JAMUL, Calif .– Seven years ago, Babs Fry was devastated when a pregnant terrier mix dog she was raising on her ranch in Jamul vanished without a trace.
Then she received an email from a professional pet tracker offering unusual dog recovery tips that blew Fry away.
“I lost a dog and I was very scared and thought no one would be able to catch him. Then I got a call from this woman and thought she was crazy. But of course 10 days later this dog was in a trap in my driveway.
It was the start of a major change in the life of Fry, a longtime real estate agent who now devotes all of her energy to her new nonprofit A Way Home for Dogs. The organization provides free advice and tracking and recovery services to locate lost family dogs, as well as stray dogs.
Since starting training as a tracker and trapper seven years ago, Fry believes she has helped recover hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs in Southern California and beyond. His unconventional recovery tips have also been featured on Cesar Millan’s “Dog Whisperer” television website and in the New York Post.
Fry jokes that she devotes ’48 hours a day’ to dog recovery, answering up to 50 calls a day from pet owners seeking advice from as far away as Canada, Australia and England. . She said she usually juggles six cases at a time. On Fry’s Facebook page (facebook.com/awayhomefordogs), she posts videos and successful healing stories at least two to three times a week. Peak recovery times are after the July 4th and New Years holidays when fireworks scared many dogs.
Rita Rodriguez has volunteered for Fry for four years. She helps take care of the stray and rescued animals that Fry rehabilitates and relocates and sometimes accompanies Fry on follow-up missions. She said Fry goes out of her way to help people no matter the hours or the financial cost to herself.
“It’s not a job for her, it’s something she does 24/7. She takes calls in the middle of the night, ”Rodriguez said. “She is very committed to helping these animals. Babs has a big, beautiful heart. His heart is real. That’s what I like about her.
For about 90% of the cases she takes care of, Fry only speaks with pet owners over the phone to create a tailor-made recovery plan for their dog based on their breed, temperament, past behavior. and how he got lost. For the remaining 10% of cases, Fry goes out into the field on her own, often sleeping several days in a row in her truck and using field cameras, roast chickens, familiar smelling clothes and humane trapping cages. to retrieve the dogs. Most of its recovery missions take three to five days, but some can take a month or more.
That was the case a year ago this week for a 1-year-old Vizsla named Penny, who escaped from a boarding school in Valley Center while her owners, Mike and Mandy Colafrancesco of San Marcos, were on vacation in out of town. The Colafrancescos were amazed by Fry’s tireless efforts on their behalf and by his ability to track down Penny after her 34-day disappearance. The couple were also frustrated that Fry refused to accept any payment – even a canned drink or money for gasoline – for his services. Instead, the Colafrancescos – Mike is a San Diego fire captain and Mandy is an emergency room nurse for Palomar Health – reimbursed Penny’s rescuer by covering the cost and filling out the paperwork for the new non-profit organization. Fry’s profit (awayhomefordogs.com).
“She’s a pretty amazing person, but she has a hard time accepting people’s generosity,” said Mike Colafrancesco. “Our hope is that by having a formal nonprofit, she can get donations and have something from which to help others.”
Fry said she was determined to stalk the dogs because of her long-standing love for all animals.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve always gotten along better with animals than with people,” Fry said. “I got involved in animal rescue when I was old enough and when I discovered tracking I discovered that I had a gift, a passion and a talent.
Fry credits her dog recovery expertise to two local experts in the field who offered to guide her and allow her to follow them on their assignments, Laura Ann Bidinger, who was the pet sleuth who stalked Fry’s Terrier Mix, and Mike Noon.
Fry said the most important piece of advice she gives to distraught pet owners is to fight their urge to go looking for their dog. Contacting dog shelters, posting flyers, and sharing photos and information on social media can alert an entire community to dog sightings. Additionally, driving around looking for a dog will spread owners odor and could confuse a dog.
Fry also discourages people from using techniques they have read online to find and capture their dogs. She said chasing or yelling at a scared runaway dog could distract them from their trip home, and that not using a trap cage properly usually ensures that a dog will never get into a cage the second time. time.
“Usually, if it’s a human idea, it’s a bad idea,” Fry said. “We fear for our dog’s life and we feel guilty that something has happened to them. And by the way, none of this is conducive to your dog’s safety.
Fry said that in order to successfully track and trap a dog, she has learned to think like a dog. Companion dogs will naturally try to get home by following a scent, but they travel as the crow flies, not by roads or sidewalks, so car search does not work. Lost dogs are also caught in a ‘fight or flight’ state of mind, so they are likely to run away from anyone they see, including their owners.
She also urges dog owners not to give up hope. Dogs are animals and possess the instinct for survival, even in fierce storms, desert heat, freezing conditions, and without easy access to food and water. Predators like coyotes can be dangerous, but Fry said the more lost a dog is in the wild, the more survival skills they will learn.
“They will not starve. They will hunt, they will look for food and they will eat animals killed on the road, ”she said. “They aren’t biologically designed to kick the bucket or die of dehydration.”
Colafrancesco said he and his wife began to lose hope of seeing Penny again when Fry – who had posted flyers, followed leads and slept nights in his truck at Valley Center – captured a video of Penny on a field camera, 28 days later she was gone. Five days later, Fry managed to lure Penny into a trap cage with a blanket inside bearing the scent of the other dog in the family, Penny’s brother, Truman. Penny lost almost half of her body weight during her 34-day odyssey, but was otherwise in good health.
“Babs has a sixth sense with animals which is weird,” Colafrancesco said. “What she’s doing is amazing. Call it a miracle or a good fortune, but without Babs’ intervention we wouldn’t have our dog today.
Although Fry usually works alone to answer calls and perform recoveries, she has a team of around 10 volunteers, including Rodriguez. She also has the support of her husband, Derek Fry, an executive with a helicopter rental company based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. The Frys own a 22-acre ranch in Texas where they hope to one day open an animal sanctuary. But for now, her focus is entirely on A Way Home for Dogs.
She is grateful to the Colafrancescos for setting up the association because virtually all of her salvage expenses – including gasoline, cooked chickens and equipment, as well as food and vocational training for stray dogs who have suffered a trauma – come from his own pocket. Thanks to the donations, she will be able to track and recover even more dogs.
“I never wanted to go into my own independent rescue organization,” she said. “I just wanted to help these dogs and all the people who miss them.”