Facebook meets White Fang: Social media helps dog gone wild reunite with owner
From 4,853 miles away, Elle Malone called for her dog.
The white Alaskan husky had run away two weeks before, and Malone had traveled all over Summit County looking for him before she had to leave for a long-planned trip to Europe. Though the dog, Brody, had been spotted numerous times by Summit locals, he proved too skittish to catch. So Malone and her friends tried something desperate.
At 4:30 a.m. in the middle of her friend’s kitchen in Amsterdam, Malone called out Brody’s name. Simultaneously, at 8:30 p.m. in Summit County, her friend Michele Mohar cranked up the volume on her cell phone speakers and held the phone up, hoping Brody would hear his owner’s voice and come running.
It didn’t work. The next day, word came that he’d been spotted and they tried it again. This time, it was morning in Summit and Malone was out for the evening, in a sparsely occupied café. She shouted his name anyway.
A few minutes later she — and the hundreds of people following the recapture efforts on Facebook — got word that Brody had been caught and was safe. She went from the “yelling girl in the bar” to “the crying girl in the bar,” she said. “That was intense.”
Malone has lived in Summit County for about seven years and works as a bartender at Greco’s Pasteria in Frisco and JJ’s Tavern in Copper, and as a driver for Jake’s Mountain Shuttle. She and Brody have been together for four years, ever since she got him as a 6-week-old puppy.
On Monday, Jan. 12, Malone took Brody to Snow Caps Sled Dogs at the end of Tiger Road, where he would be hooked up with a team of sled dogs for some fun exercise, something they’d done before.
Malone wasn’t sure if it was the nearby snowmobiles, the sounds of the sled dogs barking enthusiastically at a new member, or an unknown factor, but something changed.
“He stopped. Looked at me. Looked back at the car. Looked at me again, and headed back to the car … or so I thought,” she wrote in an email. When she returned to the car, however, he wasn’t there. Three hours later, they were still looking.
While Brody had ranged on his own before, he’d always returned within a few hours. After this time limit passed, “the panic set in,” Malone wrote. For the next three days, she camped out at Tiger Road, hoping to give him something familiar to return to.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Next, Malone reached out in every way she could think of. In addition to putting up flyers and calling animal control, she posted about Brody onto One Man’s Junk, a Facebook page for people in Summit County, generally used to sell, buy or trade items or to ask questions.
As the days turned into weeks, comments started piling up. People claimed to have seen Brody at Farmer’s Korner in Frisco, then Summit Cove, Montezuma, Tiger Road again and Wise Mountain. Others promised to keep their eyes peeled and carry treats in their pockets just in case they came across Brody in his travels. Everyone wanted updates.
While Malone and her friends were driving around the county looking for Brody, so was animal control officer Skylar Lincoln. She tracked him through tips by phone and through Facebook, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive husky.
“The No. 1 thing I was worried about was predators,” said Lincoln. The farther a dog strays from civilized areas, the more likely it will meet a mountain lion or other dangerous creature.
By the end of the second week, Brody had still not been found, and Malone reluctantly left for Europe. Friends offered to step in to continue the search, and Malone stayed in touch across the ocean through Facebook.
Finally, on Wednesday, Jan. 28, a hopeful comment popped up on the Facebook feed.
“What color is his collar?” asked user Nakoma Pishko, and accompanied it with a cell phone photo.
The response was immediate.
“That’s him!” wrote user Sheena Engle.
“Can someone help me? I am on Razor Road trying to get him,” Pishko replied.
Pishko had been following Brody’s story for the past two weeks. Returning to Keystone after dropping her kids off at school, she saw a white dog sitting in the middle of the road.
“I thought, there’s no way I just saw that dog that’s supposed to be in Breckenridge,” she said.
She approached carefully and offered him a treat. He perked up at the word, and she could tell he was hungry. Though he wouldn’t accept it out of her hand, he ate it off a piece of cardboard a short distance away. The whole time, Pishko was posting updates online.
“Luckily everybody on the Facebook group was, they all have their phones and I was able to post pictures and tell people to come and help look for him, because he was way too skittish for it to be me,” she said. “And lucky … I was able at least to keep him there until everybody got there to get him.”
Friends of Malone were on the move. Mohar, Paige Bolman-Smith, Josh Smith, Malone’s boyfriend, Bert Meckfessel, and Lincoln arrived on the scene shortly.
“I didn’t go to bed until like 3 last night because of him,” said Mohar with a laugh on Wednesday. When her phone went off that morning, “I was like, that’s definitely something about Brody.”
As the group converged on the road behind Dos Locos Mexican Restaurant & Cantina in Keystone, hundreds of people stared at their computer screens and watched updates unfold in real time.
“AHHH I’m at the edge of my seat at work!!!! You guys are amazing!!! Come on Brody load up!!!!” wrote user Whitney Taylor.
Eventually, after careful maneuvering, Meckfessel managed to coax Brody to him, and clip on a leash while he nibbled a treat. Bolman-Smith captured the moment on video with her cell phone.
Moments later, she posted a photo of a leashed and repentant-looking Brody. “He’s been found!” she wrote.
“Yay!” wrote user Linsey Kach. “We’re all sitting here glued to this feed!”
“Amazing job Summit County! Proud to be part of this community,” wrote Sarah Olson.
Hundreds more similar comments rolled in. By 4 p.m. of the same day, the post had surpassed 1,000 likes and more than 150 comments.
“Glad this story had a happy ending,” wrote user Jason Berman. “Also, it’s good to know Facebook isn’t a ‘complete’ waste of time.”
REUNITED AT LAST
Though she was in another country, Malone witnessed Brody’s recapture on Facebook along with everybody else. The next day, she flew back to Colorado, where Meckfessel and Brody greeted her at the airport.
During the days of searching, she’d felt “concern, sorry and anxiety … all the expected (emotions),” she wrote. “Then there were the other ones; hope, determination and most of all, pride. I have never felt so proud to be a part of a community as I did when people started literally coming out of the woodwork to find Brody.”
When asked her reaction to the response she received online, she wrote, “Mind … BLOWN! From day one, I had a very long list of things I needed to do to start finding Brody. Facebook was just one of them. Then the response started to grow exponentially, and I found that so many amazing people wanted to help.”
Brody lost about 20 pounds during his time in the wilderness, and Malone said she is working on building back his weight and making him healthy. Then, she wants to find a way to thank the community that helped bring him home.
“It dawned on me that this was not just a beautiful showcase of humanity, but an opportunity to really make things happen. … There are no words to describe the level of pride and gratitude I feel,” she wrote. “No one has to like ‘the evil empire’ (i.e., Facebook), but I do hope the appreciation of social media, when used for good, can be somewhat more understood. More importantly, I hope the appreciation of community, and the amazement at how beautiful people are, has been recaptured by anyone who may have lost it.”
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