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Granite State Dog Recovery's volunteers are hot on the trail of NH's missing pets

By MELANIE PLENDA
Special to the Sunday News

September 29. 2017 6:12PM
This picture was taken shortly after Jack, an Eskimo dog who had been missing for 72 days in the White Mountains, was captured in a Granite State Dog Recovery trap last month. Founder and president Holly Mokrzecki and GSDR Field Team member Jennifer McDonnell are happy to give Jack some company. (GRANITE STATE DOG RECOVERY)



The coyotes slinking past the camera, eyes aglow in the night-vision light, did nothing to calm nerves - particularly since Jack had been gone for so long.

After all these were the White Mountains he was up against filled with coyotes, yes, and bears and bobcats and all manner of creatures willing to make an easy meal of a weary dog.

There had been some sightings since he went missing in July near Ellsworth - Little Jack the Eskimo dog had been spotted taking in the sights near a waterfall, wandering his way up the snowmobile trails from Campton to Thornton, and even once stuck in a thicket of stumps - but then days and weeks would go by without anything. And then there were the times they almost had him only to just miss or lose him altogether, again.

Still, when Holly Mokrzecki of Manchester got word Sept. 10 that Jack had been spotted near Campton, she made the 140-mile round trip several times that week to help.

"I promised that woman I would bring her dog home," said Mokrzecki. "And we did. He was out there for 72 days, but we found him."

Mokrzecki's days are filled with these stories: dog goes missing, she gets a call, she and crew get on the case.

Mokrzecki is the owner and president of Granite State Dog Recovery, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization whose mission is to reunite lost dogs, and the occasional goat, with their families. Working in conjunction with police departments, animal control officers, shelters, veterinarian offices and rescue groups, five core volunteers make themselves available day and night to set up a search, track down a lead or offer a hopeful word.

GSDR has reunited thousands of dogs with their families since its inception in 2004, of those, 580 were found this year alone. And all of it done with nothing but volunteers funded by donations, all of which goes to the dogs in the way of equipment and food.

"If I didn't do it, who would find these dogs?" said Mokrzecki, 43, who also runs a full-time pet-sitting business. "My passion is dogs and I give it all I can."

“Missing” posters like this, on paper and on social media, are an important part of Granite State Dog Recovery’s search strategy. Nora, the dog pictured here, has been missing for more than two years, but GSDR volunteers are still working with her family in hopes of finding her and bringing her home.

They didn't even skip a beat when thieves broke into the storage facility housing all of their equipment and stole about $15,000 worth of cameras - the bulk of the ones they use to help capture the animals.

Luckily, she said, some of their older cameras were not at the storage facility, and the thieves didn't take the traps. So, she said, they could still do their work.

Part of the key to their success, particularly since they are running with such a small crew, are the methods they use to get the word out about a missing animal. First off, they are big on posters, encouraging pet parents to get them up immediately within a fairly large radius of where the animal was last seen and their home.

"The most important part of recovery of a lost dog is getting those lost dog posters out there," Mokrzecki said. "No matter if you live in the woods, city, country - it is going to be someone traveling late at night that ends up seeing your dog roaming, or someone up early in the morning having their coffee.

"A lot of people forget that part, but sadly not everyone is on Facebook or might not have the internet. Posters will help you generate sightings."

That said, they also have pet parents get the word out on social media, to the local newspapers, television and radio stations as well as local police and fire officials.

Nicole Smart's dog, Bella, wandered away from their Auburn home in 2014. "Thankfully by following their guidance and by using social media, we were able to get Bella in the Union Leader twice, were able to get her on WMUR, get her on Rock 101, and Merchants Auto posted her 'missing' poster on their digital billboard."

In fact, it was after seeing one of the flyers Smart and the team at GSDR helped distribute that someone noticed Bella and called Smart.

"Granite State Dog Rescue was wonderful," said Smart, who is paraplegic and uses a wheelchair. "Without Granite State extensive network or volunteers we never would have gotten all the flyers up to have Bella get seen and a flyer being close enough for the person to call."

The volunteers at GSDR also put missing pup's pictures out on their own networks. To put that in perspective, during the week of Sept. 11 alone, GSDR facebook page posts reached over 600,000 people. Further, on Sept. 17, a post titled "Helping Near and Far in the White Mountains of NH: Jack missing for 72 days" reached more than 74,000 people, and video of Jack's capture reached more than 41,0000.

While not all posts go viral, Mokrzecki said that on average, depending on what time they're posted, most lost-dog notices on their Facebook page reach more than 7,600 people within eight hours.

Once there is a sighting, GSDR volunteers set up a feeding station in the area with what Mokrzecki calls "high value" food - things like hot dogs and hamburgers - along with a night-vision, motion-activated trail camera.

Once the dog is caught on camera, a proper size safe trap is set with more food in efforts to lure the often scared, hungry, skittish, and depending on how long they've been out there, mildly feral dogs inside.

Jack, who was missing from Ellsworth, was found in the White Mountains.

Whenever there's a sighting, regardless of time of day or night, the closet volunteer heads out to set up the food, trap and cameras. Every lost dog gets all of their effort, Mokrzecki said.

But sadly, that doesn't mean every dog gets found.

"That is the gut wrenching part of this type of volunteer work," Mokrzecki said. "I think every single one of us gets emotionally invested in every lost dog we work on. We all put our blood, sweat and tears into every recovery."

Amy Neal, of Hillsborough, can attest to that. Nora, the family dog who lived with Amy's mom in Chesterfield, disappeared two years ago after being dropped off with a groomer.

"We were in a desperate panic," Neal said. "We posted to social media, called friends and were told by numerous people to contact Granite State Dog Recovery, that they help find lost dogs. They went above and beyond."

Nora is still missing, but Neal said GSDR has continued to offer support, advice and hands-on effort. "Colleen Goleman specifically was the one helping with Nora," Neal said. "She would drive over an hour to track down a lead, set up a food station, check the cameras, rebait, and repeat over and over, day after day, week after week, and now year after year through all seasons and weather. There was never a lead or call left unanswered, no matter how slight a chance."

Neal said they will never stop looking for Nora.

"When you lose your best friend as we did with Nora, you are desperate for any help," Neal said in an email. "But the dedication, perseverance and empathy that GSDR offers (New Hampshire) is incredible. ... They worry alongside the families until they are brought home. Although we are still waiting on our happy ending, I cannot express the gratitude we have for them."

Mokrzecki is an eternal optimist when it comes to Nora, and any of the dogs, still out there somewhere - and not without reason: After all her organization has found dogs that were lost for as long as six and a half years. To her, there's only one reason to stop looking.

"Unless there is a body, never give up on finding your dog," she said. "If there's no body, there's always a chance. There's always hope. These dogs are out there somewhere waiting to come home."

For more information on GSDR call 1-855-639-LOST (5678), visit them on facebook or at www.granitestatedogrecovery.com.


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