Pictured: Layla back home in Santa Rosa Valley after being missing for two days and traveling as far away as 10 miles from home. Oct. 26, 2020. Photo submitted. 

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

Early in the morning of Monday, Oct. 26, Layla, a one-and-half-year old, mostly feral Chow Chow/border collie mix that had been missing from her fairly new home in Santa Rosa Valley was found enjoying her favorite spot on the grass after being missing since Saturday, Oct. 24, when she slid out through a gate left ajar. 

Prior to going missing Layla lets Steffen Rasmussen pet her, but only when another dog is close by and also being petted. Photo submitted.

“After only being here for three weeks, can they really get attached that fast? How do they do it?” asked Helle Rasmussen, who had adopted Layla from the Camarillo Animal Shelter just three weeks earlier. 

Layla had been at the shelter for a year and needed a special situation, as she was very wary of people and had bitten a previous adopter (although all agree it was out of fear not aggression). Rasmussen’s one-and-a-half acre property is fully fenced and she agreed to a plan with the shelter that no pressure would be placed on the dog to interact with people. The fencing could contain the dog, but Rasmussen knew that if Layla really wanted out, she could jump the fence at any time. She had an agreement with the shelter that if Layla took off, she would not have to pay for the recovery fee. 

Layla was adjusting to her new home nicely. She took a quick liking to Rasmussen’s two smaller and much older dogs, and would play chase with Rasmussen each morning. She also started approaching her new owner when the other dogs got treats, and even began accepting treats from Rasmussen’s hand. Layla would occasionally lay down six to eight feet away from her. 

Luckily, on the day Layla went missing, Rasmussen realized it quickly and knew which way she went down the street. She called the shelter and they recommended calling Dog Days Search and Rescue, a Simi Valley-based nonprofit organization that helps pet owners get reunited with missing pets. She called them and they told her to put up fliers — lots of fliers — and start posting online in every missing pet group on social media and Nextdoor.com. 

Volunteers with Dog Days Search and Rescue placing a food and scent trap for missing dog Layla at Hill Canyon Park in Santa Rosa Valley on Sunday, Oct. 25. Photo submitted.

“We mainly do three things,” said JoAnn De Collibus, who founded Dog Days with Kelly Hill in 2014. “Our main goal is to help owners with lost animals, cats and dogs. Secondary to that is helping with stray animals.”

De Collibus recommended that “if you see a dog behind your house, on the hill or the street,” call Dog Days and they will strategize on the best way to proceed. The current team of about 16 volunteers work with the pet owner to determine the plan. It may include setting a food trap, to help get the animal to the shelter. Lastly, “A part of what we do is to talk owners through” what actions to take and provide “emotional support, to keep them hopeful . . . and for people who can’t get out and search, like the elderly, moms with young kids, we physically get out there, we’ll make fliers and put them up and share on social media.” 

Dog Days also manages most of the missing pet pages for Ventura County, including those in Fillmore, Camarillo, Somis and Moorpark. 

“We do everything from consulting over the phone to helping in the search,” De Collibus said.

Tools and resources available through Dog Days include game cameras, field cameras and food traps. Volunteers monitor the cameras using a phone app so that they will know immediately if a trap is successful or if a wild animal is caught by mistake. De Collibus emphasized that Dog Days “traps responsibly” to ensure a quick response in the event that a pet or wild animal is caught. 

TAGS AND MICROCHIPS According to Dog Days, when it comes to missing pets, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Pets that have ID tags with their owners’ phone number and are microchipped are more likely to be found and returned, and found sooner as well. “The points we like to drive home are to put a tag with a phone number” on the pet, and “update the microchip,” said De Collibus.

The organization gets daily calls and multiple posts on social media pages every day, and it assists in rescues in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, as well as in the desert areas. Dog Days has also done search and rescue in Tennessee. De Collibus estimated that it assists in hundreds of cases a year, if not thousands. 

De Collibus explained that many pet owners panic, and frequently start driving or walking around, calling their pet’s name. “But they [the pet] go into fright or flight,” and frequently even the most loyal dog won’t respond. “They think they are in trouble.” 

Dog Days volunteers walk pet owners through questions such as how they think the pet went missing, did they just get out through a fence or get scared (from, for example, fireworks or other loud, disruptive events). Sometimes a pet goes missing after a car accident and is not near its home. De Collibus said usually, if the animal is healthy and can avoid being hit by a car, it will frequently return to the location from where it was lost. 

Rasmussen said Dog Days told her “more signs, brighter and bigger. Post everywhere you know, get people spotting her and calling you.” So, she made large, bright pink signs with a big  photo of Layla. Her contact phone number was written large, too, to make it easy to read by a passing car. Rasmussen added instructions to not approach the dog, which would cause Layla to run away. 

Calls started quickly coming in, and all the sightings were reported to Dog Days. Layla was spotted in Lynnmere and Wildwood — residential areas on the edge of open spaces. Rasmussen took her small dogs (that Layla had befriended) and walked them back and forth in that area. She guessed that Layla likely travelled around 20 to 30 miles during her walkabout, and at times was as far as 10 miles away from her new home. 

Layla home again in Santa Rosa Valley, being greeted by her pals and Helle Rasmussen, Oct. 26, 2020. Photo submitted.

On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 25, the dog was spotted in Hill Canyon Park, about a quarter mile from the parking lot. Dog Days placed a food and scent trap nearby. That night, reports came in that Layla was close to home. Dog Days suggested making a strong scent trail with the companion dogs, dog food, treats and clothing of the people she had bonded with. Rasmussen was not comfortable putting out “dirty socks” but opted for t-shirts. Her daughters made a “dog treat trail” along the road to the gates. In the morning, the kids found her in the yard. 

“They were amazing,” said Rasmussen about Dog Days.

Perhaps the only downside looking back is that now Rasmussen has to take down all the signs she posted, “I had forgotten how many I put up.” 

“It’s mind boggling, after only being here for three weeks,” Layla found her way home. “I’d understand if it was somewhere she lived her entire life . . . she seems happy to be home,” Rasmussen said. Layla had her tail tucked between her legs initially upon her return home, but now Rasmussen says “her tail is up and wagging.” 

Dog Days Search and Rescue online: https://dogdayssar.com