October 26, 2015

Lessons learned from a missing dog in Barbados

Last Tuesday evening, our lovable pooch Molly decided to take a stroll through the neighbourhood and never returned.

We had Molly for about two months and she frequently escaped the property for a couple of hours when we weren't home, no matter what we tried. She was the 'houdini' of hounds and always managed to take her collar off and get out, no matter what we tried. We were relying on dog training to help us with this issue, and she had just completed her first session when she went missing again.

We were pretty worried, as she is a beautiful Bull Mastiff/Ridgeback female - a desirable mix in Barbados where breeders and dog fighters alike look for big, strong dogs to add to their collection. Dog kidnapping and theft is pretty common here, and we immediately feared the worst. We searched the surrounding areas and notified our neighbours, hoping that she would be back in the morning.

When she failed to show up on Wednesday morning, we put together a basic flyer, printed a bunch and also shared it on social media - namely my personal profile and in a 'Lost & Found Pets' group, as well as local animal shelters. This was then shared by dog lovers and friends alike, with everyone reassuring me that she would come back soon. We were offering a reward to anyone who could return Molly to us.

We drove through the surrounding neighbourhoods handing out flyers. We stopped at every construction site on the development behind our house, talking to the men on site and asking them to keep an eye out. We live behind a mall, and the flyers were distributed to various shops and restaurants at the mall.

The question that kept bugging me was this: "Who would take a dog?"

The answer can be split into two groups:

(A) someone who wants to save her, and will likely turn her in to an animal shelter


(B) someone who saw a money making opportunity for a new breeding or fighting dog, and has no intention of giving her back, unless there was a monetary incentive.

We weren't worried about Person A too much, as they would eventually turn Molly in if they had picked her up. It was Person B we were worried about, and we needed to reach them somehow.

Spreading the word was a bit of a strategic game - we had to think of who we were targeting and how best to reach them. 

Would they be listening to the radio? Possibly, but there were too many radio stations to choose from.

Would they be online? Possibly, but only if they fit into certain age groups and demographics. We often forget how insular our social media networks are, even with thousands of online friends. 

A newspaper ad would be ineffective, because it would take a day or two to get the ad in the paper.

They were most likely to have a smartphone of some sort. Most Barbadians use Whatsapp, so we contacted 'influencers' - people who were connected to a wide, diverse network of people. We asked them to send out the flyer via Whatsapp and to reiterate the reward being offered for her safe return.

We asked friends to send the message out to groups, gym buddies, work colleagues, employees, neighbours, family and friends. We found this to be the most effective tool that casted a wide net, and we had a great response using this medium. It was surprising to hear how far the message had spread! 

In the end, good ol' school flyers saved the day.

Molly was picked up by an elderly gentleman on Wednesday. He saw her roaming along the highway and was worried about her safety, so he piled her into his car and brought her home. Molly is incredibly gentle, and the gentleman's granddaughter took to her immediately. He owned pitbulls and figured Molly would fit in to the pack quite nicely.

On Thursday, he went to the mall (behind our house) and saw one of the flyers that we had distributed. He immediately recognised Molly and (later told us) that he knew he had to return our pet to us. He thought of his own dogs and would have hated for someone to take one of them away from him.

We got a call from him on Thursday evening and we picked Molly up.

Our story has a very happy ending, because Molly was extremely lucky to be picked up by someone who cared.

The reactions to our search for a missing pet were varied - I was met with sarcastic, skeptical, shocking comments such as: 

"What, are we in America now? Looking for missing dogs?" 

"ha, she's definitely locked up in a dog house somewhere"

"That looks like a great dog for fighting." (When I retorted that she was too gentle to fight, the response was "Any dog can be trained to fight, she can be 'made' aggressive, you know.")

"She looks like a great dog to breed"

On the flip side, kind strangers reached out to help and the support was very comforting. I only hope that the local attitude towards pets, breeding and dog fighting continues to evolve and that one day Barbados will be a more dog/animal friendly society.

This experience not only restored my faith in my small island community, but it also reiterated the power of networks and media. In a country with a pretty high internet and mobile penetration rate, news can spread like wildfire, but it seems like a mix method of traditional and new media is still the way to go if you want to reach every Barbadian possible.

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