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Lost dog brings out the best in a whole lot of people

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He was the other dog, the dog nobody was looking for when a teacher at Manzano Mesa Elementary School spotted him hiding out underneath a portable building on campus.

The teacher thought he looked like Luna, a female black and white pup that had bolted from her new human’s car Dec. 4, minutes after being adopted from the Lucky Paws adoption center.

It was a heart-wrenching thing, losing a dog who had yet to have a collar or tag, who didn’t know her name or her human or where home was going to be.

That hadn’t stopped a band of volunteers from looking for her. For weeks they searched, as I wrote in my Jan. 1 column, papering neighborhoods with hundreds of fliers and chasing down tips.

Pirate vanished Jan. 16 but was captured and reunited with her former foster mom Friday. (Courtesy of Brittany Berget)

One of those tips came from the Manzano Mesa teacher, and even when it was obvious that this other dog was not Luna, the volunteers decided to trap him anyway and take him to the Animal Welfare Department’s Eastside shelter so he could find a human of his own.

Through a curious twist of fate, that human turned out to be me.

Fate, though, is fickle. And history is sometimes repetitive. I adopted that other dog – a black and white, 11-month-old, male heeler mix that the shelter folks named Pirate – on Jan. 16, but we never made it home. Pirate bolted from my car in a Tijeras bank parking lot, slipping out of his collar and leash without a tag, without knowing his name or his human or where home was going to be.

It was the Luna story all over again, only this time there were coyotes and bobcats, frigid East Mountain temperatures and a forest.

We searched until nightfall. I posted on every lost dog website I could think of, reported Pirate’s disappearance to the microchip company. Reluctantly, I contacted Brittany Berget, a vet tech at the Eastside shelter who had fostered Pirate for a couple of weeks and knew him better than anybody.

Volunteers assemble a “missy trap” early Friday morning at a site in Tijeras in the hopes of catching the wily Pirate, a dog missing since Jan. 16. About 12 hours later, Pirate was caught. The “missy trap” is named after a dog named Missy, who was reunited with her humans after being caught in the humane, homemade trap. (Joline Gutierrez Krueger/Albuquerque Journal)

I reached out to NM DOG, a nonprofit rescue group whose members had searched for Luna under the leadership of volunteer Erin Morrisey Martinez.

None of them hesitated.

For nine days, Martinez and her group, Berget and her family and coworkers, my sons, my neighbor and friends tracked paw prints in the snow, posted most of some 1,000 fliers throughout the East Mountains. They left food stations, chased down tips, braved cold dawns and nights, braved one or two suspicious passers-by.

Every business we asked, the nearby schools and neighborhoods offered their support.

Suddenly, that other dog nobody was looking for was now being sought and thought of by what seemed an entire community.

Just as hope – my hope, anyway – began to fade, a familiar face joined the search. Lily Azures, of Paw Trackers Animal Rescue And Humane Trapping in Santa Fe, had been one of the Journal’s Angel Among Us in 2015.

Using her expertise, a plan was developed and a site selected where Azures believed Pirate was lurking.

Late Thursday, she had foster mom Berget scatter her worn socks, a shirt and urine at the site to lure Pirate there to trap him.

But Pirate was a wily, skittish one and likely not going to be fooled again by the same sort of trap used to catch him at Manzano Mesa. So we obtained a “missy trap,” believed to be one of only two in New Mexico, this one borrowed from Santa Fe Lost Pets, another rescue group.

Missy traps, so named for the first dog captured in one, are homemade contraptions, big enough for several people to stand inside and made of cattle fence panels, magnets and something akin to a garage door sensor.

Early Friday, we arrived at the site to set up the trap. It was a hopeful moment after too many frustrating days. Berget’s socks were gone. A trail camera at the site had captured images of Pirate there overnight.

Azures settled in to watch the trap from a safe distance. Hours passed. The sun set. Hope again waned. Even so, Azures refused our offers of food or respite.

Now I know why.

She had faith that she was going to catch Pirate that night, predicting she would get him by 7 p.m.

She got him at 6:45.

Berget was one of the first to arrive after word spread. She had cried when she learned Pirate was missing, cried every night he was gone, cried now when he pressed into her lap.

I knew Pirate had shown up because of her scent. He knew her, he missed her and now he was crying, too, in her lap. I suspect he had been trying to find her, following her scent, his little dog heart touched by a young woman who had given him what was likely his first home and let him feel loved for the first time.

Berget had selflessly stepped aside to let me take the dog home when her time as foster mom was through. Now it was my turn to step aside.

Pirate is not the other dog. He is her dog. And he is home.

There are logistics still to work out, but we have left it at that for now. I am not sad about it. In losing a dog I barely knew, I gained the friendships of these wonderful volunteers it feels like I’ve known forever.

They say a dog brings out the best in a human. Pirate, the little dog with a big heart, brought out the best in a whole lot of humans, including me. That’s as much as anybody can ask.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.