Thanks to a lot of luck, a keen canine, and efforts of Sulphur Springs animal control officers and Bright Star Vet Clinic, Ginger and Clayton McElfresh were united with their 5-year-old boxer.
Maggie had been missing for three months, despite the family and animal control’s efforts. They never thought they’d see the dog, whose medical condition required medication, again.
“We gave up. She needs medication. We didn’t think we get her back. It’d been three months,” said Ginger McElfresh.
But, thanks to the tenacity of two animal control officers in tracking down a dog that’d been reported as a nuisance, the records animal control officer Denise Stinson keeps at the city animal shelter detailing lost animal reports — an odd feature — and the efforts of Dr. Leah Larsen, Maggie was reunited with her family.
And the timing couldn’t have been better. Ginger and the McElfreshs’ children were home Friday, which happened to their daughter’s birthday. Unfortunately, Clayton was out-of-town working and couldn’t be there. What a great birthday surprise it was for the whole family; one Ginger, Stinson and Dr. Larsen call a miracle.
Maggie’s story started on Oct. 16, when the 80-85 pound boxer escaped through a fence in the McElfreshs’ yard during a storm. The family says they drove all over their neighborhood looking for the missing pup, naturally worried for their missing “family” member, but unfortunately, weren’t able to find Maggie. The McElfreshs live on Charles Street, and had canvassed the area, even driving down College Street.
Naturally upset at the loss of a pet, the McElfreshs were especially worried about Maggie. The dog, who admitted was a bit overweight when she went missing, required thyroid medication, which she wasn’t getting while on the run.
When the dog still hadn’t been located the next day, a distraught Ginger called Sulphur Springs Animal Shelter to see if maybe the dog had been brought in that morning or caught by animal control.
Stinson took Ginger’s information, wrote it down in the book where she keeps such notes, and posted it onto the shelter’s Facebook page so others could keep an eye out for Maggie too. The posting got several comments, but not sightings.
Animal control officers even drove through the area, hoping to spot Maggie so she could be returned home. They even went so far as to contact groomers located not too far from the McElfreshs’, thinking they might have seen the dog. The groomer reported seeing the dog the day before, but hadn’t seen it since and wasn’t sure where it went.
As time went by and days rolled into a month, Ginger continued to check in with the shelter, hoping maybe Maggie had turned up. One month turned into two, and still no Maggie.
The McElfreshs knew the odds for Maggie, who required medication, weren’t good. After so long, they didn’t figure they’d ever get their dog back; didn’t figure she’d made it on her own.
No one saw nor heard hide or hair about Maggie until January, nearly three months later.
Stinson reports she and fellow animal control officer Dustin Clem received complaints from a residents of Phyllis Court. The occupants of the dead end hamlet located just off College Street called numerous times to complain a box-mix dog kept sniffing, tearing up and eating out of their trash. They’d chased the dog off and tried forcefully to scare it off on several occasions they told Stinson, but the dog always came back.
“She’s pretty clever, smart enough to figure out which days were trash day and only came out then,” Stinson said of the dog; noting the animal control officers had no idea at that point the dog was Maggie, just a dog people were complaining on.
The animal control officers searched the street, walking yards and checking the area but didn’t find any stray dogs. So, they decided to put out a trap to try to catch the dog, standard procedures in such cases. But, after three days and no dog, they pulled the trap from its spot and put it back out elsewhere. For two weeks, the animal control officers searched for the dog, and left the trap at different places to try to catch it.
At one point, the dog was believed to have gotten into the trap for a can of food, because the trap was damaged where something had apparently escaped and the food eaten, Clem noted.
As they were setting the trap one day, the animal control officers saw what they believed to be the dog they were seeking sitting in a field across from the Phyllis Court back yards. They tried to chase the dog, but it ran down a creek bed and into the woods out of sight.
They eventually caught the dog last Friday, Jan. 11. She was in a sad state. She’d apparently been living in the woods, fending for herself. She was emaciated to the point her ribs were mostly skin and bone.
Noting the dog appeared to be a full blooded boxer, they knew if they could get her treated and healthy, she’d likely be adoptable.
“We have a saying, ‘You can’t save them all, but save as many as you can.’ We figured if we could get her to the vet and get her some help, she’s full blooded so she’d get adopted,” said Stinson, noting that although the shelter is a “kill” shelter the animal control officers who work there do everything they can through their network of contacts and resources to rescue as many pets as possible and get them adopted to good homes.
The shelter has agreements with two local vets, Sulphur Springs Vet and Bright Star, who accept donations at each facility to benefit homeless dogs that need vetting.
Dr. Leah Larsen at Bright Star has agreed to help Sulphur Springs Animal Shelter with emergencies, give care to rescued animals as long as the funding lasts.
So, Stinson called Bright Star, and Larsen agreed to see the dog they’d found.
The dog was swiped at the shelter for a microchip, but didn’t have one. So, Stinson went back to the shelter and check her recent records to see if anyone had reported the dog missing, and if not, to post to the shelter’s page in hopes of getting funds donated to help pay for regular health screenings and whatever other care was needed for he sickly looking dog. She hoped once healthy enough to get the dog adopted.
She went back to the shelter to check her records, and found nothing in January, December or even as far back as November. She started to call it a day and post the dog’s information, but for whatever reason, she dug a little deeper. Stinson pulled out her book from the previous year, which contained October. That’s where she found the information Ginger had given her about Maggie.
However, the dog she’d found was a far cry from the one Ginger had described back in October. It definitely wasn’t a slightly overweight, happy boxer. The dog the animal control officer had recovered was just 52 pounds and emaciated; her ribs showed signs she clearly hadn’t had enough to eat in quite a while. So, Stinson tried to pull up the posting on Maggie, but couldn’t find it.
“I remembered Ginger, but couldn’t find it,” Stinson admitted.
So, almost hesitantly, yet hopefully, she called Ginger and told her she’d found a dog that MIGHT be her missing dog.
Ginger admitted she’d given up on finding the family’s beloved pet; with Maggie’s medical condition and no medication for it, she wasn’t too hopeful.
Because Maggie didn’t have a microchip to identify her, they couldn’t definitively ID her that way.
“We tried to scan her, but she doesn’t have chip,” Larsen said. “I can’t stress how valuable they are. Most pets would have gotten home sooner if they had them. Most shelters and clinics scan [animals] first thing. If you have a dog that goes or might go outside, I’d recommend getting it chipped, just in case.”
She’d had on a pink collar when she left their yard. Maggie was a typical boxer. She did have one defining characteristic, one that Clayton and Ginger had noted the day they picked her from the litter to be their pet when she was just a puppy.
“There’s one way to tell,” Ginger noted. “She has one back toenail that’s black.”
“I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s her!’” recalled Stinson, admitting the happy discovery brought a tear of joy to her eye. “The dog lost 30 pounds, survived on trash, would not go to humans, lived in a wooded area near a creek then had the sense to only go out on trash day. Wow!”
Wow, indeed. Larsen said the fact that Maggie had been a little overweight at the time she became lost is part of what helped her survive; she had that much extra to live on. Her weight and the fact the dog is very leery of humans and quite wily are what saved her.
But, because of her condition when she was found and her past medical problems, even Larsen noted it was miraculous the dog made it.
Stinson had Ginger meet her and Larsen at Bright Star Vet Clinic Friday afternoon, where Maggie was checked out and reunited with her family.
When Maggie first saw Ginger and her son, the boxer was still a bit disoriented, but it didn’t take long for her to figure out she was back among family. By the end of her first night home, she was following them through the house.
When Larsen checked on Maggie Wednesday afternoon, the dog had already gained nine pounds, and her owners reported settling back into her old routine nicely. Both Ginger and Clayton offered thanks to the animal control officers who found Maggie and contacted them and to Larsen for treating them. They noted they are “very appreciative” of the extra effort put forth to return Maggie to them.
“We are here to help people, but even more we are here to help them,” Stinson said, pointing to animals. “We are out there for them. The things you see humans do to animals doing this job, you have less respect for those people. We are here to help with animals and to educate people on how to take better care of their pets.”
Larsen said Maggie was lucky in many respects. She lauded animal control officers who found her went the extra mile to track her down, humanely trap her, get her medical help and try to find her owners.
“Most shelters don’t keep a log book of missing dogs. Ours does. Our animal control cares a lot. Denise, I know, puts in a lot of personal time to help rescue these animals and get them adopted. I think the city needs to give more funding for them to work with, more of a budget, not just donations,” Larsen said. “I think the community needs to help the animal control officers here.”
The shelter accepts donations of supplies, such as dog food, to help meet the needs of the animals in their care, and is always glad to get help in the form of time and effort too.
SS Animal Shelter also works with Bright Star and Sulphur Springs Vet to get vaccinations, spaying and basic care for the animals in their care. Donations to keep these programs going can be made at either facility’s front desk.
Larsen encourages all pet owners to follow the precept, “feed ‘em, fix ‘em.” In other words, if you have an animal and are giving it food, also care enough to have it spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted litters, particularly cats, which can have three litters a year.
Bright Star on a few occasions in which an animal needed extensive care or rehabilitation, have tried to find people willing to “foster” the pets until they can be adopted. Larsen and Stinson said they are always looking for more people willing to “foster” pets as they recovered or are ready for permanent homes.
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