Community works together to find dog lost 22 days
When Erika Baca's dog got lost on New Year's Eve, Forest Grove community members spent nearly the entire month of January looking for him, donating everything from their time to their urine.
They rallied around Baca, a stranger to most of the helpers until Elroy, a 3-year-old pug and Boston terrier mix, went missing. Members of the Forest Grove Community Facebook page posted flyers, shared updates on Elroy sightings, and organized groups to walk neighborhoods and call out the little dog's name.
After weeks of locals banding together, Elroy finally returned home. Baca and her family not only got their dog back, but they came away from the difficult and stressful experience with a sense of community and connectedness they didn't have before.
Baca told the News-Times she was shocked by how much effort her neighbors put in to helping her reunite with her lost dog.
Some neighbors allowed Baca to set up wildlife cameras and live traps in their yard. People volunteered to take shifts, checking the traps every four to five hours, so Baca could sleep and go to work. They filled the traps with food. They removed the cats and skunks they caught.
One local resident — near an area Elroy was spotted — allowed Baca to grill up bacon and rotisserie chickens on their patio, hoping the smells might entice the canine into the yard.
Forest Grove Police Sgt. Matt Smith gave Baca his cell phone number, so she could let him know if she got any real-time information. One time, he went out to an open field at the end of D Street, where he spotted Elroy gnawing on a duck carcass.
When he approached the pooch, Elroy ran away. Smith tried to grab him again, luring him with treats, but he was "way too fast," the officer said.
"He's extremely fast," he told the News-Times.
Baca even managed to convince a few people to donate their urine, dribbling it along five different Forest Grove trails that all led back to Elroy's home off Rodlun Court. She hoped Elroy would sniff around, recognize the scent and mark his territory until he landed back into a familiar setting.
She hung up her dirty laundry in the area and stuffed it into traps, hoping the scent of home would attract him.
Baca hired a dog psychic to communicate with Elroy about how to get home. She also found a professional animal tracker.
As soon as Elroy got out of the yard Dec. 31, 2017 — the gate was left open by accident — Baca got in her car to look for her dog, asking everyone she met if they had seen him.
"I was terrified," said Baca, who eventually parked her car in the Tom McCall Upper Elementary School parking lot. "I cried and cried and cried."
Baca describes Elroy as her "dog soulmate."
"All I could think about was him and I couldn't go home," she said. "If he was sad and miserable and cold, I wanted to be sad and miserable and cold, too."
Elroy was missing for the next 22 days.
He was spotted near Scottie's Drive-In, in neighborhood yards, in driveways, in church parking lots, at Tom McCall and on B Street. Baca saw him passing by on her wildlife-camera footage. A few people who put food out for him spotted the fleet-footed, pint-sized pup, but couldn't get close to him. Smith, the police sergeant, said he worried about Elroy because coyotes live in the area.
All the while, the Forest Grove Community and Finding Elroy Facebook pages were active with posts and updates about the missing dog.
Then, at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 21, Baca's phone rang. It was her friend, Rachel Barters.
"Erika," she said, "you need to come pick up your baby."
Barters had caught Elroy in a live trap.
"I lost it," Baca said. "It was the most fantastic phone call I had ever gotten in my life."
A little weathered and a little thinner, the dog who likes to snuggle under blankets and chase his chew toys was reunited with his owner.
"If we were to convert the hours and supplies from the community into dollars, Elroy is easily the richest or most expensive dog," Baca said. "So many people were out there looking for him, even people I didn't know. It's amazing how much help and support I got through this whole thing."
Smith was also moved by the community's efforts.
"That's why I like working out here," he said. "It's inspiring in a way, to see the community come together and help Erika out."
By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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