It was 3:30 on a Wednesday and I was sitting at my computer working on administrative tasks for my business. My mind was busy with scheduling for the busy up coming holiday schedule when my phone rang.
I answered the phone and received the news that every professional pet sitter fears the most. My client’s Border Collie had run away from my pet sitter and was gone.
My initial reaction was clearly this was a mistake. We’ve taken care of this girl for 2 and a half years and the clients have always told us not to worry about her being off leash in their unfenced yard (something we had never experienced an issue with the entire time we’ve cared for her). Clearly such a good dog must be just hiding under the shade of some bushes in the yard to escape the summer heat? Or maybe even wandered to a neighbors house to explore for a moment but would return any second?
But as I sat on the phone with my sitter and she continued to not be able to locate Vega, my stomach sank. My absolute worst nightmare had come true.
I rushed to my clients house to aide in the search confident that she would come out for me and this horrible nightmare would be over as quickly as it started. However, the minutes ticked by and the more I called for Vega with no response, the worse the pit in my stomach grew.
I finally had to make the worst phone call I’ve ever made in my life. I had to tell my client, who trusts us with their home and their babies, that we had lost her dog. A moment like this calls for the utmost professionalism right? Yet when my client answered and the words started coming out of my mouth, tears flowed with them.
I was blessed beyond belief that she didn’t get irate. Though clearly panicked she listed places she could be and tired to help while being 8 hours away.
When I hung up the phone with her I went into emergency mode. I went to the neighbors down her street. I crossed the busy road they lived off of and started talking to construction workers, landscapers and more neighbors. No one had seen her. It was as if Vega had just disappeared out of thin air.
Roughly forty-five minutes into the search one of the neighbors from across the street came over yelling that he had just seen her at the gas station on the corner of the busy intersection. Adrenaline kicked in and I bolted. Running down the street with power and speed I didn’t know I was capable of, hopeful that this nightmare was coming to a close.
Yet, to my disappointment, when I arrived at the gas station Vega was already gone. The only lead we had was gone with no idea in which direction to look. Miles of wooded forest in one direction made me go numb as I tried not to think of the impossibility of finding one dog in miles of trees and brush.
As I began my search again in every which direction, my clients family came to help as well and almost an hour and a half into the search we got another break. Almost a mile down the road where all the woods are, construction workers in a new property development had seen her in the middle of the road but didn’t know which way she went. I was more discouraged than ever now that it was confirmed she was likely running into the woods.
I drove around for hours. Where do you even start looking with so much land around that she could be in? I asked anyone I saw if they had seen her and time and time again I was told no. I called the police. I called rescue friends in the area and they came out to search. My husband came out to join the hunt. Yet still nothing. No one had seen or knew anything.
Finally, with nearly an hour left until dark, I decided to drive to the local state park where Vega often went with her mom. The park has miles and miles of forest but it was all I had left. I drove into the park and searched. Nothing.
About to give up and go home, by the grace of God I happened to look out my window and saw the tips of black ears poking out of a field of tall grass. It was Vega. I stopped the car, got out and called to her so happy to have found her! But the minute she saw me she bolted and within seconds was gone deep into the woods.
My clients family joined my husband and I at the park and we began our search again. I was so sure she would come out when she heard the voice of family. I managed to chase down a DNR truck to inform them of the situation and they notified all the staff in the park. DNR officers in trucks and golf carts began searching the park as well. With all this man power we were guaranteed to find her!
However, as the light gave way to darkness there was still no Vega. We were forced to go home, an idea I found inconceivable. How can I go home and just sit there knowing my client’s dog was out alone in the park somewhere?!
Vega is a very smart girl and my client knew she could find her way home if she wanted so we left the garage door cracked open so she could go in and be safe if she returned.
At 1:30 in the morning I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was wide awake. By 2:30 I gave in to my worry and anxiety, got into my car with a blanket and some breakfast sausage and drove to my client’s home again.
I was hoping beyond all hope that I would pull in the drive, look in the garage and there she would be. I held my breath as I turned the corner and my heart sank when I saw the empty garage. I got out with a flashlight and looked around calling for her with no response. I left the blanket and sausage in the garage just in case. I drove up and down the main roads hoping not to find her lying in the street. When I saw no sign of her (this time I was grateful for that!) I headed to the park again.
At 3 in the morning in complete darkness I sat calling her name. In the quiet stillness of the night, I heard nothing but the sound of my own voice bouncing back at me from off the trees.
The next morning I headed to the park bright and early with flyers. I was also blessed to find that there were two local professional pet sitters who dropped everything to meet me at the park. Friends I didn’t even know I had.
After another 4 hours of searching and posting flyers we had another break! One of my pet sitter friends had seen her trying to cross the intersection where the park ended, a mile away from home. To our disappointment she darted back into the woods and disappeared again.
Quickly stopping to have some lunch and restock on flyers I headed to the park yet again. By this time, my client’s husband had flown in for the day so he could join the search. We stayed in the park for hours. Calling for Vega. Searching all her favorite spots in the park. Asking every single person who passed if they saw a dog. Nothing. No sign of her at all.
At 3pm the husband and I decided to call it quits for a bit. My mind said no but my body was giving up. By that point I had covered 20 miles of ground. I was in so much physical pain I could hardly walk. Disappointed and disheartened I left the park.
Two minutes after I left the park I got a call. A gentleman had just been biking in the park and saw my flyer. When he returned home from the park Vega was on his property! This means she had crossed the main road, left the park and was getting closer to home.
My clients husband searched the area for another hour while I waited at the house with all the doors open confident any minute she would come right into the house to play frisbee with me. Again, nothing. My client told me to go home and “rest” and he would go out and look more later.
By late that night when we still didn’t have Vega, I put out a call to a local rescue friend of mine who knew a lady that was wildly successful at trapping lost dogs. I talked to the trapper and she told me what I needed to do.
I had to call my client and explain to him that he had to pee in a circle in his yard and put food in the center (yes…you read that correctly). Not only did Vega run away from us but now I had to call him and tell him he needed to pee in his yard??? The logic behind this however was that dogs know us by our scent and urine carries the strongest scent. As weird of a concept as it was, he obliged as at this point we would do anything to get her home.
I woke the next morning to no updates. Still no Vega. I contacted my pet sitter friends and rescue friends and told them to resume the search as soon as they could. I made up more fliers and was ready to go. When I got a text.
“I have Vega!!”
Immediately after I got the text my client who was stuck in Kentucky called me and we sobbed together. The relief unlike anything I can even explain. Vega was home. Safe and home. She had shown up on her own and was waiting on the porch when my client’s husband woke up.
You may be wondering why I would risk sharing this with you?
A professional pet sitting company relies heavily on their reputation and word of mouth. Why would I want to put out there that my company lost a client’s dog?
Because it happened. But more than that this whole experience proved to me that this is more than a business to me. This is more than making money. This is my heart. This is my life.
Pet sitting means more to me than just having a job. It is a deep desire to provide peace and comfort to families who love their pets as much as I do. I would do anything for my clients and if something goes wrong, I will fix it. I will never leave a client in a bad spot and I want all of my clients past, future and present to know they can count on me. Not as a business owner. But as their trusted pet sitter.
The following image is a screen shot of what my client posted after Vega returned home. She could have been angry and upset with me for what had happened but because of my actions and baring my heart and soul with her through this whole process, she actually walked away appreciative! I can’t believe it myself still, but I am so grateful to her for her words as she has no idea what they mean to me.
So the next time you wonder if paying the fee for a professional pet sitter is worth it when you could just hire the high-school kid next-door remember this: I am not a special case. This is who we are as an entire pet siting profession. Every professional pet sitter I know would have done the same thing. We will go to the ends of the earth for our clients and our pets and that is a peace of mind that cannot be measured by “saving a little money”.
P.S – We now have policies in place to prevent this from every happening again in the future as well! No off leash care unless the yard is securely fenced! 🙂