NIVERVILLE—The best present Kevin Wilcox got for his 50th birthday was finding his little dog Marvin safe and sound. Marvin had been missing for 40 days.
Mr. Wilcox, controller at the University at Albany, his wife, Lisa Delehanty, and their daughter, Emily Delehanty, were off on a two-week trip to Ireland. The trip had been months in the making, a chance to see the ancestral homeland with an extensive sightseeing itinerary throughout the northern and southern regions. They took off May 21. Three days later, May 24, they got a call from their dog sitter in the Niverville area that Marvin had bolted out the front door the day before.
Mr. Wilcox said in a phone interview this week, they waited a few hours to see if Marvin would turn up quickly.
When Marvin didn’t materialize, the family booked a flight back home. Though it was about 10 p.m. when they arrived home in Albany May 25, they “had to go to Niverville,” said Mr. Wilcox. “Once this happened, we could think of nothing else,” he said. Both he and his wife were “devastated” and overwhelmed just thinking about the daunting area where Marvin could potentially be.
Mr. Wilcox, a volunteer with the Peppertree Rescue organization, (www.peppertree.org), which helps find homes for dogs in need, had taken in Marvin and his five brothers and sisters, when they were eight-week-old puppies two years ago. The puppies’ owners had placed an ad on Craig’s List hoping to sell them. Several people and several dogs, including the puppies, were all living in a “single-wide trailer in the Watertown area,” said Mr. Wilcox, who was called in to foster the dogs because of his affinity for Shetland sheepdogs, commonly called shelties. Marvin and his siblings were believed to be a sheltie/Jack Russell terrier mix.
Mr. Wilcox said he has probably adopted 20 shelties over the years.
He successfully found homes for all the puppies, but there was something about Marvin that made them choose to adopt him. “He seemed to be a little more shy than the rest of the pups and so we played with him ourselves versus him playing with the other pups as much. He just connected with us.”
The day after the family returned home was Memorial Day. Friends had already posted signs all over the area before they returned. The family had flyers made up and went to the Memorial Day parade in Niverville to hand them out.
Someone called in a Marvin sighting on Chatham Hill Road in Chatham. Neighbors in the area were out searching. Later that evening someone saw Marvin near a garage and tried to entice him with a potato chip.
But Marvin had slipped into a “semi-feral” state and high-tailed it into the thick brush, where the person could not follow, said Mr. Wilcox, noting the state is a dog protective mode.
Through his Peppertree connections, Mr. Wilcox arranged to get Havahart traps, cage-like devices that close the door after an animal enters without injuring animal.
Because Mr. Wilcox and his family were technically still on vacation, they spent every day putting up flyers, going door to door with them, going to animal shelters, notifying animal control officers and veterinarian offices about Marvin and how to contact them should he be found.
In addition to getting the word out, they searched for a week. They then decided to bring in a dog tracking team from Rhode Island made up of two dogs trained for search and rescue missions. For four hours, they scoured the area where Marvin had last been seen and when they emerged from the woods, Mr. Wilcox said he saw his wife waving from down the road, saying she had just gotten a glimpse of Marvin on the run.
Working with the tracker, three spots were chosen to place the traps. Trail cameras, often used by hunters to see if certain animals have frequented an area, were mounted on two of the traps. Food was strategically placed in and near the traps, but the traps were not set to close. The idea was to get Marvin used to seeing the traps and even going inside them without risking him being scared away.
Ten days after the tracker’s first visit, Mr. Wilcox called him back. It was June 8. Based on the olfactory conclusions of Trigger, possibly the best grid tracking dog in the country, Marvin was still in the area of Chatham Hill Road, outside Niverville, he said.
No sightings of Marvin were reported for the next three weeks.
A media campaign was mounted, they took out newspaper and online ads. They had 150 poster-sized signs created in an effort to publicize the missing Marvin to an expanded area.
“We were realists. We did not know if he was dead or alive all that time,” said Mr. Wilcox, noting they had vowed not to stop looking until they found out.
On June 22, Mr. Wilcox was searching an area in cornfield on the Ooms Farm. He noticed a “bald spot” in the rows. As he walked along the field’s edge he saw what he believed to be dog tracks that could be Marvin’s and decided to move the cameras and traps into the area.
“All this would not have been possible without the Ooms family, who, when they heard about Marvin gave us free rein of their property. They were gracious, kind and understanding.” The whole community up there on Chatham Hill Road was “stunningly incredible, they gave us compassion and assistance. They have a little slice of heaven up there and they let us invade it for 40 days.”
After the traps were moved and restocked with food—bacon and rotisserie chicken—then a sighting came in on Maple Lane South in Kinderhook. Then, another sighting in the Village of Valatie near Barnwell and another off Route 66 in North Chatham.
Consumed by scouring these new areas, the family did not make it back to the cornfield for three or four days.
When Mr. Wilcox, did return, he checked the trail camera video and saw Marvin’s face on it. Since there was a lapse in the food restocking, he worried that the dog had moved on and would not return.
But with the Fourth of July fireworks approaching and severe weather on the way, they decided to restore the food supply and actually set the traps around noontime July 1. When he and his wife returned that afternoon around 5 p.m. that day, they could see that one of the trap’s doors had closed.
Inside, was Marvin.
After about two minutes of barking and growling at them, Marvin’s expression changed. His eyes widened and brightened and he came to the front of the cage wagging his tail. He had finally recognized them.
Precautions were taken so Marvin could not bolt when released from the trap. They got him home, gave him a bath and took him to the vet. Except for several ticks, which the vet removed, and weighing about five pounds less than the 25 he started with, Marvin was given a clean bill of health.
His best buddy Finbar, also a sheltie, was happy to have him home, said Mr. Wilcox.
Half of the “miracle” of Marvin’s return was that Mr. Wilcox had taken the route that he did in that cornfield and came upon the tracks. The other half involved the community and its support. “I can’t say enough about it. It was about restoring your faith in humanity,” Mr. Wilcox said. The other message the episode offers, he said, is that all the people whose pets are lost, should never give up hope.
To contact Diane Valden email .