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.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Is It Really Her? And Other FAQs Regarding the Search for Sassafras

Follow the link below to read our answers to the following questions:

Q: Is it really Sassafras people are seeing?
Q: How is she staying alive?
Q: Why hasn't she been captured or come to a human for help?
Q: Will she be happy to come home? (Is she too wild, or better off now on her own?)
Q: How did you lose her? (Are you bad owners?)
Q: How often does Sassafras have seizures when not on medication, and what type of seizures are they?
Q: How will you get her back? What's the plan?
Q: Is she chipped? (What's a chip?)
Q: Have you checked the shelters? Have you checked with animal hospitals?
Q: Why so many flyers?
Q: Which methods of publicity have proven most effective at bringing about
confirmed sightings?

Q: How can I help?
Q: What neighborhoods or parks does Sassafras know the way home from?
Q: What should I do if I see her?
Q: How many volunteers do you have?

Q: How much money have you spent?
Q: Help! I’ve lost my dog! What should I do? 


If you have other questions we haven't answered, comment below and we'll do our best to answer in a future post.



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 people are seeing?


Our sightings are confirmed by the tracking dog, which means we can be 100% certain she has been there. If Sassafras' scent isn't there, the dog has nothing to follow. (For a demonstration video, see http://www.puregoldpettrackers.com/) We had plenty of negative sightings where the tracking dog didn't find anything.

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 there is 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.

It’s hard for a lot of people to believe exactly how effective the tracking dog is, unless they’ve worked closely with one – the dogs use a highly-developed sense of smell and special training (the training takes about two years, and it’s generally about training the dog and human as a team so they communicate with one another) to pin-point one smell from a huge variety of smells. Someone explained it to us as if we were to give a human a color to follow, and having them follow that one line of color through many lines of many colors.

Q: How is she staying alive?

Our assumption is that Sass is chasing small animals and finding trash, as well as discovering water sources. Rock Creek Park is full of picnic sites, and the DC area has many, many creeks. 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. Because of the heat during the summer months while she was lost, and her extreme skittishness and shyness around people, Sass seems to be traveling at night. One of our confirmed sightings of her was when she crossed a road at 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, and she would avoid being touched by strangers. She’d only allow a stranger to pet her after at least 10 minutes in our company. So if someone tries to pet her or call her, she will run away. She’s very shy.

Second, her breed(s) and the natural tendencies of those breeds make it difficult.

Beagles are born travelers, so Sass' 10+ mile radius of territory isn't unusual (for those familiar with the DC area, a 10 mile radius from where she was lost in Adams Morgan is basically anywhere within the Beltway).

So we have a needle/haystack problem. People often wonder why we don’t just hang out all night at places where she’s been spotted more than once --there are many of reasons why this isn’t feasible, but --
  • The first reason is that she may take weeks to return to any one spot, or she may never go back there; because of her range, we cannot possibly predict where she’d show up. 
  • Second, Sass seems to be traveling at night (see question above). 
Dogs live in the now. 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: Will she be happy to come home? (Is she too wild, or better off now on her own?)

We’ve struggled with these questions, as well as related ones of whether she is trying to find her way home (and the big one of when we should stop the search). It’s hard to personify an animal in this way, but many dogs who have been lost for extended periods have immediately transitioned back to living with human families.

At about the 5 month mark, we asked the tracker these questions directly, and she related the story of a dog that had been captured after 9 months (including surviving a cold winter). That dog immediately snuggled up in the car ride home and was happy to go into a cage when needed. The tracker also thinks Sass is now living in the moment, living simply to survive, and cannot spend time “worrying” about finding home, but should be much happier once she returns.

We are amazed, quite frankly, that she has not been hit by a car or otherwise wounded. She did not, in our minds, have street sense. We continue to worry that her luck with run out, which is why it’s so hard for us to rationalize away the need to search for her by saying something like she’s better off now.

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 have helped 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 often does Sassafras have seizures when not on medication, and what type of seizures are they?

Sassafras was diagnosed with idiopathic focal seizures when she was less than a year old. During the seizures we witnessed, her head trembled. She did not lose consciousness, and she was aware of us during the seizures. They were not life threatening, did not happen frequently, and ended within a few minutes. Her seizures were controlled by medication soon after we observed them, and while on medication she had no seizures.

So, frankly, we do not know what her seizures would like as an adult dog, after 6+ months of not getting her medication, but it is unlikely that they are life threatening. When she’s back home with us, we will have her checked by the veterinary neurologist.

Q: How will you get her back? What's the plan?

The best case scenario is that Sassafras wanders into a yard with a fence, and someone who knows our story will close the gate and call us. We actually have had confirmed sightings of Sassafras in someone’s yard (but the owners did not like dogs and chased her away) and one confirmed sighting where she actually wandered into someone’s house, but before the homeowner could get the doors closed, Sass fled.

While we wait for that best case scenario, we also hope to accurately determine what her territory and her timing for covering that territory is. When we can, we set up feeding 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. We also tear our sheets up to leave scent strips around a neighborhood if we have reason to believe she’s near-by; our scent might keep her in the neighborhood longer and give us a better chance at catching her.

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. We check the shelters regularly, and it is really heartbreaking for us.

Q: Why so many flyers?

We’ve posted over 6000 flyers in the last 6 months. The best way we can get a message to people on the ground at a 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, and thank them very much.

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 passed out 4000+ 
  • We've placed ads in local papers, from the Washington Post to Street Sense. 
  • We've used Find Toto to have 1000 robo-calls placed to area residents. 
  • We've also tried to activate social media and have messages on Craigslist, listservs, our blog, a Twitter account, YouTube videos, Facebook, and more. 
  • Plus, we've reached out to local media and they have run stories, including the Washington Post (twice, including a mention on the cover), NBC, ABC, FOX, Chevy Chase Patch, and Let's Talk Live
  • A student at American University did a documentary, and national media picked up the story with a post on the Today Show’s blog and our appearance on Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show. 
Q: Which methods of publicity have proven most effective at bringing about
confirmed sightings?


All of them! Generally speaking, the flyers posted in neighborhoods have probably gotten us the most sightings. However, we know that we’ve reached a lot of people through all the other methods we’ve been trying, too. We think that once people see one piece of information about Sassafras, they become more aware of the others – recognizing her picture in other things. Because our search has been going on for so long, we count on this variety to let people know she’s still out there.

Q: How can I help?

Getting the word out is the most important thing. You can help by letting as many people know about Sass as possible – it increases the chances of locating her.

If you are in the DC area, we are always looking for volunteers to help us flyer neighborhoods, hand out business cards, and otherwise get the word out using social media. Even if you are not near DC, posting to your Twitter or Facebook account might be seen by someone in your circle of friends/family in the DC area.

If you live in one of the neighborhoods where Sassafras has been spotted, then you can help us by talking to your neighbors about her, and letting them know that our search for her is still active. You can also tell them that we promise to come back and remove flyers once she’s been found! We do keep records of where they’ve been posted, and we have a plan of burning them all in a big bonfire at a “Welcome Home Sassafras” party we hope we get to have very soon.

If you want to help, please email us at findsassafras@gmail.com.

Q: What neighborhoods or parks does Sassafras know the way home from?

We think that she would only know her way home from our own neighborhood, unfortunately. It is possible that she might find familiar smells if the wind is blowing the right direction that would bring her closer to our neighborhood, but we certainly can’t count on her showing up on our doorstep. We do, however, leave all our gates open, just in case!

Q: What should I do if I 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). Call us anytime! Calling her name or chasing her is very unlikely to work; it will just scare her and she’ll be off again.

Please don't chase her, or try to grab her. She's wicked fast, and she'll run away. She won't take a treat from a stranger's hand, so you will not be able to grab her. (Trust us! We know our dog!)

If she's in a yard where you can keep her contained, please do so. It might mean closing a gate, or tossing her something to eat from afar. Then call us ASAP!

The only possible way she might - and this is a big might - approach a person is if you take the least defensive posture possible for a human to take. That means you don't look at her, you lie down flat, and you make soft noises. She might - big might - might just come close to investigate.

Some more advice:
  • She is very skittish, so please ignore her and call us immediately 
  • Please don't talk to her, yell at her or call her 
  • Don't stare at her or clap your hands
  • Don't follow her
  • Any attention will only make her more afraid. Call us so we can help her. 
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 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 have had hundreds of volunteer hours spent on our search, and we cannot thank our volunteers enough.

Q: How much money have you spent?

A lot. We love her, we promised to take care of her when we adopted her, and we want to bring her home.

Q: Help! I’ve lost my dog! What should I do? 

First, get flyers up as fast as you can, in a 1 mile radius from where your dog was lost.  You really need only three things on these flyers, and they should be as large as possible:  the word "LOST", a good picture of the dog, and a telephone number where someone is available to answer.  If you know of any local neighborhood listservs, get the word out there, too.

The experts at this are the professional trackers, and their websites can be great resources for lists of what you can do if your pet is lost. For example, Pure Gold Pet Trackers has the following web page devoted to advice about what to do if your pet is lost, http://www.puregoldpettrackers.com/ (click on the “Find Your Pet” link at the top of the page), and Kustom K9 Training also has similar advice, http://kustomk9training.com/petsearchk9s.cfm.

If you have the resources to do so, hiring a professional tracker may help you. There are different kinds of trackers out there, so it is important to find one where both the dog and the tracker have been trained in search techniques, and that the dogs can confirm sightings of your pet. The two trackers mentioned above have dogs that can follow a scent weeks after the animal has been there, not just hours afterwards. If you are not in the DC area and need a tracker, good places to call are animal rescues – the animals they deal with are often frightened, and often run, so they will often employ trackers.

4 comments:

  1. This is great information and worth re-reading. It helps you understand Sassafras and what's being done to find her. It makes it clear what to do if you sight her. And this FAQ thoughtfully advises what you can do if *you* pet is lost. Most importantly, it demonstrates the dedication and love we have for our pets, and the commitment we have made to them.

    So, here's hoping that all who read this will be inspired, moved by compassion to do our small part to help each other, to look out for each others' pets, and to volunteer to help in the effort to bring Sassafras home. It truly takes a village.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Jeff and Beth,

    I am truly inspired by your FAQ's. I knew you and Beth were going through incredible lengths to find Sassafras, but this is AMAZING! More amazing is knowing she is out there is exciting, and exasperating at the same time.
    You have done so much, Jeff and Beth, (with the goodness of strangers), and I have learned SO much!
    My prayers continue and will always be with You both..hugs

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Jeff and Beth,

    Ref to the above comment, (January 7, 2012 5:30PM),

    Forgot to put my name:
    Margaret Handy-Williams - hugs

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ref to above message, forgot to sign my name:

    Margaret Handy-Williams - hugs

    ReplyDelete