When Pleasantville resident Laura Hill-Sulli’s four-legged friend, Piper, went missing nearly four years ago she felt like she was living in her own personal nightmare.
Hill-Sulli’s story is like most who have had the unfortunate and agonizing experience of losing their pet. As Piper was playing in the yard, a neighbor walked by with their new puppy and Piper ran after it. When the neighbor went to grab Piper to bring her home, Piper panicked and ran off.
“We never had the need to have our yard fenced in because Piper always listened to us,” Hill-Sulli said. “I couldn’t understand why she would take off.”
Hill-Sulli immediately took to social media posting photos of Piper, a seven-year-old Merle Shetland Sheepdog, on several forums devoted to finding missing pets. She also left clothing outside her home to entice Piper with a familiar scent, made thousands of fliers and posted them throughout the community, contacted local rescue organizations, shelters and animal hospitals, and enlisted a pet communicator with the hope her family and Piper would be reunited.
“Every day we would receive what we would consider a valid sighting. So, at all hours of the day and night we would go to where the sighting was,” Hill-Sulli said. “The hardest part for me was we would get a phone call from someone who was so positive that they saw Piper. We would scour the area of where they claimed the sighting to be and we came up with nothing. It was like chasing the wind.”
When Piper was discovered in a gated community in Mount Kisco following her two-month adventure, Hill-Sulli took steps to ensure Piper would never go missing again. Along with erecting a metal spindle fence along their property, Piper is now microchipped and is always accompanied outside.
“I always had hope that we would get her back,” Hill-Sulli said. “Piper came running right over to me and I promptly picked her up and burst into tears.”
While Piper was found by someone who saw a posting on Facebook forum, Lost Pets of the Hudson Valley, Lisa Bonanno-Spence, of the SPCA of Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, said Facebook is a great resource to swiftly spread the word when a pet goes missing, but stressed the importance of contacting the police department, animal control and local shelters immediately.
“If no one knows your dog is missing in your neighborhood, they can’t help you,” said SPCA dog trainer Lisa Ricker. “The most important thing is getting the information to your local shelters because you want them to know right away that your dog is missing.”
Ricker added that having your dog microchipped enables shelters and animal control officers to reunite owners with their pets much faster. Off the roughly 200 stray or lost dogs the shelter gets a year, Ricker said many of them aren’t microchipped. It would make the search process go faster if the pet was microchipped and the microchip was registered, she said.
With dogs often running of their leash or out the door, jumping fences, bolting through an invisible fence, or digging holes under fencing, Ricker and Bonanno-Spence suggested pet owners train their dogs and attach a GPS tracker on their collar to pinpoint their exact location if they run off.
“You have to find what works for you,” Ricker said. “It’s an important resource because it can track your dog.”
Candy Higgins, who is on the board of directors for A New Chance Animal Rescue in Bedford Hills, advised pet owners use both a collar and a harness when walking their dog, especially on the Fourth of July or during thunderstorms when loud noises can often startle pets and cause them to run away.
She recommended pet owners not chase after their dog if they do get loose, citing that dogs have a flight instinct and will go into survival mode. Higgins also advised community members to contact their local authorities if they spot a missing dog. She stressed how vital it is to ensure a lost dog stays in an area to increase recovery, adding that approaching an already skittish animal may propel them to run off expanding the search zone.
“Call the number on the poster, call animal control, call the local veterinarian,” Higgins said. “The best possible thing you can do is report the dog, remember everything about the dog and what direction it was going in, and not approach or chase them.”
While there are no foolproof tactics to prevent your dog from getting loose, animal experts emphasized keeping all equipment, including microchips, GPS trackers, fences, and leashes in good working condition.
With the SPCA reuniting at least 120 dogs with their families annually, Ricker said it’s gratifying knowing the pet has a home to return to and the family is happy.
“It’s much nicer to know the dog is sleeping in their home at night instead of a shelter,” Bonanno-Spence added.