How can a dog be lost in the middle of an urban area — and disappear without a trace, never to be seen again? That’s what happened when Munchkin escaped from a vet clinic where she was being boarded five years ago. We’ll never know the truth about what happened to her.
Munchkin was the runt of a five-puppy litter. At the right, you can see her on the fireplace mantle at my house when she was tiny. She was the only female among the five puppies born on a chain to the dog I now have named Lucy. (You can read Lucy’s story from a few weeks ago if you missed it.)
As my ex-wife and I tried to find homes for the puppies, everyone talked about how beautiful she was, but they ended up taking one of the male puppies. By the time the other four were gone, it had been too long. We were too attached to Munchkin to let her go.
No other animal of mine ever had such a flippant name, but we never intended to keep her. Since she was the runt, Melissa nicknamed her Munchkin at one point. By the time we kept her, the name had stuck.
When Melissa and I divorced in 2000, she took two of our five dogs — and Munchkin went with her. I’d still see her occasionally, because Melissa and I were on friendly terms, but I didn’t see her much, especially after Melissa remarried.
In August of 2006, I got a call from Melissa one evening while I was eating at a restaurant. She was letting me know that Munchkin was lost and asking whether I could help look.
Melissa is a university professor, and she had been in San Francisco for an academic conference and vacation. Munchkin and her other dog, Alex, had been boarded at the same vet clinic that we had been using for years. A new employee had been walking Munchkin outside the clinic when the young woman somehow lost the leash. Munchkin ran down the street.
Several clinic employees — including some we’ve known and trusted for years — sighted her running in the neighborhood in the next couple of hours as they frantically tried to catch her, but nobody got even close. Much like her mother, Lucy, she’s a skittish dog who’s scared of most everything.
Melissa was on her way from Tuscaloosa to pick Munchkin up when she got the call that Munchkin was missing. After getting in touch with me a few hours later, we formulated a plan. The first thing we did was to get the vet to agree to pay for a mailing to every home within a mile or so of the clinic. I designed a mailer and had it digitally printed, so it was in homes within a couple of days. We immediately put up black and white flyers. Then we replaced those flyers with nice color posters as soon as they could be printed. The printing company that did all of my color printing at the time did about $1,200 worth of printing for just $200 to help us with the search. (I’ll be eternally grateful to the late Bill Decherniss for his help with that.)
By another day or so later, I had a website operating. FindMunchkin.com would become the focal point of most of our efforts to recruit volunteer dog-lovers to help look for her. (I just gave up the domain name last year, but the original site is still on my personal account.) It was the beginning of a wild ride, which included hundreds of alleged sightings, dozens and dozens of visits for me to go look at dogs which turned out to look nothing like her, and lots of frustration at all the dead ends.
We were successful in a stealth campaign to get one of the local TV stations to do a story about her. (You can see the video of that news story on the old website here.) Because TV stations don’t do stories about lost dogs — especially for people who beg them to do it — we took the opposite approach. We simply plastered the areas around where most of the TV stations were located with so many posters that the newsroom employees eventually had to take notice. On one slow news day, a reporter got desperate enough for a story and we got our TV story about Munchkin.
(You’ll notice that I’m not mentioned in the news stories and none of the material explains who I am. That was a deliberate decision. Although I was producing the materials and doing the work for the website, it seemed smarter not to try to explain our personal situation. There was no reason to make us a part of the story. It was easier and smarter to make it about Melissa and her husband, Barry.)
I wish I had a happy ending to the story, but I don’t. Despite having hundreds of volunteers involved at one point or another — actually on the ground methodically searching — and using fairly sophisticated marketing tools, at least by “lost dog” standards, Munchkin is still lost.
Even though it was a grim possibility, we had been in touch with the city department that handles removal of dead animals very quickly. They would have alerted us if her body had been found. (There were a few who I had to look at to confirm that it wasn’t her.) So we think it’s likely that she survived. We suspect that someone found her and either didn’t know anyone was looking for her or knew and kept her anyway. She might have stayed close to the search area or she could have run for miles. We just don’t know.
Even though it’s been five years, we still want her back. We still miss her. For us, Munchkin is still missing.