GALLATIN—When a Saint Bernard named Caesar got the urge to do some roamin’ in the recent sub-zero weather, an army of concerned citizens wielding social media and cell phones aided in his safe return home.
Caesar, just a puppy at 10-months of age and 90 pounds, went into his backyard off Church Road in Jackson Corners Christmas morning to find four to five inches of fresh, fluffy snow.
He lifted his nose to sniff the air, caught a scent and suddenly took off.
Tara Sullivan told The Columbia Paper this week that when she called her father, who lives next door, to wish him a Merry Christmas, he told her Caesar bolted around 10 a.m. that day.
Ms. Sullivan said she didn’t think more about it as the dog sometimes explored the 35 acres of woodland behind the house.
But the next morning, when her father told her Caesar had not made it home all night—the entire family mobilized.
Ms. Sullivan and her sister, Shannon Factor, created a flyer with a photo, description of Caesar and contact information.
They posted it on several websites and Facebook pages: Lost Pets of the Hudson Valley, Pine Plains Moms and Dads, Buddha Dog Rescue and Recovery, the Columbia-Greene Humane Society, Dutchess County SPCA, Steve Caporizzo’s Pet Connection and Tim McHenry’s list serve.
They posted the flyers at businesses, restaurants and any place they might be seen—all over Pine Plains, Elizaville and Ancram.
At the Ancram Post Office, the worried family ran into Lynne Perrella, who advised them to notify Ancram Town Supervisor Art Bassin, whose email blasts about lost pets have proven quite successful in reuniting animals and owners.
The calls about sightings started coming in: Caesar was seen on Near Road at 2 p.m. on Christmas Day; a call from Dutchess County 911 told her the dog had been spotted crossing the Taconic State Parkway Christmas morning.
Facebook posts put him near the intersection of county Routes 7 and 11 at 9 p.m. Christmas night. One woman from Great Barrington, MA, who saw the notice on the Ancram email communiqué, reported having seen the dog around 2 a.m. December 26, but when she could not adequately remember the location with landmarks, she drove back to the Mt. Ross area so she could relay the mailbox numbers at the location of her sighting.
In the County Route 7 vicinity, Town Councilman Jeff Galm rode his ATV across the countryside in search of the dog till 10 p.m. the night of December 26.
Someone had seen the dog on his pond on Christmas Day and was worried he would fall through the ice.
As the temperature plummeted, the word spread.
Ms. Sullivan took to the woods to follow Caesar’s tracks, family members and friends scoured the roads in vehicles, but sighting reports dwindled after the night of the December 26.
By the morning of December 27, with Caesar still not home and the daytime temperatures in the teens and subzero at night, Ms. Sullivan and her sister decided to knock on doors along County Route 7, where the dog was last spotted and take a hike along the Roe Jan Kill.
Given some helpful advice by the local animal control officer, Ms. Sullivan said she carried with her articles of her father’s clothing so the dog would recognize his owner’s scent and some of the dog’s favorite foods.
She was hiking along when she got a call the dog had been spotted on McNeil Road. At the time she was about a mile away from her car, but she called other family members who raced to the scene.
When she arrived, she saw her father driving away with no dog in the car.
Friends and family, a high school classmate she had not seen on 20 years, a friend of a cousin, a delivery man and other people she did not even know, driving a half-dozen cars all joined in the search.
Finally a break on McNeil Road, 3.5 miles away from home by road and just over 2 miles as the crow flies, Caesar had been spotted again.
With darkness setting in Ms. Sullivan said she knew she would not get another chance, she followed his tracks.
Cresting a hill, she came upon a “gorgeous house of all windows.” The owner came out, not wearing a jacket, she apologized for being on his property but explained the situation. He understood and she continued to follow the tracks which led her to and enclosed area by the front door.
She had Caesar corralled but as more people arrived, the dog appeared scared even though he knew her.
She had read that when an animal has been missing for a while they go into “survival mode.” They assume an instinctual “fight-or-flight” behavior and might even flee from their owners, she said.
Grabbing her father’s tee shirt from her backpack, she tossed it at the dog, When “he smelled my dad, his tail began to wag” and she fed him some of the cooked chicken she carried with her. “He came to me, I gave him treats and put him on a leash and he seemed totally happy.”
When he arrived home he drank some water and promptly threw up, after having eaten his chicken too fast.
Caesar had lost between 10 and 15 pounds, was exhausted, had a little cut on his foot and a few burdocks in his coat, but was none the worse for his three-day, two night adventure in the frozen tundra.
According to http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/st-bernard/:
“… the Saint Bernard developed from stock that resulted from the breeding of heavy Asian “Molosser” (Canis molossus), brought to Helvetia (Switzerland) by Roman armies during the first two centuries A.D., with native dogs, which undoubtedly existed in the region at the time of the Roman invasions.”
Males will grow to a height of 28-30 inches and weigh 140-180 pounds.
“Known as a genial giant the Saint Bernard’s written standard abounds with phrases like “very powerful,” “extraordinarily muscular,” “imposing,” and “massive.”
“The huge head featuring a wrinkled brow, a short muzzle, and dark eyes, combine to give Saints the intelligent, friendly expression that was such a welcome sight to stranded Alpine travelers,” the site says.
In a follow-up email, Caesar’s family thanked “the communities of Ancram, Gallatin and Pine Plains for helping to find Caesar. Posts and flyers were shared and distributed through town email lists and Facebook groups. Everyone we talked to had amazing suggestions and we followed them all. McNeil Lane residents called us as soon as they saw Caesar, and it was because of them that Caesar is home tonight! Jeff Galm rode his ATV all over Gallatin looking for Caesar and a woman from the Town of Ancram email list drove from Great Barrington to Mt. Ross just so she could tell us the house numbers where she had last seen Caesar. All the town officials, postmen and police were amazing…. Thank you to all the people that after we talked them, immediately went into the woods to look for him… we’re grateful to have such kind neighbors.”
One final note, Caesar is getting a belated Christmas gift—a GPS collar, said Ms. Sullivan. Even dogs use electronic devices these days.
To contact Diane Valden email