Today’s post is brought to you by the request of my friend Jill. It’s a true story about a tall girl with glasses (me!) who joined forces with hundreds of others to reunite a lost dog with his owner.
Note: The photos in this post were extracted from a popular neighborhood app.
This story began on December 30th, 2018 but I got involved much later, on January 12th.
January 12th started off like any other day but ended in an unexpected way. Peter and I were living in Seattle at the time so it was probably a miserable rainy winter day and I’d probably read the entire Internet that day which is why I came across the social media post about a lost dog on a popular neighborhood app.
The post below is what I consider to be the main thread about the lost dog who would later affectionately become known as “Big Red”.
It took a couple of days for neighbors to start connecting the dots and realize that the individual lost dog sightings that were being posted in the app were actually about the same dog and that the dog was traveling multiple miles a day across three Seattle neighborhoods.
Two women immediately assumed the role of lead detectives, gathering and documenting details of sightings on an Excel spreadsheet. By the time I came across the post, there were 70+ comments/replies and hundreds of people actively engaged.
I was intrigued. How could there be so many comments about a lost dog? Why was this thread still very active nearly two weeks after it was initially posted? Is this post about the dog I’d seen running loose two days prior? Most importantly, had the dog been reunited with its owner?
I needed to know the answers to these questions so I read, in detail, every comment. It took me 20 minutes to read the thread. It read like a soap opera and by the end of those 20 minutes, I was involved. I was committed. I was going to help rescue Big Red and, at worst, get him into an animal shelter and, at best, reunite him with his owner, if one existed.
Early in the thread people started posting pictures of the dog captured from their home security cameras. With these photos, I was able to answer one of my questions. Yes, this was the same dog I’d seen two days prior whilst driving through a nearby neighborhood.
A few comments after the first photo was posted, a person proposed that we name the dog and she wrote, “How about we name him Big Red?” and that was that; Operation Big Red was officially underway.
About a week into the operation, one of the lead detectives made two separate trips to Kenmore (located about an hour’s drive north of Seattle) to borrow two humane traps. Initially, all of the sightings of Big Red were concentrated in one area – or so they thought – so one trap was set in that area. Big Red never took the bait. A couple of days later and only after they’d started tracking sightings in Excel, they realized that Big Red was toggling between two areas and, alas, a second trap was needed and set. Big Red never took the bait in the second trap either.
By the time I got involved, the search area had grown because Big Red was actually bouncing between three hotspots, in three different neighborhoods, miles apart for each other. No one could piece together the puzzle of why he focusing on these three areas.
I, on the other hand, was having difficulty visualizing where the sightings had occurred. Having lived in Seattle for just over three years, I had a good handle on the lay of the land but I still found myself lost reading through the comments/replies and needing to refer to Google Maps often.
I thought, if I can’t follow this thread and understand where Big Red was last seen, then it likely that the majority of the people following this thread also were having problems.
So I came up with a solution and posted it to the thread. I called it the Big Red Tracker and it was f–ing fabulous. Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe Nicolase.
I created a custom Google Map and added pins in reverse chronological order based on the thread’s comments to give a visual to Big Red’s movements.
Gray paw pins represented unconfirmed Big Red sightings. Green paw pins represented confirmed Big Red sightings. Finally, the red paw pin represented the most recent confirmed Big Red sighting.
From a bird’s eye view, Big Red’s three hotspots were obvious.
One of the best features of the map was that the paw pins highlight as you hover your mouse over an item in the legend. By doing this, you can see Big Reds movements in a video format. Below is a sample of the sightings.
The day after I created the Big Red Tracker, a man claiming to be Big Red’s human commented on the thread. He explained that Big Red was a rescue dog, had social anxiety, and would only come to him.
Everyone was skeptical. Where had this human been for the past two weeks? There were lost dog posters everywhere, why hadn’t he called the phone numbers of the lead detectives? Was this human just another a-hole trying to torpedo neighbors working together to achieve something great?
One of the lead detectives took the conversation with the alleged owner offline and the thread went cold. We all waited patiently for an update. Several hours later, the lead detective replied and reported that she’d met with the alleged owner, that’s he legit, and that they went to the area where Big Red was seen a few hours earlier.
They saw Big Red, distraught, hungry, and distressed walking in the distance. The owner called his name, “Charlie!”
Big Red looked in their direction. “Charlie! Charlie!” Big Red stared in their direction. “Charlie! Come! Charlie! Charlie!” and Big Red ran to his human.
And in that very moment, two weeks of hard work involving hundreds of dedicated neighbors came to a close. Operation Big Red was a success!
The participants of Operation Big Red were happy that Charlie had been reunited with his human but we were left with so many questions, mainly why Charlie’s human been missing-in-action for two weeks and why had Charlie had bounced between three hotspots?
Charlie’s human explained.
On December 30th, he was driving (Charlie was in the car) and got into a car accident near location #2 on the map below. Out of fear, Charlie fled the scene and Charlie’s human was taken to the hospital where he remained for several days.
OK, but what about the other two locations?
Location #1 was an area where Charlie’s human and Charlie lived previously and location #3 is the area where Charlie’s human and Charlie currently reside.
It was an aha moment for everyone involved in Operation Big Red. Desperate to find his human, Charlie was bouncing between his current residence, his prior residence, and the spot where he’d last seen his human.
Dogs are smart. And devoted. And loving.
It’s been almost eight months since Operation Big Red ended and I still think about this story. It’s one that tugs on my heartstrings and still brings tears to my eyes, so thanks Jill for making me cry!