As soon as the rain stopped Monday morning, Halley went straight to the trap under the doorstep filled with KFC, sticking her head in and out about six times.
FOLLY MOUNTAIN, N.S. — It was “Hurricane Halley” in Folly Mountain over the weekend searching for a Chihuahua who bolted off and disappeared during post-tropical Fiona.
On Friday, rescue dogs Halley and Sonny were incredibly stressed after a vet exam and shots in Truro due to their anxiety. Halley slipped out of her harness during the drive back, and as soon as the door opened to go inside the house, she bolted.
“I turned to open the door, and she went ‘oh, bye-bye,'” said Cheryl Myers, foster parent. “I went – ‘no no no no.'”
Halley went into the yard, onto the road, and then into the neighbor’s woods. When high-anxiety dogs enter flight mode, they no longer recognize people except if they are close enough to smell.
“It’s an automatic instinct when your dog gets loose, (going) after them, that is the absolute worst thing you can do,” said Cindy Harrison, director with Wee One’s Dog Rescue. “It should turn yourself to them, completely ignore them and keep an eye on them visually, without making eye contact, and then automatically lower yourself to the ground.”
They searched with others all day Friday. Cheryl’s partner, Gordon Myers, briefly saw her, but that was it as the wind, darkness, and rain picked up. Until around 11 p.m., before retreating inside as the storm hit, the remote area plunged into darkness while shingles flew off their roof. Cheryl even thought she heard the Chihuahua barking before realizing she was dreaming. It was “the worst feeling,” thinking about what could have happened to the five-pound dog – many coyotes, foxes, and eagles in the area, and a tree could have fallen on her. The flooded river and brook could have trapped her if she had gone far enough.
Looking back, the tactics employed to entice Halley back are almost comical. Thankful to have a generator, Cheryl cooked several pounds of bacon for the grease (while feeding the volunteers sandwiches) and chicken broth to pour a trail towards their live traps set up further in the woods and next to the neighbor’s vacant seasonal home, to make Halley hungry and want to enter them.
Several volunteers showed up to search, but on the advice of the Nova Scotia Log Dog Network, it could not do much since the presence of humans could drive her further away. Movement on the camera Saturday night caused some excitement, but it turned out to be just a skunk.
With no sightings, the mood turned grave.
“It was a pretty sad day, Saturday night, because, at that point, we didn’t know if she survived,” said Harrison.
At around 8:30 a.m. Halley made her first appearance Sunday morning – the first of many that day.
The humans pretended not to notice or engage her, observing from their cars, but Harrison had to cut her off from the three-lane highway a few times.
“You can’t chase them. She’s somewhere, you know, we’re seeing her. We needed to keep her there. She was comfortable,” said Harrison.
Renley, the Myers’ large Labradoodle that Halley is attached to, was rubbed down with his blue blanket for Halley.
“(She) started tossing it through the air, rolling on her back, having a grand old party back there,” said Harrison. “But every time she (saw) a person, she bolted it for the woods. And then she was gone again.”
Halley appeared on and off, slowly and more frequently. She scratched at the empty neighbor’s seasonal house, wanting in but bolting off when anyone else approached. Next, she found a little dog bed to sit on, then dragged it further into the woods to bunker down for the night. (It is still to be located.)
Wanting to keep up with nightly rituals, Cheryl dressed up in her jammies and waited outside with peanut butter toast, Halley’s favorite. She laid on a blanket for nearly three hours, pretending to sleep since Halley would usually come to sniff her face at night.
With Robie Street open, Harrison picked up an assorted bucket of KFC on her way home. It was her boys’ first hot meal since the outages, and she had to caution them to save enough skin for bait jokingly.
As soon as the rain stopped Monday morning, Halley went straight to the trap under the doorstep filled with KFC, sticking her head in and out about six times. She was about two feet in when a speeding semi-truck flew by and scared her away. But she returned to the trap, repeating the same head-in, head-out routine.
Harrison and fellow director Rebecca Cox were anxiously watching this unfold from the car.
“We’re just sitting there, going ‘come on, just a little farther, little farther,'” said Harrison. “And then she did her little front feet in, and it was OK. You’re half in there now. She backed right out, just looked around – and then just walked straight in.”
The trap door closed, and they instantly got out of the car and ran. Harrison frantically made sure Cox held the ends shut.
“I don’t care (that it won’t open). We’re not losing her now,” said Harrison to Cox at the time. “We put her in the back of the car. At that time, I think I smoked three cigarettes, one right after another.”
The dog was petrified but finally safe and secure. It called the good news to the foster parents who had returned to work. Gordon was able to come right home from the Pugwash salt mine and Cheryl, who is a nurse, celebrated with her students.
To Halley, it was like nothing had happened.
“She ran over here, jumped on the coach … and straight over to Sunny. Renley was there just slobbering all over her face,” said Harrison. “He was so excited, and she was sticking her face out and letting him do it.”
It is unclear what Halley fed herself during her adventure; they started with just a few tablespoons of food at a time. It does seem that despite the tension, Halley was “having the time of her life.” She was running wild, her ears and tails up, said Harrison.
“Every day that she came out and every time we (saw) her come out, she pranced around the whole property and did her own thing,” said Harrison. “And that morning, it was straight to the crate. She was probably lying back there watching me baiting that Kentucky Fried Chicken. So my hat’s off to Robie Street for opening up, so I could get some KFC.”
Halley and Sonny had come a long way since they were rescued last June when Harrison had them tagged and transported from a kill shelter in Texas. Harrison said that it was obvious that Halley had been “used for a breeding machine.” The mother and son had been separated for a while, and it was a last-minute call to have Halley tagged to join Sonny, who was not doing well at the time.
In the beginning, the animals would not let anyone touch them and refused to leave their crate. Only having known concrete, the grass was a foreign concept.
Now, on their terms, the dogs choose to join their foster parents, even for sleeping.
Anxiety medication has helped.
“They’re human,” said Cheryl. “They’re alive beings, and they melt your heart when you hear their history. It’s like, oh my God, you guys don’t deserve that. Animals deserve to be respected and treated kindly, just like us.”
Remarkably, after the weekend, the dog has been even more social than she used to be and even let the foster parents pet her for the first time. The couple also has cats and has taken in rescues over the years, and Harrison described them as “angels” for all they have done for the pets.
“We’re helpers by nature,” adds Gordon.
Wee One’s Dog Rescue was founded a year ago to help rehabilitate recused small-breed dogs across Atlantic Canada and has since helped 25 dogs. Most of the directors are based in Colchester County.