Animal disappeared? Call Bravo the Rat Terrier, a trained pet detective

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Two days before Christmas and Chandler Ray couldn’t wait to get home.

Heavy rain didn’t deter the 23-year-old as he left his girlfriend’s house in Raleigh, North Carolina, to make the two-hour trip to see his family.

His driving had barely begun when his vehicle hydroplaned on the wet road, rolled over and hit a tree. The accident totaled his car and seriously injured Ray. When paramedics airlifted him to hospital, they had no idea a passenger had been left behind.

Ray’s beloved Newfoundland, Rufus, rolled into his favorite spot in the back seat and disappeared from the scene of the crash.

“I rushed to Raleigh and frantically searched for Rufus knowing I had to go to WakeMed to be with my son,” says his mother, Kathy Ray, of Washington, North Carolina.

It seemed impossible that there was no sign of a shaggy, 150-pound black dog.

Ray suffered a spinal cord injury that resulted in paralysis from the waist down. When he regained consciousness, it was not his condition that concerned him.

“My son came and found out that we hadn’t found Rufus, and it wasn’t the loss of his legs that made him say he didn’t want to live…it was the loss of Rufus,” said Ray’s mother.

But then, a small silver lining: Someone mentioned they saw a post on social media about a Raleigh woman whose dog could find missing pets.

Finding Rufus

On Christmas Eve, Balynda Brown was driving to visit her mother for the holidays when her phone rang. “I turned the car around. I had to go help,” she said.

Just a month earlier, she and her Rat Terrier, Bravo, graduated from the Missing Animal Response Network (MARN), a program to train dogs to find missing animals. Hunting Rufus would be their first real case.

“When I pulled up to the wreckage site, I had no idea how anyone could have survived this. It looked like a plane crash,” Brown says. “Everywhere you looked, there were clothes, gifts, wrapping paper, even in the trees I thought we were looking for a dead dog.

As soon as Bravo sniffed out the wrecked vehicle, it went into work mode.

“Bravo went straight to the freeway and started following it, then crossed eight lanes of traffic to cross the freeway, and that’s where we finally got our first sightings of Rufus,” Brown says. “Dogs lost in unknown places almost always return to the last place they saw their owner, and Rufus was trying to get back to the wreckage site.” Focusing in the area Bravo pointed out, Brown, Ray’s girlfriend Elizabeth Speidel, and a team of friends and volunteers searched day and night and sighted the Newfie.

Brown trained them in soothing signals, because lost dogs are often so traumatized that they will stay away from even familiar people. Signals can include singing to your pet and sitting on the floor while pretending to eat treats.

“In the end, Elizabeth said she could hear Rufus circling her, then his circle shrinking, and then bam! He lunged at her,” Brown says.

Rufus was taken to an emergency veterinary practice where he was found unharmed except for a few bruises, and reunited with Ray in the hospital.

lose the fear

The Rufus case was Bravo’s first job at the end of 2019. Since then, Brown and his terrier have helped over 300 animals return home.

But Bravo didn’t start life as an excellent search dog candidate.

Brown, who has been showing dogs since she was 6, raised her litter and loved the puppies so much she kept two: Bravo and her brother, Buddha.

She hoped to win Bravo’s conformation championship and compete in dock diving and other sports.

But Brown reassessed her future after experiencing a change in her personality as a young adult.

Litter mates were best friends until they were 3 years old and started bickering. Short skirmishes escalated until the two had serious fights, usually with Bravo on the losing side.

Bravo became more fearful and responsive to not just the dogs in his household, but all dogs and even people, Brown recalled.

“I started walking Bravo on my own, but when he saw a person or a dog coming from a different direction, even in the distance, he would bark like a maniac. He would even bite me. There was no one around. home when it happened,” she said.

“I was scared and cried a lot, trying to figure out what to do with him. I thought maybe I should put him down. I couldn’t place him, because I couldn’t trust him. with dogs, adults or children.

Look for a job

Brown didn’t want to give up on Bravo and struggled to find a solution.

“Our relationship was shackled and needed something to fix it,” she says. “I didn’t trust him. I’ve always heard that dogs need a job, and I thought that might be what Bravo needed.

She spotted a news story about a couple who hired a pet detective to find their missing Labrador Retriever.

“I thought, ‘What is this?’ It was intriguing to me. I started researching and discovered Missing Animal Response Network.

Former police officer Kat Albrecht-Thiessen started MARN 25 years ago after her mantrailing Bloodhound dug into her fenced yard and disappeared. She asked a friend with a Golden Retriever, trained to follow people, to help her.

“We knew her dog understood smelling the pillowcase, finding the missing person, but we didn’t know if she would understand, smell the stinky Bloodhound blanket and find the stinky dog! But she did! The Golden found my Bloodhound in 20 minutes, and my life changed forever. Since then I have trained hundreds of people and many search dogs to find lost animals.

Brown enrolled Bravo in a 10-week MARN course. She only wanted to help Bravo; she had no intention of tracking pets in the future. When the app asked him if he liked other dogs and people, she lied, “Yes.”

Students submit their assignments via video for instructors to review.

Training involves teaching a dog to follow a scent trail. A scented item can be a dog’s brush, bed or leash, anything that smells like the missing animal. Then the students enlist the help of friends who hide their pets for training.

“From the first lesson, I noticed a difference in Bravo. He seemed to stop looking for trouble and no longer fought at home. When working on a trail, he seemed oblivious to everything around him and could easily walk past dogs and people.

The instructors also noticed something: Bravo had a real talent for tracking. Brown received high marks for his homework except for one essential requirement: search dogs must like other dogs and be happy to find and meet them.

“At the end of a hide, I would stop just 15 feet from the dog and throw a ball the other way as a reward. Finally, at the end of the last class, I had to tell them that I was not continuing. I just started crying and told them I lied.

Instead of expelling him, instructors encouraged Brown to stay in the program. They saw huge potential in the team.

“We don’t normally accept reactive dogs into the program, but fortunately Bravo was an exception. He showed us that some reactive dogs are able to overcome their reactivity through continuous training and exposure to people and environment. other dogs,” says Albrecht-Thiessen. “I believe his excellence in this work was primarily the result of Balynda’s dedication to training him and learning everything she could learn about scent discrimination research, the work recovering a lost animal and how to read your dog.”

Full Time Animal Detectives

After another year of training, Bravo and Brown began their careers with the missing Newfoundland case. With only social media posts and word of mouth, they soon had so many cases that Brown quit his full-time job as a gym trainer and opened Bravo K911.

They often work every day of the week. Their accomplishments have included finding cats and other animals as well as dogs.

While Bravo’s incredible nose is a big part of the team’s success, Brown plays a key role in helping owners come up with a plan of action, which includes designing and putting up signs, prospecting for neighborhoods, setting up feeding stations and cameras, and more.

“It gave Bravo and I a fresh start, and this job saved Bravo’s life and, in turn, it saved so many lives,” Brown said.

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