They were hoping for a Christmas miracle, but the search continues for Dixie the dog that went missing in late November from a farm north of Cochrane.
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Owner Aynsley Foss believes the three-year-old livestock guardian was stolen.
“Her AirTag was discarded just north of Cochrane,” she said. “It needed to be weaved through her collar, and there’s no physical way it could have just come off.”
Since then an entire online community is rallying around the rural dog owner who has been desperately searching for her white Maremma sheepdog, and Foss has been been pulling out all the stops in her search.
“It started with just kind of boots on the ground and then it’s gone as far [as] my neighbour actually has a helicopter. So we went up in the helicopter with him and went all over the place. We’ve flown drones in certain areas. We’ve probably knocked on hundreds of doors. We’ve probably handed out over 3,000 posters and put up posters,” she said.
“We have … a Facebook group where leads are brought in every day and people are sending pictures … of really just any white dog and then as well as constantly looking at the different markets where dogs would be sold. So, you know, Kijiji, Craigslist all that stuff.”
Foss says she’s contacted all the veterinary clinics in Alberta and rescue groups in Western Canada. She plans to start reaching out to organizations out east as well.
And RCMP are investigating, as Foss reported Dixie’s disappearance as a property theft.
“I would say I’m probably one of the luckier victims because I have an RCMP officer who has a dog, so he totally empathizes with me. There’s other police officers across the province that simply don’t want to investigate this or won’t even take a report.”
Cpl. Troy Savinkoff says if you do believe that your dog was stolen, then absolutely the RCMP is an appropriate place to file a report. He says, even if the dog has just gone missing, a call to the local detachment could be warranted in case they stumble across your pet while patrolling.
But he says there are many other services out there to help, such as local shelter and rescue organizations or pet recovery groups online, that can be more effective.
He says the AirTag in Dixie’s case certainly is a clue that a theft occurred. RCMP are just waiting for DNA samples from the Apple tracking device to come back from the lab.
Savinkoff says they are also investigating a file from Rocky View County within a relatively short time period involving the loss of two great Pyrenees dogs, who are slightly larger than Dixie’s breed but also white and used as livestock guardians.
“They have run away before. However, in this case it’s been quite some time and they have been successful in finding them in the past. So I mean certainly it could be stolen,” he said.
Foss has received up to 100 photos of white dogs from people online.
“There’s only two that I thought were Dixie and the rest you can rule them out right away…. She has a unique feature that I was able to determine, based on that, that it wasn’t her,” said Foss.
More dogs missing
On her recovery journey, Foss says she’s been made aware of roughly 30 other rural dogs that have gone missing in the past month.
“I didn’t even realize that dog theft was an issue,” she said. “It’s mostly targeted at rural properties and my understanding is that’s because, you know, these dogs are easier to steal because they have more space to roam and they’re not always supervised.”
Savinkoff says he is only aware of one other stolen dog report in Alberta in the last month, which happened in Stony Plain.
“We actually had an analyst look in to see if this is a trending crime … in Alberta abroad. And we got back from the animal team that they didn’t seem to see any notable increase in any thefts of dogs in the province of Alberta,” he said.
RCMP say they had five confirmed dog thefts in the past year, and 75 cases where a dog was reported stolen but later recovered.
Savinkoff says there are often rumours online that rural dogs are stolen to be used as bait dogs in dog fighting rings, but in his more than two decades of experience he hasn’t seen that confirmed. He also isn’t aware of a large organized crime movement that is transporting stolen dogs out of province.
Dog theft is often a difficult crime to prove because, many times, the dog simply has run away.
“In this particular case we’re obviously very certain that a crime has been committed and … we’ve done some forensic examination which continues in trying to determine a potential suspect,” said Savinkoff.
Foss has launched a GoFundMe to raise money to hire a private investigator who can support the investigation for the stolen dogs across the province.
Foss says the holidays were tough without her trusty companion, but marking Dixie’s third birthday on Dec. 14 without her was particularly rough.
“You kind of keep giving yourself these deadlines. She’ll be home by her birthday. She’ll be home by Christmas,” she said. “So, you know, as we keep moving that deadline further, it feels a little bit more hopeless.”
Foss says they are offering a $5,000 reward for her return, no questions asked.