See October revised version of this FAQ here.
We've recently been receiving emails asking why we think Sass is still out there and how she's surviving and might be caught. Below are our attempts at answering these and other frequently asked questions:
Q: Is it really Sassafras?
Our sightings are confirmed by the tracking dog, which are basically 100%. If Sassafras' scent isn't there, the dog has nothing to follow. (http://www.puregoldpettrackers.com/) We had plenty of negative sightings where the tracking dog didn't find anything.
To explain a bit more.... When we receive a phone call (or email) about a sighting, we ask lots of questions to see if the sighting was likely Sassafras. For those that are promising and we have a very specific location to start a track from, we bring in the tracker. The tracking dog sniffs a scent article three times (in our case, a bag full of Sass' hair and her brush) and then uses her nose to determine if she can follow that scent.
Q: How is she staying alive?
Our assumption is that Sass is chasing small animals and finding trash, as well as discovering water sources. We don't think someone is directly feeding her because the confirmed sightings have all come from someone who saw her alone and the tracks have covered a great deal of ground. During the tracks there is evidence that Sass is chasing animals and stopping at water sources.
It is normal for lost animals to travel when people are not around. Now, because of the heat, and her shyness around people, Sass seems to be traveling at night. Our last confirmed sighting of her was 3:30 a.m.
Q: Why hasn't she been captured or come to a human for help?
There are a lot of reasons why it's been so hard to catch Sassafras. First, Sass was only comfortable with humans in her "pack" (in other words, only we or her daycare providers could pet her... strangers could only pet her after at least 10 minutes in our company). Second, her breed(s). Beagles are born travelers, so Sass' 10+ mile radius of what she now considers her territory isn't unusual. It's a needle/haystack problem. One night we had a call that she was in a yard with a fence - all the property owners had to do was close the fence, but they chased her off the property instead, and when she runs, she runs fast. By the time we got there (another neighbor called us and told us the not-dog-people were chasing her), Sass was long gone. Second, because of the heat, and her shyness around people, Sass seems to be traveling at night (see question above). Dogs live in the now so Sass isn't reasoning that she needs to find people - she's finding food, water and shelter and in her brain that is her life now, she's not trying for anything beyond her needs. She doesn't think like a human, so we can't impose human logic on her thoughts. For shelter, she's probably curled up under a bush somewhere - we see plenty of places where this is possible on our tracks.
We have heard of a lot of dogs that have been gone longer than Sass and survived - at the moment there are a couple of mastiffs who have been avoiding people for months - if an 80 lb dog can hide, our little Sass can certainly be overlooked.
Q: How will you get her back? What's the plan?
We're hoping to determine what her territory is. When we can, we set up feed stations and hope she will return to those. Where it makes sense, we also put a motion-sensitive camera by the feeding station. We hope to catch an image of Sass at one of those stations. We'll then set up a trap to catch her.
Q: Why so many flyers?
The best way we can get a message to people on the ground at the moment they might see Sassafras is through flyers. We can't wait for the day when Sass is returned and we can take down all the flyers! We realize that the flyers disrupt the normal appearance of an area in which they are placed (that's their purpose), but do ask that people not remove them.
We are also trying to be as creative as possible in getting the word out in other ways. We have business cards that we pass out. We've placed ads in local papers, from the Washington Post to Street Sense. We've used FindToto to have 1000 robo-calls placed to area residents. We've also tried to activate social media and have messages on Craigslist, listservs, a blog with 23000+ page views, a twitter account, youtube videos, and more. Plus, we've reached out to local media and they have run stories, including the Washington Post, NBC, ABC, FOX, Chevy Chase Patch. A student at American University is now doing a documentary.... We receive new ideas all the time and try to incorporate those into the search and always welcome volunteers who can help get the word out.
Q: What should we do if we see her?
Snap a picture on your phone/camera if you have one. Make a mental note of what you see (dog size and coloring, especially face and tail) and exact location. Then immediately call us (and email us later). Calling her name or chasing her is very unlikely to work. See this blog entry for more ideas.
Q: Is she chipped? (What's a chip?)
Yes! A chip is a small device (RFID) that is implanted under the skin. Using a hand-held scanner, vets and shelters are supposed to scan any dogs brought in. We have notified the system in charge that Sass is lost, and they enter that into their database and communicate with vets and shelters in the area that a dog is lost. In theory, if Sass is scanned, the person conducting the scan will quickly discover that we're looking for her and we'll be contacted by the system.
Q: Have you checked the shelters? Have you checked with animal hospitals?
YES! Early in the search, flyers were sent to all the area shelters and animal hospitals. We filed lost dog reports in Montgomery and Prince Georges (and a number of other shelters). Most shelters put pictures of dogs up online for us to scan. We also have staff, especially at the DC shelter, who are looking out for Sass on our behalf.
Q: How did you lose her? (Are you bad owners?)
The tragedy for us is that we didn't lose her.
Every day, Sass went to daycare during the week and did so for 3+ years. One day (April 8), when they had her out for a walk, she got out/off her leash. We really don't know how and the daycare feels awful. They have been taking care of her since before we knew her. The daycare was associated with the rescue from which we first got Sass when she was 6 weeks old. They are helping with the search by both volunteering and covering some of the search costs.
We did just about all we could to avoid this tragedy. Sass has a chip. She has a collar that not only has her tags, but has her name and our home phone number stitched in.
In hindsight, we've learned that there are also GPS systems that can be attached to collars. When we get her back, Sass will have one of those so she can be tracked directly, should that need ever arise. (We hope to never go through this again.)
Q: How many volunteers do you have?
We couldn't do this without the support and advice of fantastic volunteers, most of whom were complete strangers to us before Sass was lost. There are about 10 people who help with flyering and dozens more who have help get the word out through social media. And there are even more who send in words of encouragement and follow the blog. WE CAN'T THANK YOU ENOUGH!
Most Recent Possible Sightings
Confirmed Sighting: May 9 2012, north Chevy Chase. December 11, neighborhood outside Colombia Country Club. October 20, Colombia Country Club. September 14, Candy Cane City and into Rock Creek Park. September 7 or 8, Brookville and Shepherd in Chevy Chase, and then back south on Connecticut to Chevy Chase circle (where she is getting water, we believe). August 28th, on Thornapple in Chevy Chase, and then headed south on Connecticut!
(For other sightings, see archive at the bottom of the page.)
(For other sightings, see archive at the bottom of the page.)