Searching for John Wayne: Columbia couple find lost dog

At one point in John Ford's western film "The Searchers," Hollywood icon John Wayne turns to a member of the search party and says, "So we'll find 'em in the end, I promise you. We'll find 'em. Just as sure as the turnin' of the earth."

While not in the same dramatic fashion, Pat Schaap, a Rockville dog trainer and pet rescue volunteer, offered similar advice to Columbia residents Pat and Lee Brooks during the couple's frantic search for their newly adopted 3-year-old Shetland sheepdog, John Wayne.

"She said, 'It may take several weeks, but you'll find him,' " Pat said.

Fortunately for the couple, it only took five days to find the dog that had disappeared July 9.

Little John Wayne, who was adopted only two days prior to running away, hadn't even walked through the door of the couple's house on Lilac Lane before he became Dorsey's Search's most wanted. Lee said he and Pat had just arrived home from a North Carolina breeder when John Wayne, spooked by a bicyclist, slipped out of his collar and bolted.

After three hours of searching the neighborhood, the couple returned home to find John Wayne calmly sitting on their front porch. Unfortunately, when the couple moved toward the dog, he became frightened and bolted into the woods.

Three tanks of gas, numerous phone calls and countless fliers later, the Brookses were able to corral an exhausted and scrawny John Wayne on the afternoon of July 14 in the backyard of a Dunloggin home about a mile from their home. They said the resident had spotted John Wayne and called a local Sheltie rescue. The rescue phoned the Brookses, who made the short drive to the St. Johns Lane's home to pick up their dog.

To Lee and Pat, the most amazing part of John Wayne's story is the way residents and community organizations rallied to their cause.

Hours after the first fliers were posted, the couple received a phone call from neighbor Amy Lohr, who they had never met, offering assistance. Lohr told the Brookses about her friend Denise Harris and her track record for rescuing lost pets.

Harris, with her background in small business marketing, specializes in raising community awareness for lost cats and dogs. Whether it's creating Facebook pages, hanging fliers in local businesses or convincing local pizza restaurants to post fliers on their delivery boxes, Harris' awareness campaigns know no bounds.

'It's all about networking'

"It's all about networking. When a pet is lost, (we) make sure their story and their face is in front of the community that may see them," Harris said.

For John Wayne, Harris plotted reported sightings on a map and posted it to a Facebook page followed by more than a hundred residents.

Although awareness is key, it doesn't do any good if you don't know where to look. That's where Anne Wills and Dogs Finding Dogs comes in.

Wills and her fleet of 11 certified search-and-rescue dogs make up the nonprofit dedicated to finding lost pets. The Catonsville-based organization uses dogs trained in police and military tracking techniques to narrow search areas.

Wills and her German shepherd black Lab mix Heidi, along with a bloodhound named Trusty, were able to track John Wayne to certain neighborhoods in Dorsey's Search, allowing Harris to better focus her awareness campaign. Wills said the Brookses were lucky; most people have to wait several weeks, sometimes months, before a pet can be located and corralled.

"As owners, we tend to humanize our animals, and we forget that they are the animal they are," Wills said. "We have to understand, first, that you are dealing with an animal. The second thing is knowing that, when they get on their own, they flip into a survivalist state of mind."

Wills said after a few hours in the wild, 90 percent of pets won't even recognize their owners. Wills tells owners that encounter lost dogs to be quiet, avoid eye contact and be submissive. However, before owners can even begin searching for the dog, Wills recommends reaching out to all nearby animal shelters, placing ads on Craigslist, and, of course, creating fliers.

Although Lee and Pat are happy to credit all the residents that helped out, they recognize that without Harris, Wills and Schaap, they would've never found John Wayne.

"The nice thing about this story is ... we had these three people, who do this thing all the time, help us develop this plan of action," said Lee, who said he donated $175 to Dogs Finding Dogs. "It's this element of cooperation."

Oh yeah, and then there's the name.

"He doesn't look like John Wayne, but I'm convinced that's one of the reasons we got him back," Lee said. "Just this morning I took him out and went by somebody, and they said 'Is that John Wayne?' and I said 'Yeah, it is.'"

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