on FB and Craigslist.


One scammer did get me. For $80. He stood out from the rest by sending photos that looked like Flag, I had never posted pictures of Flag publicly, not on Facebook, not anywhere. No other scammer tried to con me with photos. I was skeptical of the photos, but I had to see it through. After paying him for his “dog food expenses” and waiting for hours at our meeting spot, he upped his ante. When I asked for a photo of him with my dog, he complained that I did not trust him. End of conversation.


THE BARKING DOG

In the late afternoon on Tuesday the 18th, I got a call from Alesha, a young mom who said that a dog was barking in the forested wetlands behind her house. Alesha said the sound was somewhat stationary, like the dog was staying in a general area.


The land is thickly wooded and backs up to the houses to the east. There is a canal running north/south through the land maybe 50’ from the houses. It seemed that the dog was on the west side of the canal. Because of the thick woods, there was no clear access from the houses to the canal.


The possibility that it was Flag made sense. The wetlands are across the street from the stables and very broad, 200 acres or more, where he could have gotten deep in and away from the busy road. So, he had gone east from the stables, not north or south? In the first week, when Quilla and I had searched this land clapping and barking, we got no response. His fight or flight mode was likely still very strong and he didn’t want anything to do with anything near the busy street. Even the sound of steps can put a stressed animal into flight mode, maybe causing him to go deeper into the woods. He probably had encountered coyotes and other predators, so he was on constant high alert.


Possibly now, after 11 days, he is telling the neighbors he is ready to come home, “bark, bark, bark, I am hungry, call my mom, I am here. Bark, bark, bark”.


I located the owner of the land. The next day, a friend went to his house and shared with him my concern that the dog barking in the wetlands was probably Flag. The man said he knew about Flag and that he had a pretty good idea of the dog’s location on the other side of his canal. He offered to cut a trail through the woods from the houses to the canal.


The canal is home to large alligators and snakes. If this dog was Flag he must of sensed the gators because even though he loved to swim and was real hungry, he kept barking from very close to the canal and did not cross. He probably smelled bbq’s and food. Knowing Flag’s vulnerabilities in this environment was way too much. Thankfully, prayers were MORE than abundant.


3. RECOVERY


DAY 1 - LOCATION AND IDENTIFICATION

I had been talking with two lost dog recovery experts, Jen and Daisy, for a few days putting together a plan for lost dog recovery for when the moment came that we had a positive sighting; however, we didn’t have a sighting yet, just the clear barking of a dog, clearly from inside the wooded wetlands.


Red dot is the location where the barking was heard from


On Wednesday the 19th, the landowner and his friends and my friends Monique and Marie geared up to help. I still had a 7-hour drive to get home to Titusville. Even though I had a lost dog recovery plan, we didn’t know if it was Flag or his exact location, and I was not there.


That morning the group made a plan to get to the dog. With a bush hog, the landowner would cut a trail through the woods to the canal. A boat was available. In the afternoon, a few people would meet again, cross the canal and go south to the area of the barking.


Monique joined in to cross the canal in the boat. Flag knows her well.


Because of the stationary barking, it was thought that the dog may be caught in something or just could not get out of the area he was in. With the possibility that the dog could not move and could be freed and retrieved, Jen and her daughter Alexis cut in through the woods from the church on South Street.


This was Alexis second time into the woods – she was determined to rescue the dog if he was hurt and unable to get out. They cut straight east through to the canal and came face to face with the gators. With smelly food for the dog on them, they couldn’t move safely down the canal to where the dog was. Fortunately, it didn’t matter…


…a few minutes later, I got a call from Monique, “It’s him. It’s Flag. We see him.” Wow! Flag. It really was Flag and he was okay. As soon as Monique stepped on land, he ran back into the woods. Maybe not sure how to get out on his own, but able to move.


On the canal - it is Flag!


Location and identification successful.


DAY 2 - FLAG IS HERE

I drove home to Titusville that night, arriving at 5am on the 20th. Alice and I met at the back of the church on South Street to implement a recovery plan. I had a dog bowl and bacon, and Alice had dry cat food. We sprinkled cat food in an open area just inside the woods and placed the dog bowl with bacon and cat food in the middle.


I was on the phone with Daisy making sure we did everything correctly. We expected over the next couple of days for Flag to scent the food and make his way back out of the gator habitat, across the wetlands to the church. We had a trail cam to keep an eye on the food area for him so that we could implement the final step in the recovery plan when it was time.


To get his attention to the northwest, Daisy said to call him and have Quilla bark in his direction just a few times.


Quilla barking


Alice insisted that she would stay put and I went to Publix to get more food so that we could replenish the food as it got eaten by Flag and/or the other woodland animals.


About 10 minutes later, I was returning and around the corner when Alice called and whispered, “Flag is here. He is here.” What? Across the wetland in less than 15 minutes? I could not believe it. Alice said that she could hear Flag bark as he got closer and Quilla would bark back to guide him. At some point, Alice had tied Quilla to the pole in the middle of the clearing.


When I drove into the church parking lot, very slowly, I thought, how did Alice have any idea that Flag would come while we were still there – on the first day of the recovery plan? It isn't easy to get a dog to return when they are on the run or in hiding, especially after a traumatic event. If they sense they are being chased or trapped they will run - even from their owner.


Alice was laying down in the parking lot about 75’ away from Quilla. I softly told Quilla to lay down and I laid down on my back on the pavement near Alice. Flag was in and out of the woods, scenting out the food and stopping to stare at Quilla. Cristo was still in the truck.

As Flag got every morsel he would then circle around Quilla, and would stop and stare at her. He was back and forth into the woods assessing the situation. He glanced our way as well, as I am sure he could scent us. Alice and I held hands as we melted in the moment of sweet relief. Daisy was on the phone following everything.



Flag staring at Quilla, assessing the situation – Quilla is the dark

form, laying on the ground staring back, just to the left of the poles


Quilla never moved or made a sound as she held her gaze on Flag. He was staring back at her with his tail down. Finally, his back relaxed and his head dropped and he wiggled in delight to her. She flew up and they danced and hugged. It was over. His heart was home. I inched over to the truck and let Cristo out. Cristo is 13 and barely can see. He went straight to Flag and Flag wiggled to Him. From there, Flag came towards the food in front of us. He gobbled it down and wiggled to Alice. Alice got a hold of his scruff and I leashed him. All is good.


Everyone’s prayers answered in the best way. Thank you.


Alice called our vet. I took Flag straight there. No serious injuries except deep gouges to his paw pads and minus 15 lbs, just bones and fur. From there, back to the stables for a deep cleaning; then, home to eat and sleep.


Flag is back. Peace again.



THANK YOU ALESHA

Later in the homecoming day, Flag, Cristo and I went to Alesha’s house to thank her. I am so thankful for her phone call when she heard Flag barking. Thank you Alesha!


THANK YOU EVERYONE

Thank you everyone for your role in this lost dog recovery process.

Especially –

Jim and Alice for the signs and the flyers and being there through to the homecoming moment.


Jackson and the rest of Alice’s gang of teens that jumped on their bikes to follow Flag on his escape.


Ella, Victor and other witnesses who filled me in on Flag’s car hit and path afterwards.

Swan Lake Estates, Peggy especially, for informing me of Flag’s playful path through the water on their property.


The family in Windover Farms for looking after the only sign that didn’t get stolen from the neighborhood.


Chloe, Alice and Jim for rushing to Home Depot in a flash when a white dog was sighted, and searching the area for hours.


Diana for the printing of endless flyers.


Maynette, Mary and Michelle for managing Facebook.


Susan for walking through with me over the phone in the early stages of the search.


Mike for talking with the landowner, Tom.


Tom for making it possible to get through the woods and across the canal to Flag for identification and location.


Marie and Monique for jumping in on the day that Flag was located and identified.


Monique for being there for Flag and confirming his identity. Also, for going door to door at the Publix shopping centers with my flyers and doing a great job of marketing our lost dog recovery effort.


K9 Heroes for handing out Flag’s flyers at Walmart.


Home Depot for putting up with my insistence to review the video cams again… Flag had to be on there! But he wasn't.


Publix Hwy 50 Titusville for graciously allowing me to hand out flyers and posting them in their employee areas. The shops at both Publix Titusville locations for taking flyers and posting them in public areas.


Jennifer for keeping me moving me forward with your experience and lost dog recovery stories. For cutting through the woods to the canal with your daughter Alexis and her boyfriend – the “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. For freaking me out when you said “gators” and you had rotisserie chicken on you. For following a lead after midnight in the area of Sam’s Club, Cocoa.


Rashell for following the same lead after midnight in the area of Sam’s club, Cocoa.

Daisy for walking me through over and over the Lost Dog Recovery Plan all the way to the final moment.


All of the South Street businesses, neighborhoods and homeowners that kept their eyes peeled for Flag.


Thank you everyone for your support, your comments to me about looking for Flag after you saw the signs and the Facebook posts and resharing the posts. You carried this through.



THANK YOU FLAG FOR COMING HOME

Flag is doing great. He has a broken tooth. His paw pads are torn and so tender. He is alive, well and gaining weight.


Tired boy




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3 Comments


I’m in tears! I love this sweet boy! After reading all he has been through, I am so impressed with his recovery so far. I am so thankful to everyone who helped get him reunited with Kathleen, and thank you Kathleen for letting me love on him today ❤️

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Mary
Mary
May 17, 2023

Kathleen, I so love the entire story!! Thank you for taking the time to share “FLAG’s” nail biting disappearance to his miraculous recovery and reunion. Sending smooches to you FLAG. 😘

Hope all is well!

Mary❤️


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Replying to

Awwww... thank you Mary. Not sure which Mary this is, Caldwell?

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