Red letter day: Lost Easthampton dog rescued

  • Red, the runaway and rescued dog, lies on his bed in his Easthampton home Saturday. Gazette Staff/Stephanie Murray

  • Hounshell posted a photo to an Easthampton Facebook group of her dog, Red, safe at home. Red went missing for 20 days. Gazette Staff/Stephanie Murray

  • Misty Hounshell, of Easthampton, talks Saturday about finding her missing dog, Red. ​Gazette Staff/Stephanie Murray

Monday, March 20, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — It took more than dog treats to bring Red the rescue dog home to safety last week after he spent 20 days on the run.

Instead, his family relied on an outpouring of support from the Easthampton community, almost 10 pounds of hot dogs and a nimble neighbor.

Lounging on a dog bed surrounded by toys and blankets in an East Green Street home, the chocolate-colored Labrador retriever mix barely lifted his head when a visitor entered the kitchen on Saturday afternoon.

He was exhausted from his adventure, explained owner Misty Hounshell. The dog from Georgia who had never seen snow weathered Tuesday’s nor’easter on his own. He also grew a large Facebook following when word got out that he was missing.

“All these people, it’s not like they know me. They know Red,” Hounshell said.

Red, 8, escaped from home at the end of February, but his tale begins a month earlier. Hounshell and her mother, Jodi Freel, adopted Red from an animal shelter in Connecticut Jan. 21 after they saw his picture online.

A little more than a month after he was adopted, Red disappeared. Freel was in the yard attaching Red to a leash on Feb. 24, she said, when her hand slipped. For a split second, she lost hold of Red’s collar. He bolted.

“It was like a family member was gone,” Freel said. “I broke down. Even now, it makes me want to cry. I couldn’t sleep.”

Red was out of reach, but he was not out of sight. In fact, Hounshell and Freel do not think he ventured much further than the family’s Easthampton neighborhood. Hounshell could hear him bark outside the house. He just wouldn’t let anybody touch him.

As Hounshell recounted the tale Saturday afternoon, she started to cry.

“I’m not usually an emotional person, but even having him five weeks — he’s still my dog,” Hounshell said, wiping away tears. “Maybe humans bond faster than dogs, I don’t know, but I still love my dog.”

The search

How do you catch a dog who runs away when you try to touch him?

Hounshell and Freel got in touch with Westfield Animal Control and Shelter, who lent their dog-catching expertise and posted about Red on their Facebook page. Hounshell posted on “Easthampton 01027 The Good News Page,” a Facebook page made up of local folks.

“It started getting shared almost immediately,” Hounshell said. “I think the whole town knew about him.”

Hounshell and Freel were flooded with community support. Neighbors came to their home to help look for Red, and many people messaged Hounshell on Facebook when they saw him. Hounshell hung a leash on her mailbox.

Red sightings poured in. One woman told Hounshell that Red walked alongside her while she was walking her own dog. When she tried to grab Red, he ran. Easthampton Police posted a notice about Red on their Facebook page. The dog evaded several officers.

Red greeted Freel in the driveway when she came home, she said, but whenever she got close enough to touch him he would run away. She sat in the driveway and tried looking away from him, she said.

“I would move my arm and he took off,” Freel said. “He knew it was his home, he was just scared.”

The game of cat-and-mouse continued for 20 days. Hounshell and others posted updates on the Easthampton Facebook page.

Westfield Animal Control brought treats, toys and several dog-catcher cages to set up in the yard. The team told the community not to approach Red or feed him. Instead, they placed food and blankets with Hounshell and Freel’s smell inside the cages.

Unfortunately, they had better luck trapping the neighborhood cats than they did trapping Red.

When Tuesday’s storm dumped about a foot of snow on the region, Hounshell and Freel searched for his pawprints in the snow.

“He was in what they call survival mode,” Hounshell said. “He wouldn’t recognize what we looked like, but he recognized our smell meant safety.”

The rescue

On Thursday, Hounshell got a message from neighbor Keri Myrick. She had seen Red poke his head out from underneath a trailer on Mount Tom Avenue.

Hounshell rushed from Baystate Medical Center, where she works, to meet Myrick. With the help of Myrick’s landlord, they surrounded the trailer holding hot dogs.

Myrick, the shortest of the group, volunteered to “army crawl” under the 18-inch opening between the trailer and the ground to pull Red out.

Myrick held Red’s front paws with her right hand and the scruff of his neck with her left hand. She felt the trailer scrape against her back, she said, as she pulled him to safety. The rescue took about 15 minutes.

“My weak spot is animals so I had no problem climbing under there,” Myrick said. “The dog’s alive, he’s OK, he’s home. That’s what matters the most. Red’s adventure is over.”

When Myrick and Red emerged from under the trailer, Hounshell took the 60-pound dog in her arms. She wasn’t going to risk him getting away again, she said. She posted about Red’s safe return in the Facebook group.

Since his rescue, Red has been afraid to go outside and too tired to move around much. If Red will not leave the house for his veterinarian appointment on Monday, Freel plans to schedule him a home visit and then slowly coax him back into enjoying the outdoors.

Freel said she is extremely grateful for support from the community members of Easthampton, Westfield Animal Control and Easthampton Police. Without all the help, she does not believe Red would have made it home.

“He was tired and dirty, but he got off his bed and greeted me with a wagging tail … I was so happy I just stared at him until 3 a.m.,” Freel said. “I had been praying in the morning, at night, in the afternoon — everything.”

Stephanie Murray can be reached at stephaniemur@umass.edu.