Michelle Chretien thought she would never see her dog again.
But, 10 days after her German shepherd rescue went missing in the Hammond neighbourhood, the Port Moody resident received a call from someone on Barnston Island. They found her dog.
Mercy, nine, managed to swim across the Fraser River from about the Golden Ears Bridge to the eastern tip of the island in North Surrey.
Chretien adopted Mercy from a rescue agency in Manitoba about two years ago. She had adopted dogs from the same agency before, and was confident in her abilities in dealing with dogs with behaviour issues.
However, with Mercy, nothing she did helped and she hired a dog behaviourist, who, after spending four months with the dog, diagnosed Mercy with post-traumatic stress disorder. That was a light bulb moment for the retired police dispatcher who has friends with PTSD and was familiar with many of the symptoms.
Mercy was put on several different medications but nothing really worked. She was, though, making a tiny bit of progress becoming slightly less skittish and less fearful.
“All I know about her past, obviously is that, whoever her first owner was, they badly abused her,” said Chretien.
Even going out for walks can trigger fear in Mercy who will simply shut down, Chretien noted.
If there are too many people or too many dogs, Mercy will lie down on the road or the sidewalk, unable to do anything.
“I can’t move her. I can’t walk her,” Chretien said.
To help Mercy become more social, Chretien hired a dog walker to take Mercy out once or twice a week. The dog walker has been doing that with success for the past two years.
So, when Chretien decided she wanted to take a couple of weeks vacation, she thought she would ask her dog walker to take care of Mercy while she was gone. But, just to be safe, she would see how Mercy did at her dog walker’s house for one day.
“I just thought, if she does OK for the day there, then I can go away for two weeks, she’ll be fine,” said Chretien.
She dropped her off July 18.
However, the same day, Mercy broke right through one of the doors on the second floor and got out on the second floor balcony. She ran down the stairs and scaled the fence, almost two metres high.
Chretien put up a poster online on Missing Pets in BC that was shared widely and had search parties out every night – to no avail. Mercy would make an occasional appearance, noted Chretien, but nobody could get close enough to grab her.
Then all went quiet. All of a sudden, there were no new sightings of Mercy, which Chretien found odd.
Finally at 1 a.m. on July 28, Chretien received a call from Yuana Hexamer, who just happened to be a certified dog trainer and president for the Lower Mainland Humane Society, and who lives on Barnston Island. She told Chretien her dog was safe.
Hexamer said Mercy was first spotted on Monday, July 25, by a deckhand on the local ferry that transports passengers from Parsons Channel on the south side of the Fraser River between Barnston Island and Port Kells.
Then her neighbour spotted the lost dog the following day and thought maybe somebody on the island got a new dog. However, when her neighbour spotted Mercy again on Wednesday night, she realized the dog was lost and called Hexamer.
So Hexamer, got into her friend Tammy’s ATV and travelled into the middle of the island where they spotted Mercy again and left a treat trail leading to the road.
After a half hour wait, Mercy finally emerged and Hexamer followed the dog in her truck to see where she would go.
“But she just kept walking along the road and she was so tired and she never went into anybody’s house,” said Hexamer.
So Hexamer, along with Tammy and her other neighbour Cassandra, corralled the dog with two trucks – one on either side of Mercy – into a goat barn where they shut all the doors.
“Once she realized she was trapped she lay down,” said Hexamer.
They gave her a little food and water and then Hexamer looked at her tag.
“I’m like, oh my god, no way, it can’t be Mercy,” exclaimed Hexamer, adding that she had seen the missing ads for the dog.
In all it took about four hours – from about 9 p.m. until almost 1:30 a.m. – for Hexamer and her friends to rescue Mercy.
Hexamer noted that where Mercy was, in the middle of the island, is very dangerous.
“It’s all bush and trees and that’s where the coyotes have their den,” said Hexamer.
“The islanders, we don’t go in there,” she elaborated. “And the only way to go in there is with an ATV.”
The next day, July 28, Hexamer put a leash on Mercy and drove her all the way to Port Moody to reunite with Chretien.
Chretien is amazed Mercy was able to swim that far. She would learn that a group of people were setting off fireworks at the Hammond Dog Park about three days prior to Mercy being discovered on Barnston Island. Chretien figures Mercy was spooked by the fireworks and took off running, right into the river.
“That’s one of her triggers – fireworks and fire crackers. She’ll just run. She’ll run into stuff to get away from them. Like she gets absolutely petrified,” said Chretien.
“So she probably just took off running and ran into the river, and I’m assuming, just kept going,” said Chretien.
Hexamer estimates that if the dog went into the water by the Hammond Dog Park, Mercy would have swam about two kilometres to the eastern tip of the island where there is a beach area.
But, she said, the sandy area is only visible at low tide – anywhere else in that area, Mercy would have had to climb up an embankment.
When they were reunited Mercy whined a bit and her tail was wagging. That was good enough for Chretien since Mercy normally doesn’t show a lot of emotion because she mostly operates out of fear.
Chretien said Mercy was exhausted by the time she arrived home, but not tired enough to turn down a chunk of feta cheese – one of her favourite treats.
Have a story tip? Email: email@example.com
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.