People ask us why there seems to be so many more lost dogs now, than say, ten years ago. Well, we know a few reasons. There are far more rescued dogs (a great thing). But many of these can be shy puppy mill dogs. Also, there are far more undersocialized pet store dogs. Since pet stores often sell their puppies at a very young age; they have missed an important socialization period in their development with their mother and littermates. Plus, there are more foster homes and transports. These are very vulnerable periods in a dog's life before he gets to his permanent adoptive home. These reasons add up to what we call more "high flight risk dogs" and more potential for lost dogs.
Anyways, back to Ralph's story. This little guy was lost from a Milwaukee suburb called Bayview. He was sighted numerous times during his disappearance but was never able to be approached.
On a warm Sunday in April, I was on my way home from Racine with my dog after a flyball event when I got a call from the director of Lost Dogs of Wisconsin. A Facebook fan had just posted a report of a deceased dog on the shoulder of I-94 northbound between Chicago and Milwaukee, just north of Racine. She was unable to stop but gave us a good description of the location and the dog. The description sounded like a dog that is one of my "still missing" cases from August 2010, so I made a quick turnaround and went back to look. Even from the southbound lanes I could see it wasn't my case, but I exited and re-entered the freeway to get a better look and at least a picture of the deceased dog.
We have learned that different municipalities have different policies regarding the identification and removal of dead dogs. Some good, some not so good. So, worried that somebody may never have closure for the loss of their dog, I put the lifeless little body in the back of my SUV and headed to the nearest 24 hour vet clinic to have it scanned for a microchip.
As I drove, I thought about all the thousands of cars and trucks that had passed that poor little deceased dog on the shoulder. I wondered what all those people thought.
" A dumped dog, no collar, somebody probably threw him out of a car."
" Some careless person had him in the back of a pickup truck and he jumped out."
" Some heartless farmer was letting their dog run around without a collar."
"A stray dog, unloved and unwanted."
"Another sad case of animal neglect. How could people be so horrible?"
It was pretty obvious to me what had happened. A lost dog had made a poor choice about crossing I-94. Most of the way, there is a large grassy shoulder. But for about a 100 feet alongside where his body was, there was a concrete barricade along the edge. He probably made a quick dash across the freeway, but had to turn back from the barricade and got clipped by a vehicle. His small body was barely damaged.
The vet clinic immediately picked up a microchip with the scanner. When I got home and called the microchip company; it was Ralph, one of our other caseworker's cases. Other than matching colors, he looked nothing like the picture we had posted above.
I realized that without that microchip, I might have thought the same thing as all those people. I'm not sure I ever would have recognized him from his picture. He looked more like a cattle dog cross than the puppyish dog in the photo above. I probably would have had him cremated and Ralph may have stayed forever in our Still Missing file.
The owners were devastated. They met me the next morning to retrieve his body. Ralph had travelled 20 miles from their home. They had had a sighting in Racine a couple of days previously, but it was easy to discount it because it seemed so far.
Please, everyone, today - go take good standing shots of your pets from all angles. And get your pets microchipped! If they are already microchipped, make sure it is enrolled to YOUR name (not the shelter or rescue which could go out of business) with current contact information. Heaven forbid, you should ever need those precautions, but if you do, you'll be ready. And above all please, Think Lost - Not Stray (a trademarked quotation of Kat Albrecht of the Missing Pet Partnership).
Rest in peace, Ralph. You were really, really loved by your family.