So, you thought we’d disappeared after not posting for a while? Nope – we’re back! In this episode, Anne-Marie from Arthur & Co. Pet Concierge talks about helping one Sydney family find their missing dachshund, Gracie. Spoiler alert: it’s a happy ending (we need more of those!)
‘Outcast’ by Myuu
‘Forgiven Fate’ by Dan Lebowitz
‘A Walk in the Park’ by Doug Maxwell
‘A Hand in the Dark’ by Underbelly & Ty Mayer
‘Building Blocks’ by Nate Blaze
Sounds from zapsplat.com
MJ: Every day, dogs disappear – never to be seen again. But where do they go, these animals that seem to slip off the edge of the earth and into a place of lost things? And what are the reasons for their vanishings? I’m Mitchell Jordan and you’re listening to Love Is A Doxie. In this episode, you’re going to hear the story of the missing dachshund, Gracie. I know that might sound dark and distressing but – spoiler alter – there are happy endings here.
But to learn how Gracie and her owners were reunited, first we need to go back in time and meet a woman named Anne-Marie.
Growing up in the Australian countryside, Anne-Marie had an affinity with animals from an early age: in particular, her Lassie dog, Sam. The bond the pair shared was that of best friends. So imagine how it would feel for the child Anne-Marie to come home one day and discover her companion was gone.
Anne-Marie: So we lived in a very rural area, a very rural part of town on acreage. Sam was on our property and he was picked up and kept by some passersby in a car and we were never really able to track them down in terms of proving the dog they had in their yard was my dog, Sam, because of the lack of microchip. Although, unfortunately, today still we are still experiencing some of these issues when it comes to missing or stolen pets.
Sam was my best friend and, as a child, I had much older siblings and was older by 12 years so I was almost like an only child. Sam was like my sibling and we would do everything together so losing him was just … had such a profound impact on me and left such a whole in my family because he wasn’t just a dog, he was my best friend, my sibling, my confidante, my hanky for my tears and my playmate. To lose him and never have closure on what became of him was horrible.
MJ: As years passed the loss was no easier for Anne-Marie.
AM: I would always look for him, it was something in the front of my mind: dogs that looked like him, dogs that could have been him – I would always think, ‘Is that my Sam?’ I remember being parked with my mum out the front of a yard in a little bit more of a residential area, less rural, and seeing a dog sort of pacing in the yard. And I am pretty sure that was my Sam – in fact I’m almost certain but again it just couldn’t be proven. After some time, once I knew that there was no way he could still be alive because of his age, then I stopped looking, I guess but I never stopped wondering. The closure never came even though I knew the end of his life had come.
MJ: Fast forward to adulthood and as a wife, mother and owner of two dogs, Anne-Marie wanted to welcome another dog into her life – this time a dachshund named Arthur, whom she rescued.
AM: He was just so beautiful and sweet and had the most intense little eyes, such personality behind those eyes! I just knew I had to have him. My son’s a very good soccer player and he was quite young at the time; he had fractured his femur whilst playing soccer and so he was in a leg brace and after the initial period was allowed back at school once the pain had subsided and the healing had started. But the brace had to remain and when he went on a school excursion, because of the brace, he fell and hurt his arm, so he was kind of in this brace with a cast on his arm. He just, sort of, was holding Arthur, looking at Arthur like: ‘Please, please can we keep him?’ So I had two sets of beautiful big brown eyes looking up at me: my son’s and Arthur’s, or who was to become Arthur … the rest is history, I guess.
MJ: If you’re a dachshund owner, which you probably are, you’ll know that this breed is known for their noses. And once she realised this, Anne-Marie trained her dachshund and created Arthur & Co. Pet Concierge, a pet detective service that works all over Australia to find missing or stolen pets. Let’s hear a bit about what Arthur does.
AM: And so once he’d grown up a bit, been de-sexed, matured and some of his abilities and instincts had developed was when I realised he had a, what I would call a gift, although I’m pretty sure a lot of dachshunds, if those skills are harnessed, would probably be the same, just because anyone who owns one knows they have such strong, gifted noses.
Arthur would be able to detect injury: I sprained my ankle many years ago and occasionally it plays up. And when it plays up, Arthur licks it and when my son had his injuries, Arthur was very aware that they were there. I started to think: maybe he’s got something here. And then we would go often away to the country to escape the city, because obviously I grew up there and so did my husband. Arthur would just start tracking things on our bushwalks. For example, the kangaroo that we’d seen that had hopped away, Arthur would then navigate us through this dense bushland and find the mob who had peacefully settled somewhere else. And then off they’d go again! And I didn’t want to put him through formal training different to me, I didn’t want to do that to him. I still wanted him to be first and foremost my pet. I trained him myself. You know, he’s very gifted so there are some changes to his life when he’s working: for example, he can’t be fed things when he’s working, people can’t pat him when he’s working … sometimes that’s hard if people approach us if we’re working, but we get through it. Sometimes, I have to reset and start again – and no matter how much signage you wear on yourself like ‘working dog’ or ‘tracking in progress’ people still come up to you and want to ask you questions about it. Sometimes it’s easier not to wear anything.
MJ: Arthur didn’t know it back then, but there would come a time when him and his owner would save the day for one Sydney family in need.
Sydney’s inner-west is an area of dog-lovers, off-leash parks abound, every second pet who lives there has its own Instagram account. And if you see someone walking alone, chances are, they’re dreaming of owning a dog.
For inner-west residents, Alex and Jo and their kids, one dachshund wasn’t enough. Their boy, Alfie, was happy to have even more company – and so were they. This time, they were ready to welcome a girl into the family. But Gracie the dachshund had a history: her previous owners had young kids and returned her to the breeder quickly, something which Alex believes had left its scar.
A: What we deduced from that was that Gracie had had a bit of trauma. You know, she’s a sensitive soul – God love her. But she had a bit of trauma from these little kids who didn’t know what they were doing – too young to have a dog, basically. So then she was sent to us, and she is a beautiful, sensitive, loving, loyal dog but she is also extremely anxious and nervous and she can be aggressive if she perceives there is any danger to the family – in an OTT way, yeah – lots of barking and maybe even a few bites here and there … little nips. So we have to be very careful with Gracie.
MJ: Although she was deeply loved by her new owners, seemingly small things could frighten Gracie.
ALEX: There was one time when she was very young – she was only about four months old – and our cleaner came to the house and got out the vacuum cleaner, turned it on, and I don’t think Gracie had ever seen or heard anything like this. And again, it must have been the scariest thing that happened to her. Our property’s dog-proof but she somehow managed to get under the gate, it was the smallest spot: she got under the gate and ran away, ran down our street and basically disappeared for, I think, 48 hours. So you could imagine the hysteria that was going on – lots of searching. And then she just, two nights later, turned up on the front door step. We obviously could see that she was a runner and that she was easily spooked.
MJ: As time passed, Gracie and Alfie got into a rhythm of being taken on regular outings to Sydney Park. This 103-acre outdoor space of rolling hills overlooked by three towering kilns sits on the edges of Alexandria, Newtown and Erskineville and is the third largest park in Sydney’s inner-west. Have you been there? If you tread its rolling hills, you can see the cityscape sparkling in the distance – close, but not close enough to remind you of your office job. Behind you, the once-busy Sydney Airport breathes impatiently, a sign of how our world has changed and been slowed down. Stroll ay of the paths here and you’ll glimpse wetlands, birdlife … and lots of dogs. But one day, Alex and Jo’s routine was turned on its head.
ALEX: It’s an off-leash park, so we didn’t have them on their leashes – as usual. Alfie’s one of those dogs who just literally walks next to your feet. Gracie does like to run ahead a little bit, but she usually waits for you if you’re too slow. So it was as-normal, we’d been to that park about a hundred times before and there’s a little café in the middle of the park where there’s obviously quite a few people, quite a few dogs. And we went to stand in line to get a coffee and it was literally one of those things were I looked down and she was there and then I looked down again and she wasn’t … like she had vaporised. So, I said to Jo, my partner: ‘Oh she’s not here.’ Jo and I said, ‘It’ll be all right, she’s probably run up into the bushes, ‘cause she’s scared of all these people.’ So one of us went into the bushes to look for her but we just could not see her anywhere, and then we said ‘she’s probably just gone back to the car’ because she knew where that was. We went back to the car and she wasn’t there. And we were still feeling pretty relaxed that she knows this park so well, it’ll be all right, we’ll just wait at the car and one of us will have a look around the park, take Alfie, he can sniff her out. So we were pretty relaxed. And then, a couple of hours had passed. And you know that terrible feeling when you go from feeling like ‘it’s okay, I’m not really too stressed about it’ to suddenly thinking ‘Oh my God, this is potentially really bad.’ And our first thought was: she’s been stolen, someone’s picked her up and run because how can she just disappear like that?
MJ: Alex and Jo tried all the usual things: Facebook posts on missing dogs groups, countless trips back to the park and surrounding area, all to no avail. Then, they called Anne-Marie.
ALEX: She was amazing, sort of walked me through: ‘where did you last have her, what was she wearing, tell me the sort of dog she is and what does she know and blah, blah, blah.’ And she literally interviewed me like I had a lost child. She organised posters, she basically took it in-hand. When you’ve lost someone, or a pet, you’re not in any sort of state to coordinate a big search campaign, you’re just a bit of a mess, really. She took all the calls that came in about sightings: she vetted them, interview people extensively, keep them on hand so that we could keep going back to these people. We did have one guy call, he was in the park and said ‘I can see your dog.’ You know, he described her. And I said, ‘My God, do you mind standing there for like 15 minutes, and we’ll be there in 15 minutes.’ He said, ‘Yeah, fine – maybe I can try and catch her for you.’ And Anne-Marie’s big rule is, just never approach an animal that’s running, because that will set them off, they will keep running then. Just keep them in your sights but don’t try to touch them, or even talk to them, you will spook them. So I told him that, and he was like ‘Ah right, okay’ and I think for him – bless him – he meant well, but the temptation was just too great and by the time we got to the park, she had disappeared again because he had tried to catch her. So, unbeknownst to us, what she had done then was to run out of the park and across a highway and into another suburb and then she spent another, she was missing six days and nights in total, then spent the remaining five nights in this suburb call St Peters. It’s quite inner-city so there’s a lot of places to hide, there’s verges, grassland – easy for her to hide.
MJ: Anne-Marie and Arthur got straight over to the inner-west.
AM: Where Arthur led us to was exactly where she was and had been hiding, she’d been hiding in the rail corridor, which is fenced off. Little dogs can squeeze in under it, she was hiding in the corridor under the park. Arthur and I had been out there, now the way scent works, it’s not straight forward. Rain impacts it massively, so does what I call contamination – people walking, driving on it, other pets, other dogs, other dog’s urine. Obviously all those things impact scent and anyone who knows St Peters knows there’s a lot of foot traffic and a lot of people out walking dogs every day and there’s a lot of cars, and so we were really up against it in terms of the scent but Arthur being Arthur tracked her all the way to the rail corridor. He wanted to go under, but obviously I couldn’t get through. Two nights later, I got a call at about eight p.m., I was actually getting ready to sit down, have my dinner and watch Lego Masters with my son and my husband. A call came in from a lovely St Peters community member, who said: ‘We’ve just seen her, she’s just gone into a vacant block.’ I immediately dropped everything, got into the car, called her owners, we met there, we got to the vacant black; by the time we’d got there, she’d gone. Another call came through, and it was from another wonderful local, who said: ‘I’ve literally got her in my sight right now. I’m keeping my distance’ because all of the social media posts and posters we were putting out said ‘Do not approach her. If you see her, do not approach – just call.’ So the owners were already searching another area. Myself and another lovely community member that I’d never met before jumped into my car and we flew around the corner to this street. While we were driving, he was like: ‘How nice is it that everybody’s coming together and helping?’ and I was like, ‘It’s so beautiful – it’s such a community feel.’ I kind of had this strange man in my car I’d never met before who was invested in helping find Gracie, and he’d never met her or the owners … We got out and just lost sight of her right when we got there and so we were coming down one end of the street, the owners were coming from another side street that lead onto that street and she must have heard it and took off again. It was right near the spot Arthur led us to a couple of days prior – took off, and we had torches, it was obviously quite late at night by this stage. People were searching, no sign of her. So we were all standing going, ‘Okay, this is still a good sign, at least we’ve seen her, we know she’s alive and okay, we can come back and continue to do what we’re doing.’ And then a train roared past the rail corridor and as it came through, all of the windows that were illuminated … illuminated that rail corridor that was otherwise pitch-black and we saw this little thing just dash. So there was myself, three other men who were community members helping and her two owners. And I was like, ‘Everybody be quiet’ and I said to her owners, ‘Get down low to the ground.’ Alfie was there, her fur brother, and I said, ‘Now just say her name, quietly.’ I had her in my torchlight, she turned her head, stopped, turned her head and looked at us, turned back and ran a couple of metres. And I kept my torch on her and said, ‘No one say anything, please just stop’, and she turned back and looked at us again and then ran again. I said: ‘Gracie …’ [kissing noises] and then, all of a sudden, out of the darkness, she bounds over to Alfie and her owners and I very quickly swooped onto her, we wrapped her in a sheet we had there and we took a selfie with her … it’s the best selfie! And then we very quickly bundled her into the car and they took her home and gave her a bath. She cried for about half an hour when she got home.
MJ: Alex will never forget the moment Gracie and her family were reunited.
ALEX: Anne-Marie said to me, ‘Alex, get Alfie in front of her.’ So I took him off the leash and said: ‘Alfie, go, go, go, there’s Gracie.’ And he got it and he ran up to her and she, I could see the moment in her face when the spell broke and she saw her brother and just ran up to him like they’d just been walking in the park, like nothing had happened and they literally embraced and they literally kissed each other’s faces. It was so beautiful that moment. And then Anne-Marie said to me, ‘Okay, you can call her now.’ So I called her and, of course, she came running up to us as if nothing had happened, she was so happy and excited to see us; it was just the most amazing happy ending. We were in shock that we had actually got her back because our hopes were completely dashed by six days, yeah. But, the amazing thing is, she had lost a little bit of weight [but] she had not one scratch, not one bruise – we took her to the vet the next day and the vet could not believe it. She’d been very good at looking after herself when she was living on the streets.
MJ: The six-day nightmare is something that family never wants to repeat. So, afterwards, they hired a dog trainer to work with Gracie.
ALEX: As you know, dachshunds are so protective and loyal to their owners – they’d literally kill for them, they’re incredibly devoted. But she just had a little bit too much of that, so she was just so on-alert the whole time, she couldn’t really enjoy herself. But when she’s on a lead, she is much more relaxed because she feels that she doesn’t have to be the boss – we’re the boss, so our attitude towards that has changed. And, I think, our expectations of her are quite different. We don’t try to sort of say, ‘Come on, have a good time, you know, run around’, because that, to her, is not a good time – she just gets a little bit nervous about that. Yeah, so quite a lot’s changed. Mainly, we’re just so grateful to have her back and almost every day Jo and I both think to ourselves – or say – ‘I can’t believe she’s here’, like we are so lucky that she’s back with us.
MJ: Since then, Anne-Marie and Arthur have gone on to help other dog owners find their missing dogs. I can’t help wonder if she thinks about what might have happened if someone had been there to help her regain Sam?
AM: Whilst it makes me go back to what could have been when Sam was stolen, it also makes me think about: well, what if we didn’t exist now? In Gracie’s case, that’s not even something the police do; they don’t look for dogs that are lost in bushland or rail corridors. That’s not in their remit.
MJ: Meanwhile, Arthur still knows how to relax, even after a long day at work. When he’s not cracking cases, he’s doing what pretty much every dachshund loves best – cracking his toy balls.
AM: He is obsessed with squeaker toys, and none of them last particularly long – they are assassinated usually within a few hours, if not a few minutes, depending on the quality of the toy. Even the most tough toy with reinforced stitching, he manages to de-squeaker in record time.
MJ: Just goes to show, the fame certainly hasn’t gone to Arthur’s head!