How a Microchip Saved a Stolen Dog's Life
Dog stolen as Christmas approached
It was approaching Christmas and I was working as a reporter for a local newspaper when Bracken first came into my life.
Known as "the dog lady" - because I always wrote all the animal welfare and rescue stories - I was sitting at my computer, just behind the reception desk, when I heard the door open and a young man's trembling voice asking our receptionist, "Can you help me, please? My dog's been stolen."
Many newspapers refused to publish stories about missing dogs, advising the owner to place a paid-for classified advert instead. But I was lucky in that my editor was as animal-mad as I was and he had 12 dogs himself, many of them rescued from shelters, so I knew he would let me run a news story, which would have far more impact.
I heard the young man telling our receptionist of his shock and despair when he realised Bracken had been stolen. He was totally distraught and was invited to sit down and have a glass of water.
I knew we must do our utmost to reunite him with his dog - and this was how my life-long friendship with the beautiful and noble Bracken began.
Thieves probably mistook him for a racing greyhound
Bracken was three years old and had been with his owner since he was a tiny puppy who could sit in the palm of his hand. The two of them were inseparable and went everywhere together. Bracken never wore a lead. He was so loyal, he trotted alongside his owner wherever they went and liked nothing better than to run on the beach and in the park.
He was described as a "whippet cross", but was so big he looked more like a greyhound. He was a beautiful boy, almost all white with some black speckles and a black patch across one eye.
On the day he was stolen, he had been into the town centre with his owner, who was Christmas shopping. As they left town for the walk home, his owner popped into a little shop on the high street to buy Bracken a new football for Christmas. Bracken waited outside the door. But in the two minutes that it took to buy the ball, callous thieves snatched him.
When his owner emerged from the shop, his dog was gone. At first, it was thought he had wandered off. But Bracken would never do this and within minutes, his owner realised the stomach-churning truth - that someone had snatched Bracken.
The crime was immediately reported to the police, the RSPCA, dog wardens, vets and other animal rescue agencies and it was thought Bracken may have been mistaken for a racing greyhound and someone thought they could make some money out of him.
Hundreds of 'missing' posters heralded the start of a huge campaign
As I interviewed Bracken's owner, I knew how devastated he was and imagined how I would feel if it was one of my own dogs missing.
He had brought a photo into the office, taken only days earlier, of Bracken getting ready for the excitement of Christmas and wearing a little pair of reindeer antlers, lying on the bed looking so happy. That picture nearly broke my heart as I wondered where this poor boy was now.
My editor did us proud, placing Bracken's story in a prime spot in the newspaper, taking up almost three-quarters of a page, complete with the photograph.
I became very personally involved in the search for Bracken, helping print up hundreds of "missing" posters to distribute, post through letterboxes and display on lamp-posts, in shop windows and on notice-boards.
I also used my contacts in the newspaper industry, through writing animal rescue stories and dealing with local shelters, to keep the momentum going, ringing on a daily basis to see if there had been any sightings or developments and going round shelters myself on my day off to see if he had been brought in.
But apart from a few potential sightings - which turned out to be false alarms - there was no real news of his whereabouts and the chances of his being returned seemed slimmer with each passing day.
No sightings or leads in three months
But as the days turned into weeks - and Christmas came and went - it was as if Bracken had disappeared off the face of the earth.
There were a few false sightings, from well-meaning people who were convinced they had seen him. But always it was a different dog.
One lady was convinced she had seen him being walked on playing fields about three miles from where he was stolen. So his owner began hanging around the area at the relevant time of day, keeping a lookout.
But unfortunately, although it was a white dog with a black patch over one eye, it turned out to be a boxer dog.
On another occasion, there were reports of a white dog matching Bracken's description "dodging traffic" at a busy roundabout near the motorway junction.
I quickly raced down to check - my name and number were on the "missing" poster and I was always ready to drop everything to look - but this turned out to be a false alarm too.
A report of a white dog's body near a river sparked fears
Perhaps the most heartbreaking report was when a member of the public reported they had been out walking at a well-known rural beauty spot, near a river, where they thought they had seen the body of a white dog near the banks.
His owner and I went to check out the sighting, while the local dog warden, a personal friend, also went there to scour the area herself. We dreaded what we might find. But thank God it was another false sighting and the dog warden said it had possibly been a dead bird, or even something as innocent as a white plastic bag, which had sparked the scare.
Owner never gave up hope of finding Bracken
As January turned into February, Bracken's owner never gave up hope of finding his boy, despite there being no sightings whatsoever.
They had such a special bond, he genuinely felt life would be intolerable without Bracken and that it wouldn't be worth living.
We kept up the momentum with the posters and daily checks with the shelters, dog wardens and police, but always the answer came back that there had been no leads at all.
Three months had passed since Bracken's disappearance. His Christmas presents remained unopened and life became just a dull existence for his owner. Bracken was such a huge part of his life, nothing seemed right without him.
An amazing phone call confirmed Bracken had been found
Bracken had now been missing for most of December, January and February. I still had a little candle of hope that he was alive and would be found.
I had helped people search for missing dogs before and had found homes for abandoned dogs in shelters, but I had never become so personally involved in a search for a missing dog. I felt like I knew Bracken. God knows what his owner went through in those months.
One Saturday afternoon, as I pottered around doing jobs at home, I received an amazing phone call. It was a lady telling me that Bracken had been found. He was in London, around 200 miles from his home. I had been called because my telephone number had been on the posters advertising his disappearance and I had become a point of contact when they had been unable to immediately reach his owner.
Painfully thin and with a nasty cough but alive!
Apparently, Bracken had been picked up as a stray wandering the streets of London. He was in a poor state, just skin and bones, with a nasty cough and a shadow of his former self. He had been taken to the police dog pound, as this was before the days when the council dog wardens became solely responsible for dealing with lost and found dogs.
The poor boy had been sitting in the pound for almost a week, waiting to see if anyone reported him missing or turned up to claim him. I was horrified to learn he had almost been euthanised, as was standard procedure when a stray hadn't been collected after seven days. Then, an officer had asked the life-saving question, "Has anyone scanned him for a microchip?"
They hadn't, so a local vet was called to scan him and of course, his microchip showed up right away that he was missing and a long way from home. Communication between the police in London and the local police, who had Bracken listed as stolen, followed and it was with great euphoria that I received the news he was okay and waiting to be collected!
Tears of relief that Bracken was okay
I rang Bracken's owner right away and told him, "Bracken's okay - he's been found!"
He broke down with tears of relief and couldn't believe it, asking me time and time again, "Are you sure it's him?"
Right away, transport was arranged to London and Bracken's owner made the eight-hour return trip to collect him. I can only imagine the joyous reunion.
A vet check followed and it was found Bracken had traces of silver-grey paint on his teeth, as if he had been chewing something - maybe to escape from his captors. Sadly, we will never know what happened to him during the three months that he was missing.
It was with great delight that I went into work a couple of days later - Bracken was being brought in for a photograph and the good news story that he was safe. He was such a beautiful boy, so friendly and bouncy despite his ordeal, though his owner was upset when he showed me how Bracken had lost so much weight, his spine and ribs were clearly visible through his coat.
But he posed like a professional, standing on his hind legs and putting his front paws on one of the newspaper's advertising boards, a big smile on his face - a picture that appeared on the front page with the large headline, "Look who's home!"
Soon back to good health when in loving arms again
Over the next few weeks, Bracken was nursed back to health and gained weight, becoming the big, bouncy, happy boy he had been before his ordeal.
I remained in close contact with Bracken throughout his life and he became a big part of my life too, becoming friends with my rescue dog, Buster.
He lived a long and happy life, always very vocal, howling with excitement when he was in the car on his way to and from walks and enjoying many trips to Scotland on holiday. He loved his walks and his chicken dinners and was always much-loved for the next 12 years.
He never really slowed down or stopped being a puppy even in old age, becoming friends with Joseph the kitten in later years. The two of them spent many hours together snuggled up on the settee and never had a cross word.
He was, without exception, the best-natured dog you could ever have the pleasure to meet.
Bracken is gone but never forgotten
Bracken passed away on 21 January 2012 at the age of 15 years, after a little of his favourite chicken and a wander round the garden. He had gone for a nap on the settee and heartbreakingly, half an hour later, he had gone. He had lived a long and happy life with the human he had always loved.
His owner has never really got over Bracken's death. They were soulmates and would always have a special bond.
This story brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes as I remember how close Bracken came to losing his life at the age of just three years because of unscrupulous thieves - and it was only his microchip that saved his life at the eleventh hour as he lay ill and alone in a police dog pound.
Thank God for the microchip and that someone had the presence of mind to suggest scanning him for identification.