Most Recent Possible Sightings

Confirmed Sighting: May 9 2012, north Chevy Chase. [2011]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.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

PART TWO: Scam or Real Lead?

This is a follow up to our earlier post about a caller who said a neighbor was selling a dog that could be Sassafras and if we’d meet him and give him some money, he’d take us to where the person is. Of course, since we’re writing this you know we have not found Sassafras, which is what really matters. The question of whether we had a real or false lead is still unresolved, however, and we’ve greatly appreciated the interest, thoughts, advice and offers of help.

This rather long post is divided into three parts: (1) what we’ve done; (2) why we believe it’s a scam; and (3) possible next steps and our moral dilemma.


On Sunday, a friend had agreed to go with us to meet the caller at Georgia NW and Colombia, but when the caller would not provide more specific details, we decided not to go. Instead, we:

  •  put up about 20 flyers in the area (along Georgia Ave NW, between Colombia and Park) with Sassfras’ picture that said that she had possibly been sited, to call us anytime, and that a reward would be available for safe return. We’ve received no calls;

  • briefly visited the police station on Park, just off Georgia Avenue, and handed the attending police officer some of our Sassafras business cards and said that someone had called saying a neighbor in the area was selling a dog that could be ours. We did not file an official report. The police officer agreed that it sounded like a scam, that he was unaware of anyone selling dogs in the area, asked if we had called Animal Control, and took the cards;

  • tried to back trace the phone number of the caller using legal databases we have access to (that have been very helpful in breaking past scam/crank calls). The phone is a Baltimore extension and cell phone number, essentially meaning it can’t be back-traced by us;

  • using similar databases, tried to see how many people with the caller’s name (he only gave a first name) lived along the few blocks of Park near Georgia. There were 6 and we decided against knocking on their doors…;

  • put up a blog post;

  • emailed the information in the blog post, as well as the name and phone number of the caller, to a couple of the local news reporters who have done past stories about Sass, suggesting that this would be an interesting lead for them to follow. They have not expressed any interest;

  • yesterday, we called the Washington Humane society’s animal cruelty hotline. Since we do not have a location or strong reason to believe that an animal is being mistreated, they cannot do anything. They recommended we call the police.

  • yesterday, we called the police, who said we’d need to come in person to file a report. We did not file a report (see #2).


  • The story kept changing. At first the caller was not interested in a reward, but just wanted to help us. It was always unclear why he couldn’t just tell us where to go, if that’s the case. When he didn’t call back the first day, but did the next day and said the neighbor still had the dog (but that he didn’t tell the neighbor about us), that didn’t make sense. He should have just told his neighbor about us. As we explained to the caller, nobody would pay the person selling the dog more than we would. When he later refused to meet us without accepting a payment at first, wouldn’t say his full name, wouldn’t say where he lived, it felt more and more like a scam. He then provided more details about the house where the dog was being kept (in a basement, being well-treated… not bony at all, and that possibly had been given a bath), all of which sounded like an attempt to keep us interested…

  • If this caller was really an animal lover, as he claimed, we believe he would tell us the location. He should ultimately care more about the animal than a small amount of money he requested ($20).

  • Nobody has called us even two days after putting flyers up in the area.

  • The police knew nothing about anyone selling a dog in the area. (Of course, they probably wouldn’t, but it is a piece of evidence against the story)

  • It doesn’t make sense that someone would try to sell Sassafras. Although we love her dearly, she’s not a purebred. She’s not that friendly to strangers - ask our babysitter, at whom she barked every day for a year. She’s not a great commodity. Sure, there are stories of people out there stealing dogs and trying to sell them, but it’s hard to believe they would try to sell Sass.

  • Some details just don’t fit. The caller said that the dog was in good health and very friendly. Sass is unlikely to be in great shape after four months being lost and she never was that great with strangers. It simply does not fit that she would be found in this area, remain quiet, and match this description.

Of course, all these could be refuted….

It’s very hard to not follow every single lead, but after four months we’ve learned that to remain sane (and only slightly less emotionally downtrodden), we have to use some sort of filter if we want to have any life at all. We’ve had to deal with a lot of mistreatment by crank callers (besides just plain nasty calls about eating or killing our dog, we’ve also gone to places to meet callers to find them not there). We have leads that just can’t be followed or sound improbable, either because there was not enough detail or something in the description simply did not match. With all of these, it’s so hard not to second guess whether it was Sass. We still lose sleep, but ultimately have to come to some sort of peace with our actions. In this instance, it’s proving especially difficult.


There are obviously some possible things that can still be done:

  • call him again and agree to meet him (if he’s still willing);

  • call him again and threaten that we’ll talk to the police, explain that he is committing a crime by protecting someone with stolen property, or otherwise try again to get him to give us the location;
  •  file a police report;

  • put the caller’s name and phone number out on this blog;

  • give the caller’s name and phone number to a rescue group or other volunteers and ask them to follow up.

Given the reasons outlined as to why we believe this is a scam, we’re currently not planning to do any of the above. But, the moral dilemmas really come into play with the last two options.

Publicizing his name and number, and thereby unleashing the power of social media against this guy has a certain vindictive appeal. We’ve daydreamed abouttrying to get “revenge” of a sort against past callers by calling them in the middle of the night (turnabout is fair play!) or putting their numbers out online and recruiting volunteers to call tell them. But we are trying not to become bad people ourselves. And, to be honest, even though we think this is a scam, in some very small way it’s still possible that he’s being honest and we don’t want to turn him into a “rat” in his neighborhood, as he has asked us not to do.

The last option is the toughest. There’s the possibility that a dog is out there in need of a good home. In theory, a rescue group might be recruited to try to find out if this is true and take care of the dog (we simply are not in the emotional place to care for another dog).Do we now ask others to take this on? It feels morally wrong to us to ask others to do something we’re not willing to do.

And that's where we are right now.  We thank you all for your support, and comments both here on the blog and behind the scenes.  It's phenomenal, and we believe it is this community that will bring Sass home to us.


  1. Sorry, but this really sounds like this is a scam. Somebody saw your flyers and is trying to take advantage of the situation.

    I've seen your flyers all over the NW DC and Bethesda area and know you miss your dog. I hope she turns up.

  2. It absolutely sounds like a scam. It seems like this guy was trying to get you to give him some amount of money for the lead and used the "I just want to help you" thing as a way to throw you off.

    It doesn't make sense to publicize this guy's name/number. Like you said, in the very unlikely situation that it isn't a scam, you'll have turned a well-meaning person into a rat, potentially putting him in an unsafe/bad situation. If it is a scam, you're dealing with a person who is clearly both desperate and unstable. Vengeance isn't going to be productive, and all you're going to do is create unnecessary conflict with someone who isn't playing with a full deck.

    Best of luck finding family is in Bethesda and I live near UDC...everyone is keeping their eyes peeled.