Successful search and rescue gives lost dog from Korea another chance

(SUBMITTED PHOTO) Emeree rests at her new home in Princeton after a rescue in Spring Valley.

(SUBMITTED PHOTO) The trap set up to retrieve Emeree, who ran away from her new home in Spring Valley.

(SUBMITTED PHOTO) The dog meat farm that was Emeree’s first home.

(SUBMITTED PHOTO) Cages are homes for residents of a dog meat farm.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Emeree, a sharp-looking white and brown dog originally destined for a dog meat trade farm in South Korea, has a new home as a pet after a brief, but tumultuous, stay in Spring Valley.

It took 10 days, a stakeout by volunteers, community support and some mighty talented Retrievers to bring Emeree back when she escaped the day after arriving at her new Oak Hill Drive home just outside of Spring Valley in the middle of July and was nowhere to be found. Her disappearance garnered all the attention of her adoptive family, neighbors, her foster “mom” Jenni Smith of Ruff Start Rescue (RSR) of Princeton, Minnesota, and Lynn Walton and Britt Zimmel of the Minneapolis-based dog recovery team The Retrievers.

Retrievers to the rescue

The Retrievers were called and mobilized to assist in searching for Emeree – whom her adopters named “Yoshi” – and to lend their experience so that the dog, who had known only the inside of a wire cage and rations meant to increase her size for human consumption, could be humanely captured and returned to a caring party who can teach her that she is valued.

Walton, The Retrievers’ team leader, highlighted that she was entirely willing to spend 10 whole days with Zimmel and Smith, waiting for Emeree to come back to the yard where a specialized trap had been set up with food and clothing with familiar scents to lure her in and save her from being injured while running in unfamiliar territory. 

“I have four dogs and three cats – all rescues.  I volunteer with The Retrievers because the thought of any of my fur babies missing is so heartbreaking.  When people ask for help, I know how frantic I would be and how thankful if someone was there to help me,” she said. “To be the light in the darkness, a calming voice that says, ‘We have a plan,’ and hear the release of breath as the owner says, ‘OK, where do I start?’  I have been doing this for about three-and-a-half years.  It takes active participation, meaning hands-on to learn a dog’s patterns, what food they like, what size trap to use, a mentor to show you the ropes, learning the protocol and knowing when to adjust how we search and trap.” 

The Retrievers have had over 1,700 cases since she joined the team in 2016, recovering more than 1,200. The organization uses established protocols for searching and trapping dogs in every case, Walton noted, explaining that capturing a runaway dog requires patience and understanding of how a frightened canine thinks and reacts. 

“Dogs go into survival mode within 48 hours.  They look for shelter, then water and then food.  Good-meaning people try to call and chase the scared dog, but this puts them at risk, and that can lead to dogs running farther from their point of flight into traffic, lakes, bogs and marshes where they can be severely injured, or worse,” she said. “The longer the dog is out, the greater the risk.  We want to get the dog home as quickly and safely as possible.  First and foremost, it’s finding where the dog is being seen. Large intersection signs need to go up immediately because signs bring sighting calls – not flyers, but large poster board, neon green signs at intersections that drivers can read when they stop. No one knows the dog walking down the street is a lost dog until they see a sign.”

Emeree found

The Retrievers spent many hours on the road, set up the trap and sat up many hours on what they call a “stakeout.” Smith, who is from the rescue she was adopted from, and a “great, caring community” assisted in calling in sightings that led to the area where she was hanging out and her eventual trapping, said Walton.  A neighbor also graciously offered her property for the camera and trap for Emeree, she added.

Smith volunteered to work with The Retrievers because she was Emeree’s foster mom, she felt responsible for her, and her past experiences with the group have been positive.

“This case took 10 days.  Ten long days,” she said. “But, because of Emeree’s situation, breed, and her being born a DMT dog and having terrible experiences with humans in her past, I knew when she went missing it was going to be very difficult to find her.  Her breed is considered a hunter, and they are extremely smart and savvy.  She was born a survivor.” 

Another factor was that Emeree had not bonded with her adopters, or anyone, for that matter.  She did not trust humans and was easily scared, added Smith. The Retrievers had to create awareness, figure out her pattern, where to put a trap, create scent trails, and “while I often felt helpless, The Retrievers always listened and offered sound advice, so much more than I even know,” Smith said.

The goal of The Retrievers was to keep her in the area and get her to food.  Once she was seen in a yard twice in 24 hours, the group placed food, camera and a trap. 

“We then ignored her and let the process work,” Walton said. “Many dogs lost in unfamiliar areas tend to stay within a few miles unless they are scared out of the area.  The community of Spring Valley was awesome to alert of sightings and not scare her, because the goal was to keep her there.” 

The group got to watch a live feed on the camera and when the gate to Emeree’s trap closed with her in it, “I cried out of pure relief.  Seeing her safely contained and knowing I would be bringing her home was the sweetest feeling in the world,” Smith said. 

Ultimately, because Emeree was only familiar with Smith and Smith is experienced with dog meat trade dogs’ needs, her adopters agreed that it would be best to return her to Ruff Start, where Smith will foster her. The owners “are wonderful people” who worked with The Retrievers through the whole process, Smith said, but they wanted what is best for Emeree and in the end, it was decided this is in Emeree’s best interest because she would always be considered a flight risk.   

It takes a community

Pursuing a lost dog is not helpful and can cause further distrust and distress, noted Smith, but most people’s instincts are to search for the dog and try to get the dog to come to them.  In Emeree’s case, that would be impossible since she was not bonded to anyone. Therefore it is important to keep people away as much as possible, but to include them as well, she added. 

“Two members of the Spring Valley community, Julie Jackson and Shannon Spurgeon, jumped in and made signs to put up all over town,” Smith said. “They made flyers they handed out to people and created an online presence bringing awareness to Emeree.  It worked amazingly!  It was as if the whole community came together to find her – calls came in all day, every day, letting The Retrievers know where she was spotted.”

Zimmel was also thankful for the efforts that Spring Valley residents made to find Emeree. 

“Everyone did awesome in this community of Spring Valley,” she said. “People alerted us of sightings and didn’t scare her out of the area.  A very good Good Samaritan offered up her yard and let the process work.  We ask that people we’re helping to please follow advised protocol – not to call out or chase.” 

Although Smith had never spent time in Spring Valley, she got to know the whole neighborhood where her trap was set up. 

“We were all on a first name basis, and often, they would stop by and ask us about Emeree, ask if we needed anything, offer their house to cool down in, etc.  Getting to know this community was one of my favorite things,” she said. 

The owners, while distraught, continued to help even after making the selfless decision to send her back to rescue, she added. 

Foster dogs

Smith has several foster dogs and another dog meat trade dog. She said she loves rescue dogs and has experienced the important role The Retrievers play because when they go into new homes, they are at risk of fleeing.

Smith admitted, though, “This was the craziest experience I have ever had in rescue. I have fostered and adopted out so many dogs and never had this happen before. When I saw Emeree’s – then called ‘#39’ – picture of her in Korea on the dog meat farm, I wanted so badly to give her the best home possible.  Bringing her to the U.S.A. was a spectacular experience – knowing she was safe from butchers was an amazing feeling.”

When she ran away, she was devastated as “the feeling of failing her was overpowering.  To have her back in my home right now is nothing short of a miracle, and honestly, I don’t think I will ever find the right home for her.  Not because of anyone else, but because she will always be a flight risk.  She is a scared dog that will not bond easily, making her a risk. So, we have made the decision to adopt Emeree because we have experience with dogs like her.  I know she will be safest with our family, and let’s face it – I love this dog.” 

Volunteers important

The Retrievers is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization. Many of the team members have full-time jobs and do this almost full time as well.  The organization doesn’t charge for its services, relying on donations to keep equipment in working order. 

“We really would like people to learn about keeping their dog safe, and we do have tips for that,” Zimmel said. “One of the things we hear a lot is ‘My dog never runs,’ until they do.  The faster you get out signs, the better, and the faster you request our help, the better.”

Zimmel, who has two rescued dogs and three rescued cats, has volunteered through various organizations throughout her adult life. She learned of The Retrievers on a lost dog search and she joined May 31, 2018, as ground support coordinator – making signs and related duties – and transitioned into case manager in August 2018.

“Sometimes I am the trapper, like for this sweet girl.  Of the cases I’ve managed, some of those came home safe on their own or just following stinky food put out,” she said. “Some, once signs were up, sightings came in and we moved quickly and got them safe.  Some are lengthy, with much more energy and time committed.  Some, we have not found.  Those break our hearts.  Our team has had 400 cases so far this year and already bypassed all of 2018.”

Typically, the time required to safely recover a lost dog varies according to the dog itself, the terrain on which it is traveling and the people attempting to find it. The area that the dog goes missing has a large bearing on length of time to capture, Walton noted.  Rural areas are tougher than urban and city locations due to population and terrain.

Walton’s favorite parts of being a member of The Retrievers is the sound of the trap door closing, reuniting a lost dog with its owner and bringing a stray dog to safety, she said.

“It is always gratifying to get the dog safe and back in the hands of the people who love them,” she said. “It seems more gratifying for a dog like Emeree, who survived the meat trade in South Korea.”

The Retrievers always need volunteers, and now they now have another one in Smith, who decided to add her name to the volunteer list. 

“This was the most rewarding experience ever,” she said. “To spend 10 days with them was an amazing experience.”

However, adoptive families can help avoid these situations by keeping an eye on their new canines so that they won’t escape, added Smith, as this is preventable. 

“The key is to make sure that you keep them safe, contained, and never, ever take chances. Bringing awareness to everyone is important,” she said. “There was 10 days of work involved in recovering Emeree.  That is a ton of manpower.  We are all blessed that she was found healthy, and honestly, alive. I am forever grateful for that.”