Thanks to the help of social media, dozens of volunteers and one woman’s keen eye, a pregnant runaway Labrador retriever mix is out of the frigid air and cuddly warm at the Lawrence Humane Society.
Penny, a timid yellow Lab mix who stole thousands of Lawrence hearts this week when she went missing, became a local Internet celebrity after bolting from her Humane Society foster parents Monday morning. Her photo was shared hundreds of times on various social media outlets, and nearly 1,000 Facebook users “liked” the “Help Find Penny” Facebook page.
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The roughly 18-month-old dog was placed in the Humane Society’s foster program after she was seized from a “bad situation” in southeastern Kansas on Feb. 11, Lawrence Humane Society Executive Director Kate Meghji said.
The Humane Society’s foster program places select animals in homes in lieu of the shelter while medical and social conditions are addressed. In Penny’s case, she was “extremely unsocialized” at her first home and needed foster care not only because of her pregnancy but also to warm up to people, Meghji said.
Meghji said Penny’s uneasiness around people and the frigid temperatures this week made the dog’s capture challenging.
“With fearful dogs, the best chance is setting a trap,” Meghji said. “We almost set a trap (Wednesday) night, but it was so cold that we worried that any time would be too much time trapped outside.”
Penny was spotted many times throughout downtown Lawrence over her four-day disappearance, with six sightings reported on the group’s Facebook page. Meghji said that there were “lots and lots” of calls to the Humane Society and animal control reporting Penny sightings after she was recognized from a picture circulated online.
Meghji said that Humane Society volunteers hurried to most sightings and community members spent hours searching east Lawrence by foot. Meghji said she even spent her lunch breaks this week “driving around looking for dog footprints in the snow.”
On Thursday morning, Kansas Department of Agriculture inspector Carman Simon, who rescued Penny from the “bad situation,” drove in from her Coffey County home to aid in the search, Meghji said. Along with Simon came animal activist and former state Rep. Ginger Barr, who witnessed Penny’s capture.
Simon was about three hours into her search when a woman reported that Penny was in her back yard near 11th and Oregon streets with her dogs, and Simon, Barr and a handful of Humane Society staff rushed to the scene. Neither Barr nor Meghji knew the woman’s name.
Meghji said Simon put on her coat and boots she’d worn during Penny’s Feb. 11 rescue for scent recognition and approached the yard. That’s when Penny seemingly remembered Simon and immediately came to her, Barr said.
“Penny recognized Carman from her bad situation and went directly to her,” Barr said.
Meghji said that because Penny is typically fearful around humans, the reunion was magical.
“Everybody cried, and it was beautiful,” Meghji said. “It was the best happiness.”
Barr credited the happy ending to the power of community and online communications.
“If people hadn’t been talking about it, (the woman who found Penny) may have just thought it was a stray dog,” Barr said. “Teamwork can be done, and it is very, very powerful.”
Penny is now recuperating atop a bed of blankets and pillows, sequestered away in a quiet area in the Humane Society’s medical unit. She’ll stay there at least until Monday, when the Humane Society will decide if Penny should go back into a foster home.
While social media ultimately aided in Penny’s capture, Meghji said some of the reports on social media became a bit exaggerated. Unlike what some on Twitter and Facebook said, Penny is not “due any minute” and Meghji said it could be at least another week before the puppies come.
Those hoping to adopt Penny or her puppies will have to wait. Meghji said once born, the puppies must stay with their mother for eight weeks before they can be placed for adoption. The humane society is not keeping a list of interested adopters, but “if and when they do become available,” Meghji said, the humane society will notify the public.
“Since we know that Penny didn't come from a great situation and likely didn't have very good prenatal care, we won’t know until the puppies are born if they are healthy," Meghji said. “We will keep everyone posted on their statuses, but for both Penny and her pups, it's in their best interest to take it a day at a time. “