It takes a village, that saying rings true. But it also takes just one person who never gives up. One such person is my friend Debbie (a.k.a. Deb, Debra or Daffy & Question's mom). In September 2014 she fostered a retired sled dog named Apex who was incredibly fearful of humans. He came from an operation that was pretty harsh and he had to survive, or suffer a worse fate.
I'm not trying to be dramatic, but that's the way it was.
After a month being in foster with Debbie, Apex was adopted and moved to live with his new family in Sechelt, BC - a somewhat remote town two ferry rides away from his foster home. A few days after adoption though, he got spooked on a walk when his new mom tripped. The leash was dropped and off he went. Gone. Poof.
Debbie headed to Sechelt with her two former sled dogs Question and Daffy, and foster dog Colby (who came from the same sledding kennel as Apex) as soon as possible to help look for him. As Apex had only been in his new surroundings a few days, it was unlikely he'd find his way back home and since Debbie had been the human he knew best, it made sense. I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow I ended up as her "ground support". Armed with limited and somewhat temperamental electronic communication devices along with the fact she was sleeping in her car in case Apex came across the smell of her and her dogs, she would send me info in bits and pieces from cafes with free wifi internet access.
So began the work of me methodically contacting all the facebook pages and websites I could in a place I'd never been while she started postered the town and talked to everyone and anyone she could...
This went on for months - Debbie would head up to Sechelt taking the three dogs and two ferries. She always slept in her car. She got to know where the free wi-fi was and where she could plug in to recharge her electronics, which included an old flip phone cell phone with a temper. She slept in her car with the dogs in different locations on the outskirts of town and each morning she'd get up and get walking... and walking... and walking. She talked to everyone she could, put up more posters and with the help of her dogs, they all "laid their scent" on the off chance Apex would come across a familiar smell that might help keep him in the area.
Sightings kept coming in but there was never any real confirmation.
In mid-January some trail cameras were donated to the search efforts by Sue Eckersley of Whistler Sled Dog Co. She headed to Sechelt with Debbie and they set up six trail cams in areas where Apex had been spotted or what they thought were most likely his routes.
Other friends made the trip to support Debbie and no one gave up. People were notified far and wide - even in Pemberton and Whistler where he'd originally lived. As the crow flies, Pemberton wasn't so far from Sechelt, and being a sled dog, he had some stamina. More sightings continued to come in. We always asked for a photo - we were desperate for a photo to help us confirm it was him, but no one could ever get one - he seemed to be gone too quick.
Four months in to Apex being missing I made the trip with Debbie and her dogs. I had to see these places she was referring to - the places I was poring over on maps and the places he'd been sighted. I needed it to make more sense. Plus, I was in awe of her commitment and wanted to help.
We would do "car camping" with the help of the Victoria Humane Society. They donated the van whenever Debbie needed it - after all, they were part of Team Apex, having brought him into care in July 2014, which led to Deb fostering him.
On January 31, 2015, we got an early morning start and headed out on a foggy 90-minute drive over the malahat. We arrived at the Nanaimo ferry terminal having barely remembered the drive we talked so much.
This was the first of two ferries, but Debbie knew the times and routes by heart - this was trip number 7, she thought.
We got off the second ferry and drove the 30 minutes into Sechelt, and Debbie toured me around to give me the lay of the land - the beach access point he'd bolted from, the routes she'd already walked again and again, the cafe with free wi-fi and the trails. We'd be walking in the middle of what seemed like nowhere and I'd see a missing dog poster on a pole or tree in a ziplock bag, soggy from the rain and damp from the months of being there. Each trip she made, she would put post-its on the posters, or handwrite "Still Missing" along with the date to keep it fresh in people's minds.
Lugging about my camera gear I could barely keep up with her and the dogs over the course of the two days. We checked all but one of the six trail cams - only one had been stolen and there was nothing of note on the memory cards in the other four. We set them back up anyways and kept walking. We came across the hay that had been put down the weekend before. Sue had brought some hay from his kennel mates in Whistler and we put out a quilt that had been under a dog in heat in the hopes that scent might lure him to the somewhat secluded area close to a church. The night before we'd spotted a coyote trotting through the parking lot right to the area we were trying to lure him to.
But we couldn't think of the coyotes. He'd survived this long, he'd been doing something right. As we walked and walked, my eyes were darting everywhere and Debbie would both laugh at me and then hug me because she knew what I was going through. Every little trail, every path, the pawprints in the sandtraps at the golf course, the sounds... I was on high alert the whole time.
It started to get dark so we went for food and then headed up to Kinnikinnick Park to feed her dogs and camp for the night. The park was equipped with nice clean, heated restrooms that were unlocked so we felt like we were at a spa after running around in the bush all day.
Night came and we all hunkered down in the back of the van. Question lay by Debbie's head, Colby alternated sleeping between the back of the van and the passenger seat and Daffy cuddled under my sleeping bag with me (!!!). It rained that night but we were warm and dry. Apex was a constant in our thoughts.
The next morning we hit the golf course - walking around as it rained. We even saw another coyote just trot in front of us which caught us both off guard. Brazen little fellow. We had high points and low points, but Debbie always ensured the dogs had fun and playtime and cuddles along the route. They helped keep us going.
We put up more posters and then went to the coffee shop for breakfast - for all of us. Then it was back out to check the last trail cam. It was located in a pretty remote spot as far as driving goes, but it made sense if one was travelling along a route of power lines, which is what we had suspected given the sighting reports. Travelling along power lines made sense because an open path with trees on either side would have been familiar terrain to Apex. His time as a sled dog was spent on similar trails, and the trees on the side would provide shelter and hiding spots to duck into if necessary. There was nothing on the last camera.... as we scrolled through the footage, other than someone deliberately turning it sideways a few days prior.
It was almost time to go - we had to head to the ferry.
I didn't want Apex to be out on his own, but seeing the terrain and the abundance of water, places to den and find food, I thought that if he could just hang on a bit longer, we - or someone - could catch him.
And that's what happened - today, March 1, 2015.
Debbie hadn't been able to make it up to Sechelt since we were there. Her dog Daffy was in need of surgery so things were up in the air until spring break. But this morning she got a call. Apex had been spotted on a fish farm barge. He was alive! And soon enough we saw the picture to prove it.
Debbie left right away to head up there. In the meantime, some friends at the SPCA headed out on a boat to get him. A few hours later when Debbie got to Apex, they went to the vet and other than him being a bit underweight and a few ticks in his coat, he was ok.
I'm not sure what's going to happen from here, but I will say that you should never give up. It may be hard and it will take its toll on you mentally, but don't be afraid to ask for help. So many people came to help... all it took was an ask. There is a whole village out there just ready and waiting to help, and for Apex, the community of Sechelt, BC was just that group.
The bulk of photos below are from the trip I made with Debbie. After that, I've included a few from the night Apex arrived back in Victoria with her and Daffy, Question + Colby.
When Apex entered into his old foster yard, he took a couple sniffs and then headed up the steps and into her home and lay down next to the Daffy's crate as if those past five months hadn't happened.
Fast forward to March 3, 2015: