Loose Dogs on the Highway

We've all seen them and driven past, wincing

December 17, 2012 (published)
By Teri Ann Oursler, DVM

The Shih Tzu mix immediately made himself at home in the van full of veterinarians.

We’ve all seen them and driven past, wincing. We've narrowly avoided hitting them, those terrified, lost dogs running loose on the highway.

Fortunately, when I saw one last week I was driving a van filled with veterinarians. Unfortunately, we were a group of bleary-eyed, caffeine-deprived veterinarians. Having rented a van and being an early riser, I’d offered to give many people a ride back to the airport after our meeting. Given the zombie-state of our group at 4 a.m., it was amazing that anyone noticed the bundle clambering around in the middle of the road. Maybe it figures that the radiologist spotted what I thought was a rabbit who would bounce across the road out of my way. I was wrong, and I had to come to a complete stop on the freeway off-ramp to avoid hitting the semi-soggy, well-groomed Shih Tzu mix.

As he stood and stared at us from the center of the ramp, several thoughts ran through my head. Picking him up was going to be like tossing a nest of caffeinated kittens into my tightly scheduled day, and several people were relying on me to get them to the airport on time. Picking him up would also make him my responsibility, which was not going to mesh smoothly with my own flight home in a few hours. Also, many dogs have been brought to my own veterinary hospital with the idea that I would be footing the bill for any problems encountered, and as I didn’t want to do that to anyone else I wondered how much money I was willing to spend on a stranger’s dog.

On the other hand, he had the automobile I.Q. of your average rutabaga and letting him get hit by a car goes against my professional urges. I remembered the terror I felt when my dogs inadvertently got out and my relief when I found them hours later while driving around the countryside in the dark. I was afraid that like many of his lost canine brethren, this one might run away from my help and wind up in worse trouble on the freeway itself. While all this was running through my head, the van was stopped, in the dark, in the middle of the freeway off-ramp – not exactly driving safety tip number one.

My husband believes that I attract strays at higher than the average rate and he may be right (but I will never admit that out loud). I also think it is a trait shared amongst my profession, so five veterinarians in one van was a powerful dog magnet!

I started to pull away but feeling that magnetic pull he just ran alongside me, begging for a ride: "PLEEEEEEEZE SAVE ME!!!!" I hit the off switch on all of the above thoughts and stopped the van. Wendy opened a door and my three compatriots in the back started calling and whistling. The little dog ran around to the open door, decided that we met his criteria for a suitable ride and jumped in. He looked a bit perturbed that we didn't immediately offer him a seat, but he did finally convince Nyssa that she had more than enough space on her seat to share with him! He jumped up to enjoy the view.

He was now the only relaxed member of the party. The rest of us sat in stunned silence as the ramifications of our impromptu rescue mission descended. I was the only one in the car not boarding a flight in an hour and a half, and I had plans for the morning including another airport run, my own flight, and maybe coffee and a nap.

However, if veterinarians are nothing else, we are problem solvers. We knew that he probably had an owner as Rachael found a collar but no tags. The leather collar with flower studs initially led us to believe he was a she, but Nyssa’s thorough intake exam clarified that issue quickly. Wendy asked where a microchip scanning app was when you needed it, and Nyssa started looking up local shelter phone numbers. Bill mused that if it had been his wife’s dog, she would be frantic right now looking for him.

Bill took the shoulder strap off my purse (who knew that having it disconnect on both ends was essential for the traveling vet!), and Nyssa got it on the dog so we could safely unload the car at the airport; there was no reason to lose him again!

As we continued on to the airport, I realized that the nap I had scheduled between my two airport runs was over before it started. Nyssa texted me the shelter phone number, so after unloading all but my four-legged passenger, I found a McDonald’s parking lot (complete with coffee!) and called the shelter, hoping someone would be able to help me at 4:45 on this dark Friday morning. Thankfully, the people at the Yolo Animal Shelter had done a nice job of setting up their answering system and as I pressed the button for emergency dispatch I was hoping it was an emergency to them.

The dispatcher was friendly and understanding. She explained that they had no one to take the dog until the shelter opened at 8 a.m. She listened carefully when I told her my predicament of more airport runs and flying out myself. She put me on hold before coming back to tell me a deputy in the building would be willing to meet me in the parking lot if I would drive the dog to their dispatch office. No problem – just give me the address. My trusty GPS did not seem to believe that Woodland has a street named “Tony” so my wonderful dispatcher talked to me as I drove to their facility. And my furry little companion? Why he snoozed on the front seat beside me, as if he did not have a care in the world!

I met the deputy and we drove around back to place the dog in a kennel. The dog did not want me to leave him – those big brown eyes bored right into me and then he tried to dig out of the cement kennel - but at least he was now safe and I was free to return to my previously scheduled programming.

Later, after I had gotten myself to the airport and through security, I finally had time to call the shelter. Despite the confusion caused by our unorthodox drop-off, the shelter staffer who answered the phone was willing to do some detective work. She called me back with the news that our furry little friend had found his family. They were traveling through Woodland on their way home to Las Vegas when he took an unscheduled pit stop and got out of their car. Thankfully, they also contacted the Yolo Animal Shelter and got their little buddy back in a very short time. I am very happy for them and their lucky little grey and white dog!

I want to leave you with some tips for when you find yourself on either side of that little lost dog on the highway:

  • Try to keep tags on your dog even if it does make a black spot on his white fur. Include contact information that is not likely to change any time soon, including your cell phone number. 
  • Microchip your dog so that if he is at the shelter, they know he belongs to someone. It provides an added layer of protection in case he slips his collar. 
  • Register your microchip number so that the microchip company knows how to contact you, and update your contact information with them if it changes. 
  • Contact law enforcement and shelters in the area where you lost your dog. 
  • Go to the shelter yourself. Don’t rely on a description of your dog to be enough for identification (there are a LOT of grey and white dogs in this world). 
  • Put up fliers around the neighborhood where your dog was lost, preferably with a photo of him.

If you find a lost dog (or cat):

  • Keep a spare leash (or a detachable purse strap!) in your car to use so the animal won’t escape again. 
  • Protect yourself from getting bitten by using a towel, muzzle, jacket, etc., especially if the animal is hurt. 
  • Call local law enforcement to tell them where and when you found the dog. 
  • Don’t take him home; take him to the shelter so the owners have a place to look for him. 
  • If the dog is hurt and you take him to a veterinarian, be willing to pay the bill or make sure there is a method in place for the veterinarian to be paid by the shelter. Don't leave the veterinarian holding the financial bag.

And, before you drive a van full of dog-magnets to the airport, find coffee and NEVER EVER plan a nap!

1 Comment

May 21, 2013 

Great article with some excellent advice for those of us who love pets, including our own! 

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