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    Op-Ed
    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    A community and a dog named Bear

    In the first week of November, a dog owner from Ledyard, Robert Hanna, was walking the family’s two Australian shepherds, father and son, on a woodland trail off Ryder Road in North Stonington. Suddenly, the dogs were charged by an unleashed dog. Bear, the younger of the two dogs, bolted, still leashed. Despite calls to the frightened dog, Bear continued deeper into the woods and out of sight.

    Bear

    In this part of North Stonington, one of the state’s largest towns in acreage at over 55 square miles but sparsely populated, there are large uninterrupted swaths of forest where a dog, unfamiliar with the area, could easily become disoriented, and in this case, possibly entangled by a leash.

    Knowing that chasing the dog would be futile and even counter-productive, Bear’s owners quickly posted notice of his disappearance on social media with a picture of the Aussie, and shortly later signs began to appear on telephone poles in areas nearby to where the dogs had been walking on leash. The postings ignited a quickly expanding group of animal lovers and other caring people who felt great concern for Bear and his owners.

    As soon as she was notified, North Stonington’s Animal Control officer, Kasha Deshefy, took the lead in organizing the growing posse and soon social media was alive with suggestions — let’s get a drone, put out a trap to entice him to come, expand the area for physical posters — to potential sightings, followed by directions not to chase or try to capture the dog for fear that he would bolt again. This behavior is common for dogs who have gone into flight mode. The list of well-wishers and participants in the hunt kept getting larger as word of the lost dog and fear for its survival spread. When there were sightings, there was a risk that good-intentioned people would swarm to the locale. Kasha and the owners quickly warned people from further pursuing the dog.

    The hunt was well organized. One morning, my wife and I joined several others at a town park where we received posters and were shown a map that marked areas yet uncovered, and the wait went on, as did the outpouring of concern and support on social media. Then, several days after Bear had disappeared, there were sightings, first a mile or so to the north, another close by to where he had first bolted and, then, more than a week after Bear had disappeared, he was seen ducking traffic, nearly getting hit on a busy state highway. He then was seen running through a nearby neighborhood. With a storm impending, a trap was set by Kasha with the hope he would be lured by the smells of food. Still, no luck. The next morning, a miracle happened: Bear turned himself in. He came whimpering and pawing at the porch door of a house in the vicinity of his last sighting! Recognizing Bear immediately from the postings, the homeowner brought him into her home and immediately called Bear’s owners. What a happy reunion! Bear had obviously chewed through his leash, probably freeing him from some obstacle, and finally, he had sought help. Smart dog! Tired, bedraggled and in need of a bath, Bear was whole and home.

    When all was done, the owners reported that over 150 people physically searched for Bear over the nine days and nights he was gone. More than 200 posters and over 1,000 flyers were distributed. Additionally, there were four drone searches, and on social media there were more than 2,500 posts and suggestions. Even school bus drivers and post office workers were on the alert for Bear.

    In a world that seems ever fracturing, where many show little understanding or empathy for others, this example of people coming and working together in common cause was refreshing and heartwarming. When we have the will, we know how to be a community. In this case, the people of North Stonington learned much from each other in this common pursuit as well as the joy of a collective success. Great community. Smart dog!

    Tom Bishop lives in North Stonington.

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