Francy Bennett was traveling from her home in Anchorage to an appointment in Homer when her dog Didley ran away in the Soldotna Fred Meyers parking lot on January 10. Bennett had rescued Didley, a wheaten terrier mix, from a shelter in Washington two weeks earlier, where she said that he had not been socialized.
“For his first six months he was never touched by a human being,” Bennett said. “When we got him, he was not impressed with people.”
Didley ran away from Bennett with his leash attached. Bennett said she had no time for immediate pursuit.
“It was pretty traumatic for me. I had my appointment in Homer the next day,” Bennett said. On January 11, she began searching for Didley, putting up flyers and making a posting on Facebook to notify people of the lost dog.
Bennett’s message was quickly reposted to several other Facebook groups. Bennett said that at least 12 people contacted her to help find Didley. Bennett called Michelle DiMilta, CEO and former president of the Kenai chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who announced the search on KSRM radio. DiMilta estimated that about 400 people searched for Didley, including 25 SPCA volunteers.
Didley was sighted at the Sterling laundromat, at an old gas station, and along the Sterling Highway. Bennett said that the search was made more challenging by the fact that Didley was unaccustomed to human beings.
“If you have an un-socialized dog, you have to be really careful about how you approach him,” Bennett said. “A lot of people don’t understand that. They don’t understand that he’s terrified, and he will run from you.”
For an un-socialized dog, usual methods of human-dog interaction such as clapping, name-calling, and eye contact can appear aggressive. Approaching the dog slowly is also ineffective, said Bennett, because it seems predatory.
Among those who took up the search for Didley were Amanda Burg and Jill Garnet. In January 2014 Garnet captured a husky named Freedom, who had been roaming wild in the Soldotna area for 19 months.
“It was the anniversary of getting Freedom,” Burg said. “So we said, ‘let’s go for it!’”
Garnet had a wooden box-trap, which the two of them set up near a four-wheeler trail where Didley had been frequently sighted. The trap was baited with herring meat — ”the stinkier the better,” said Burg — and furnished with a bed pad that Didley had slept on in Bennett’s home. Burg said that she “chopped up, like, half a dozen fish” to make a path of meat from the trail to the trap.
A game camera in the trap showed that Didley was captured on Wednesday night around 11:00 p.m. He was returned to Bennett on Thursday afternoon. Although Didley’s ordeal has a happy end, Bennett said that the experience was not good for his socialization.
“He’s probably regressed pretty far,” Bennett said.