This is an account of the loss and recovery
of my dog Mishka, whose recovery was made possible by the unwavering effort, honed experience and talent of Karin TarQwyn
and her K9 investigators.
My dog Mishka was lost by the dog boarding facility that was responsible for her care while I was to be traveling out of town
for the Thanksgiving holiday. Mishka, an energetic black dog of medium size, was a good jumper. She also hated to be separated
from me. I dropped her off at the boarding facility the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving Day. She was lost by 4pm the
same day. Mishka evidently jumped the 6-foot fence of the playpen inside the boarding facility, and the facility staff unwittingly
opened in sequence every door that barred her way to the exit. Mishka was on the run for a total of ten days before her recovery;
a recovery which was 100% made possible by Karin and her canine colleagues.
Karin's advice and first-hand knowledge
throughout the recovery process was as valuable as the amazing scent-seeking noses and skill of her canine colleagues. Because
of her years of experience, Karin was able to accurately profile my dog in minutes, to use aerial maps of my town to hypothesize
correctly where Mishka would be running and hiding out, and to provide an unflagging professional approach and marketing technique.
Karin's commitment to her client and the recovery of the missing pet is evident. Within moments of speaking with me,
she drafted a stylish sign and mapped out the canvassing approach we would take; she reviewed topographical features
and major intersections with my boyfriend and outlined how and where to hang signs for optimal notice. I never would have
thought about the need for signs to look professional and attractive to avoid being removed by city-workers, and Karin
had so many tricks for successfully hanging the signs too. I had never thought to take a profile photo of my dog, so
I had nothing appropriate for putting on the poster, but Karin had a solution for that too!
When we decided to hire
Karin to help locate our dog in person, it was the most logical step we could take. Here was a successful professional in
the business of finding missing dogs. When I spoke with Karin, she was always in between recovery efforts, juggling different
missing dog cases all over the country - and not letting any of us down. She explained typical STARS dog behaviors and what
I could expect to experience over the next few days.
Karin was blatantly honest with us: it typically takes weeks to
months to recover a missing STARS dog and her job was not to find or track down my dog. Her job was to guide me through locating
my dog - where is she roaming, which sightings are her, in what direction is she moving, in what state of mind and health
is she, etc. Karin could only be on the road for five days, because she is responsible first and foremost to the wellbeing
of her canine colleagues. It was clear to me that five days of her guidance was well worth the price. Karin drove more than
20 hours to reach me in Georgia, and she did so within 24-hour notice of my case. She arrived ready to hit-the-ground running,
introduced me to her team, explained the approach we would take, and off we went.
Here was a woman I could respect and
to whom I could relate. Just watching Karin work, one can see the admiration and respect she has for her dogs and for the
emotional rollercoaster her client is going through. It was so easy and comforting to work with Karin because she's gone through
the lost dog trial; she knows her client's fears, efforts and hopes. And she calms, commiserates, invigorates and cajoles
at the appropriate times to make her client the best pet owner he/she can be in that situation. Because being at my best -
clear headed, optimistic, rested, and focused - was a critical component to recovering my missing dog Mishka.
communicates to her client and to her dogs with the same respectful and listening demeanor. It was fascinating watching her
work, to the point where sometimes I was shocked that I was enjoying the experience, despite the grief I was undergoing in
the process. But it was so rewarding watching Karin interact with her canine investigators; she understood their looks, their
postures, stances and nose flares, she knew when they could go no further and knew when to push them onward. I would see the
dog stop and wonder why, but Karin knew that they stopped because the brambles were too painful for them to walk over. I would
think the dog was intently seeking a scent but Karin would know that the scent was crossed and with a simple command let the
dog know to track the most recent scent. It was remarkable, and relieving, to see a process that could be applied to accurately
navigate through the chaos and seeming hopelessness of the experience.
I saw the same talent applied by her to me. Karin
kept telling me that my energy was my greatest resource in the effort to find Mishka - reminding me to eat, sleep and breathe.
She knew when to put little Paco in my lap because I was on the verge of tears and needed some canine kisses. When I needed
to feel like I was doing something, she let the dogs follow a scent past the point of purpose so that I had just that much
more understanding of the path Mishka was following a few hours earlier. Karin explained the process to me, so I could comprehend
what her dogs were trying to tell her and to relay to me in the field. I was encouraged to run with her and the dogs, as was
my mom, so that I could see where my dog had been and how her habits were developing. Because Karin's time on the road is
limited, the client has to be capable of applying the intelligence she gathers to the case in her absence.
one gains from working with Karin and her team are diverse. Some concepts are so subtle one wonders they were never known
before. Other skills are so developed and fine-tuned that one fears what may have been had Karin never been sought. When I
think back at all the time I spent on futile web postings and internet searches, when I should have been resting; all the
hours I spent yelling out of car windows and driving through unknown neighborhoods in the off-chance that my dog would be
right there, I laugh incredulously now because those efforts seem so futile. But no one could have convinced me of that then.
In those days before I contacted Karin, every effort on my part was one step closer to Mishka. When in reality, many of those
efforts may have put me two steps backwards. Karin provided so much insight and guidance. How could I have known that a STARS
dog is likely to be frightened by the volume and high-pitched sound of any person's screaming voice out of a car window, regardless
of the voice belonging to the owner? I did not know that there were strategic ways of placing flyers and tried-and-true poster
compositions and styles that were guaranteed to catch someone's eye. What did I know of public outreach? For that matter,
what did I know of terrain and behavior analysis? What experience had I with easements, rail lines and other such means of
traveling unseen through a town, or of ransom demands for dogs with rewards on their heads? I had to expend valuable time
and effort to tear down flyers and rescind comments because I had advertised a reward and asked people to please help me find
my dog. This resulted in people calling to ask me the reward amount, with no knowledge of the whereabouts of my dog, of people
chasing my dog down in trucks to try and capture her for the reward, and of people approaching my dog when I should have known
it would just scare her (she always runs from strangers).
Karin laid out a plan, and helped me stick to it. She taught
me how to set dog traps, how to recognize dog and coyote scat, how to anticipate where Mishka would head and when. By the
end of the five days working with Karin - we were able to rule out entire regions of the surrounding areas (despite there
being two other missing dogs in the area that closely matched Mishka's description) and to hone in on the precise neighborhoods
through which my black, medium sized dog was traveling.
Karin's sign-strategy and media outreach resulted in dozens
of sighting calls a day; through Karin's refined approach, I learned how to question callers to discern whether the sighting
was a positive ID to my dog and worthy of being checked by the K9 investigators for positive scent. The distressed pet owner
wants to respond to every sighting with the physical presence of Karin's dogs; I desired to see the dogs confirm a positive
scent or indicate a negative for every sighting. But there is simply not enough time and energy in any given day to do so
much work. Karin trained me to think, be proactive, and work strategically through the approach that Karin outlines. Question
the callers with the series outlined in Karin's manual and make a choice: could this be my dog? Or, is my time better spent
responding to the other sighting that is in an area more likely to be traversed by my dog? Choose wisely, and if you can't
choose, heed Karin's advice; she won't misguide.
We did check dozens of sightings, mapped the positive and negative
scent locations, and discovered that Mishka was basically traversing a 3.5 miles long by .5 mile wide area that stretched
out over major roads, forested areas, power line easements and rail lines, but was basically surrounded by highways - over
which Mishka had not yet ventured. That was our lead. She was criss-crossing major roads several times a day. She was traveling
rail lines that reeked of coyote scent and were littered in coyote scat. Mishka visited dumpsters at shopping centers she
had driven past in my car, and possibly was surviving off of cat food and dumpster scraps. Karin showed me how to recognize
when a dog was eating left out food, versus another type of domestic or wild animal; if there was scattered food and every
piece was gone, then you had a hungry dog on your hands. Then we started receiving sightings in the same areas at certain
times of the day. This allowed me to know where to expect Mishka to be in the hours between 7 and 9 am and the hours of 6
and 9pm. It is no wonder that most sightings of my black dog were during daylight hours and when people were driving to and
from work! That didn't mean that Mishka wasn't moving at other times, but it was more likely she was resting during the day
and was active at morning and night, mirroring her feeding and activity routine that she followed when home. This allowed
us to redouble and focus efforts in the designated areas to the morning and evening hours.
Karin's fame and success
rate made her a prime interest for major television stations; our story was picked up by the news and Karin got the dog poster
and my number out to the public repeatedly. And in the end, on the morning that Karin and her team had to leave town, I received
back-to-back calls from good Samaritans that had seen us on the news that Mishka had been sighted, and because Karin and her
dogs had told me where to focus my search - I was so nearby to the sighting that I was able to respond in less than 5 minutes.
Within 15 minutes, I spotted my dog about to run back into the wood stand (a stand that Karin had highlighted on our search
route), and within seconds of hearing my quiet, and calm voice Mishka had run straight into my open arms.
What I loved
most in this experience was recovering my dog. But a close second is that this case added a file to Karin's repertoire of
finding missing pets and will further enable her to continue locating her client's loved ones. Karin told me that our case
was unique in her experience because Mishka was not food-motivated; Mishka was motivated by love. We had baited areas we thought
she was frequenting, and in Karin's experience, a dog out on its own for more than 48 hours, is in fight or flight mode and
can usually only be caught by food (or injury). The odds did not favor a dog, which had been missing more than 48 hours, responding
to its owner's voice. Every pet owner thinks "But he/she always comes when I call" or "but he/she loves me,
she will come to me." But in Karin's extensive experience, this is not the case. The pet will flee because it is terrified
and just trying to survive; it doesn't recognize its owner any more.
Indeed, my mother had sighted Mishka days before,
following leads from those who had just seen her. To her horror, when she spotted her in the distance, she was running along
the side of a very busy expressway. Before my mother's eyes, Mishka darted out into 3 lanes of oncoming traffic where she
was almost run over by an 18-wheeler. At the last minute, she turned and ran back to the side of the highway and continued
running frantically. My mother called out to her. When she heard her voice calling for her, she halted, turned and looked,
cocking her head from side-to-side, only to then bolt away, running up a steep embankment into thick brush and trees, disappearing
from sight. Perhaps Mishka ran away from my mother because she didn't recognize her due to her fight or flight mode. Or, perhaps
Mishka ran away from my mother, someone she knows and loves well, because of the good Samaritan caller who was standing too
close behind my mother during the approach. Had my mother been alone when she sighted Mishka, maybe Mishka would have run
straight to her, and our ordeal would have ended then. We can't know in that scenario.
But, what we do know, is that
after being hit by a car on day one and then surviving the subsequent nine days of running an unknown region, of traversing
areas rampant with hostile coyote, of surviving two nights of below freezing weather and a torrential rain storm, of experiencing
starvation, and even of being chased by trucks and darting through traffic, when I was finally able to spot Mishka, and to
be close enough to her that Mishka was able to see, hear and smell me, she came right to me. Once in my possession, Mishka
refused all sustenance but water. She wanted no treats, no meat, and not even her favorite brand of wet dog food (her favorite).
All Mishka wanted was to climb in my lap and go to sleep. Within an hour of recovery, Mishka was walking on her leash, doing
her tricks on command, and acting exhausted but comfortable in her surroundings. Karin's experience to-date was that a dog
on its own for so long, would take weeks, if not months, to recover personality and trust for its owner. And though it did
indeed take weeks for Mishka to return to herself, it was those first few moments of love and relief that Karin witnessed
in our reunion that has added one more nugget of knowledge to her incomparable expertise.
L. Smulcer Colombus, GA.