it's been quite a week...
I'm a fortunate gal, being able to meet all the dogs I do. It can be an emotional roller coaster, but it's a part of my photography that helps me look towards something deeper - something that connects to an element of my life as I'm an adoptee myself.
Photographing dogs in transition is part of who I am and being able to be a part of their journey is an privilege.
For more photos and stories please go, here.
It takes a village, that saying rings true. But it also takes just one person who never gives up. One such person is my friend Deb (or Debbie, Debra or Daffy & Question's mom). Last September she fostered a retired sled dog named Apex. Apex was incredibly fearful of humans. He came from an operation that was pretty harsh and he had to survive, or suffer a worse fate. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but that's the way it was.
After a month, Apex was adopted and moved to Sechelt, BC - a somewhat remote town two ferry rides away from his foster home. A few days after adoption he got spooked on a walk when his new mom tripped and he bolted. Gone. Poof.
Debbie headed to Sechelt as soon as possible to help look for him. As Apex had only been there a few days, it was unlikely he'd find his way back home and since Debbie had been the human he knew best, it made sense. I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow I ended up as her "ground support". She only had an iPad at this time so her communication was limited - that and the fact she was sleeping in her car in case Apex came across the smell of her and the three dogs she had with her. Step one: I started to methodically contact all the facebook pages and websites I could in a place I'd never been and she started postering the town...
This went on for months - Debbie would head up to Sechelt taking her three dogs and two ferries. She always slept in her car. She got to know where the free wi-fi was and where she could plug in to recharge her electronics (I'd since given her my old cell phone - an old flip phone with a temper, but it worked most of the time). She slept in her car with the dogs in different spots and each morning she'd get up and get walking... and walking... and walking. She talked to everyone she could, put up more posters and with the help of her dogs, they all laid their scents on the off chance Apex would come across a familiar smell that might help keep him in the area.
I mid-January some trail cameras were donated to the cause by Sue Eckersley of Whistler Sled Dog Co. She headed to Sechelt with Debbie and they set up six trail cams in areas where Apex had been spotted or what they thought were his routes.
Other friends made the trip and no one gave up. People were notified far and wide - even in Pemberton and Whistler where he'd originally lived. As the crow flies, it wasn't so far and being a sled dog, he had some stamina. Sightings continued to come in. We always asked for a photo -we were desperate for a photo. This would help us confirm it was him, but no one could ever get one - he seemed to be gone too quick.
Four months in to Apex being missing I managed to make the trip with Debbie and her dogs, Daffy, Question and a foster (and former kennel mate of Apex) named Colby, aka "the Imp". I had to see these places she was referring to - the places I was pointing to on maps and the places he'd been sighted. I needed it to make more sense. I was in awe of her commitment and wanted to help.
We would do "car camping" with the help of the Victoria Humane Society. They donated the van whenever Debbie needed it - after all, they were part of Team Apex, having brought him into care in July 2014, which led to Deb fostering him.
On Feb 28, 2015, we got an early morning start. A foggy 90-minute drive over the malahat, three of my favourite dogs, and amazing company. We ended up at the Nanaimo ferry terminal having barely remembered the drive up we talked so much. Debbie knew the ferry times and routes by heart - this was trip number 7, she thought.
When we got off the ferry and drove the 30 mins to Sechelt, she toured me around to give me the lay of the land. The beach access point he'd bolted from, the routes she'd already walked again and again. We'd be in the middle of nowhere and I'd see a poster on a pole or tree, in a ziplock bag, but soggy from the rain and damp over the months. She would put post-its on the posters, or handwrite "Still Missing" along with the date to keep it fresh in people's minds.
Lugging about my camera gear I could barely keep up with her over the course of the two days. We checked all but one of the trail cams. One had been stolen and there was nothing on the memory cards in the other four. We set them back up anyways and kept walking. We came across the hay that had been put down the weekend before with Sue. It was hay from his kennel mates in Whistler. We even put a quilt that had been under a dog in heat in the hopes that scent might lure him to the somewhat secluded area by a church. The night before we'd spotted a coyote trotting through the parking lot right to the area we were trying to lure him to.
But we couldn't think of the coyotes. He'd survived this long, he'd been doing something right. My eyes were darting everywhere and Debbie would both laugh at me and then hug me because she knew what I was going through. Every little trail, every path, pawprints in the sandtraps at the golf course, the sounds... I was on high alert the whole time.
It started to get dark so we went for food and then headed up to Kinnikinnick Park to feed her dogs and camp for the night. The park was equipped with nice clean, heated restrooms that were unlocked so we felt like we were at a spa after running around in the bush all day.
Night came and we all hunkered down in the back of the van. Question lay by Debbie's head, Colby alternated sleeping between the back of the van and the passenger seat and Daffy cuddled under my sleeping bag with me (!!!). It rained that night but we were warm and dry. Apex was a constant in our thoughts.
The next morning we hit the golf course - walking around as it rained. We even saw another coyote just trot in front of us which caught us both off guard. Brazen little fellow. We had high points and low points, but Debbie always ensured the dogs had fun and playtime and cuddles along the route. They helped keep us going.
We put up more posters and then went to the coffee shop for breakfast - for all of us. Then it was back out to check the last trail cam. It was located in a pretty remote spot as far as driving goes, but it made sense if one was travelling along a line of powerlines, which is what we had suspected given the sighting reports. Plus it made sense because that path would have been familiar to Apex. His time as a sled dog was spent on trails - open spaces with shelter on either side to duck into if necessary - the shortest distance from A to B. Nothing on the last camera.... someone had turned it sideways a few days prior.
It was almost time to go - we had to head to the ferry.
I left with a better feeling though. I didn't want Apex to be out on his own, but seeing the terrain and the abundance of water, places to den and food, I thought that if he could just hang on a bit longer, we - or someone - could catch him.
And that's what happened - today.
Debbie hadn't been able to make it up to Sechelt since we were there. She was planning on going for all of spring break next week, but her dog Daffy was in need of surgery so things were up in the air. But this morning she got a call. Apex had been spotted on a fish farm barge. He was alive! And soon enough we saw the picture to prove it.
I'm not sure what's going to happen from here, but I will say that you should never give up. It may be hard and it will take its toll on you mentally, but don't be afraid to ask for help. You may not realize it, but there is a whole village out there just ready and waiting to help you, and for Apex, the community of Sechelt, BC was just that group.
Here are some photos of that trip and a few from the night Apex returned back to Victoria to Debbie.
[more about Apex along with updates after he was found on facebook at: Find Apex]
I usually spend my birthday going for a walk with my dog and camera and just take time to think and be quiet, but yesterday I invited some friends along for a wander in the woods and the dogs outnumbered the humans... just as it should be.
Thanks to my Mister C along with Miss Coco, Cola, Saru, ChiChi, River, Cooper, Cash, and wee Winnie and your humans for a great start to the day. xo