BRUNSWICK — Usually, the staff and volunteers of the Coastal Humane Society are the ones who do their canine and feline charges a good turn.
But Calypso, a runaway pit bull with a serious medical problem, turned that tradition upside down by taking center stage in an adventure that has helped her human wards in more ways than one.
Stephanie Grondek, 25, said she has seen literally hundreds of animals pass through CHS in the time she has been working there as an animal technician.
But when Calypso, a 2-year-old stray, chewed through her leash on April 17 and escaped from foster care into the world at large, trailing half of leash behind her, an unprecedented coalition of willing volunteers formed to track and recapture the shy canine.
“We’re usually not the ones that are actively out there,” Grondek said. “Usually we’re trying to find out who owns the animal, not to find the actual animal.”
Grondek put out a call on Facebook to alert CHS volunteers to Calypso’s escape, and to ask them to keep an eye out for her.
The situation was critical, she said, because Calypso was in the middle of a course of treatment for heart worm. The medication carries with it an increased risk of blood clots that can lead to fatal heart attacks. Without a human caretaker present to discourage exertion, every hour that Calypso ran free carried with it a risk of death.
“It was crucial that she get her medication,” Grondek said.
The idea of a shy pit bull running wild with a ticking time-bomb in her heart captured the attention of the community, and what began as a small notice on Facebook turned into a broad network of people collaborating in an active search for the dog.
Sightings of the reclusive canine began pouring in, and volunteers began physically searching for Calypso alongside the staff.
“We had dozens of people following on Facebook, driving to where she was seen,” Grondek said.
By piecing together the accounts of people who saw Calypso, the volunteer network was able to narrow the search to a relatively small area. They learned that she was travelling along the power lines that stretch between Washington Street and Bath Road in Bath, to Berry Mills Road at State Road in West Bath. She was seen at Hyde Academy, Gilmore’s Sea Foods, Ambrose Auto Repair and Shaw’s Supermarket.
“We were able to keep track of her movements,” said Grondek. “People would see her picking trash cans at BIW, and then see her heading toward the path at the power lines.”
Facebook was also used to coordinate strategies to bring Calypso home; volunteers set out food for her and monitored where she was eating.
For weeks, the dog-and-mouse game continued, and all the while, more people joined the hunt.
Jane Siviski, the marketing coordinator for CHS, said Calypso’s story eventually reached 35,000 people, in the Mid-Coast region and beyond, through social media channels.
The number demonstrates that, when a story like Calypso’s takes on a life of its own, it can be a far more effective search tool than stapling lost-dog signs to utility poles.
“Facebook, what an incredible resource to use for lost and found, and shelter work,” Siviski said. “It’s just a great reminder of animals, and what they bring to our lives. I would definitely rely on social media in the future for any incident like this. If we say there’s a missing animal, everyone is so happy to help us out.”
Finally, on May 2, two weeks after Calypso escaped, West Bath resident Kathy Perry caught the dog in a trap in her yard, where the dog had been seen taking food.
Calypso was largely unharmed, although she did lose nearly of a quarter of her body weight, dropping from 54 to 42 pounds.
All in all, though, the ordeal has proved to be a boon for both the dog and CHS.
As a result of her harrowing adventure, Calypso was reunited with her original owner. When CHS took her in as a Bowdoinham stray in February, no one knew where she had come from.
But the publicity generated from the doghunt also reached her original owner, from whose Sanford home she went missing in December. No one knows how she survived for those two months, or how she traveled the 66 miles between Sanford and Bowdoinham.
CHS has benefited from the massive publicity, too, and from the active network of volunteers who came together to help Calypso.
At least one Calypso supporter has signed up as a regular CHS volunteer, and Siviski said she expects more.
“I would be very surprised if this didn’t result in the recruitment of many volunteers,” she said.
In addition, Calypso has taught the organization a valuable lesson about how social media can be used to leverage support for a worthy cause.
“It was pretty cool,” Siviski said. “I think it’s definitely making us examine how involved everyone is with each animal here. It’s very possible for the public to rally behind an animal like that.”
After an exhaustive two-week search, a volunteer was finally able to capture Calypso in this cage at her West Bath home.