When a pet escapes on Vancouver Island, FLED (find lost and escaped dogs) is there to help the owner track down their furry companion.
FLED is a volunteer-run organization with members across the Island. The organization, based in Victoria, was founded by Jill Oakley and Gary Shade in 2013. The two have been helping reunite people with lost pets for over 20 years. Prior to founding FLED, they ran a border collie rescue.
“Everybody told us we needed someone on the Island that actually put boots to the ground searching for dogs and cats and llamas and sheep and whatever,” said Oakley.
FLED can call upon over 400 volunteers around Vancouver Island, but relies on a core group of about 20–30 active members to do a lot of the physically demanding searching through forests and up mountains, she said.
A lot of the less physical work, such as putting up posters and keeping an eye out for a lost dog, is done by some of the older volunteers. “There’s work to do for anybody in any kind of shape,” said Oakley.
Once FLED has a general idea of where a lost dog may be, based on sightings, they will set up a plastic crate with the door off, containing food and an item with the owner’s scent on it, such as an article of clothing. Volunteers will also set up trail cameras so the crate can be monitored from a distance.
If the dog is spotted on the camera, Shade will respond with a fifth wheel search and rescue unit to the location, replace the crate with a trap and stay close by until the dog is caught.
He estimated FLED has tracked down around 6,000 pets since 2013, but the organization does not keep exact records. “Stats aren’t important, it’s finding the dog in the end.”
One of the most common reasons a dog escapes is when a rescue animal’s owner does not receive enough instruction about how to look after the animal after adopting them, Oakley said. She added it is important for an adopted dog to wear a harness and be double-leashed for at least the first month in its new home.
“When the people feel comfortable, the dog’s not always comfortable, so therefore the first time the dog gets loose, it’s gone,” she said. “We have had many calls on people who have had their dog an hour, a day, two weeks, right out of the crate and we’ve had to get on it because they don’t know the area.”
One of the most memorable rescues was FLED’s very first case, according to Oakley. A couple from Japan lost their Boston terrier, Vicky, while visiting family on Vancouver Island. After four or five days, the dog was spotted in a large park and eventually caught after a feeding crate was set up.
“Her family had to return to Japan, but they wouldn’t leave, so they cancelled their flight. They had to cancel it I think twice,” said Oakley.
The organization mainly searches for lost dogs, but also has a volunteer who will track down lost cats using a border collie because cats are more difficult to find, Oakley said.