Pet Tales: The tale of Lucy and Otis




A lost cat named Lucy got back home with the help of a keen-nosed bloodhound named Otis.

That's not the whole story, though. Dave Barnhart and his wife, Mary Petro, used multiple strategies to get their little orange and black cat back to their Bethel Park home. Lucy was "only" gone for 48 hours, but it was a sad and stressful two nights and two days for the couple.

They have three cats, and "they're only outside when we're home," Mr. Barnhart said. At 8 p.m. May 2, Ms. Petro opened the door, and before she could call the cats, Nala and Phoenix "came flying back into the house and immediately went and hid. This was very unusual."

It was even more unusual that Lucy, 4, did not come in. The 13-pound, short-legged cat that Mr. Barnhart describes as "a little fluff ball of love" is the cat who never leaves the yard. Phoenix, the 17-pound male, on the other hand, loves to explore nearby woods that are full of deer and other wildlife.

The couple was outside until after midnight, searching for Lucy. Although she wears a collar with ID tags, no one called them.

"She's so adorable and so friendly we were afraid someone took her," Mr. Barnhart said. Or, given the behavior of the other cats, "we feared something had chased them, and some neighbors swear they have seen coyotes around here."

The next day, he remembered reading a Pet Tales column about a bloodhound who is a grand champion show dog and starred in a national commercial. "I thought a bloodhound could track a cat."

He went to the Internet to find the column and the name of the owners: Kim Briglia and her daughter, Kara Berestecky. He called them.

Ms. Briglia said, "I told him Otis has only tried trailing a couple of times and had only 'found' me." But because she lives neaby, also in Bethel Park, she agreed to give it a shot.

Lucy had been missing nearly 24 hours when Otis arrived on the scene. Otis smelled Lucy's blanket and sniffed around the yard. "They said that every place where Otis would pause was a place where the cat likes to sit. It looked like Otis was onto something, but for all I knew he could have been trailing a groundhog," she said.

Otis took Ms. Berestecky into the woods and down several streets before reaching a cyclone fence at the top of a steep hill. Otis was excited, but it was so dark that they had to call off the search.

The next morning the trailing trio was back, and Ms. Briglia had gotten tips from the owner of a trained Search and Rescue dog. An enthusiastic Otis once again led everyone back to the cyclone fence, but the search was stopped again because Ms. Berestecky had to be at work by 11 a.m.

Meanwhile, Mr. Barnhart and Ms. Petro had called police departments and animal control and put out "lost" fliers. He found www.LostMyKitty.com and signed up. The site sends out Amber Alert-type messages to neighbors, shelters and veterinarians. (The cost ranges from free to $89.95 and up.) They did get a number of calls about sightings.

Ms. Petro went to the street behind the cyclone fence and spoke to a little girl who said she had seen an orange cat near the fence where Otis had been sniffing.

A woman at the LostMyKitty site suggested the couple put Lucy's litter box outside their house with a piece of clothing that smelled like them. The next morning (Sunday), they were awakened by a phone call from a neighbor who said, "I think your cat is outside."

Lucy was filthy but uninjured and "very happy to be back. The other cats were very happy to see her," Mr. Barnhart said.

He can't believe perfect strangers were so willing to help find one little cat, but that's what animal lovers do.

"Although Otis didn't truly make the 'find,' he did lead them to where the cat was," Ms. Briglia said. "This was the most amazing experience, watching the dog do the work he was bred to do."

By the way, SAR volunteers and police K9 officers have told me in the past that they could never let their tracking and trailing dogs search for lost cats or dogs. Their dogs are trained to find people and trainers work very hard to make dogs forget about their natural inclination to track and chase animals.

Sewickley festivities

Sewickley Unleashed returns next Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., for the fourth Pet Parade and a new event, a 5K walk and run "for humans only." It all benefits the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

The 3.1-mile walk/run starts at 8:30 a.m. and winds through and around the village. Go to www.SewickleyUnleashed.org to register in advance -- $25 for people age 15 and older and $15 for children 14 and under. You'll get a Sewickley Unleashed T-shirt and free entry for one pet in the Pet Parade. Registration on the day of the event is $30 for adults and $20 for children.

The Pet Parade at noon starts at the PNC parking lot on Blackburn Avenue, follows Beaver Street through the village and circles back to Broad Street, where there will be food and vendor booths. Online pre-registration is $10 per pet. People are "free." On event day, registration is $15.

The Pet Parade is led by hounds from the Sewickly Hunt Club, Mayor Brian Jeffe and his dog Otis and Officer Frank Lesniak and Trip, Sewickly's K9 officer. Pets and peope are encouraged to dress up in costumes. Prizes will be awarded for best in parade, best costume and best doggie family.

The new Sewickley Showcase premieres at 2 p.m. Learn about Sewickley businesses -- more than 20 eating establishments and 50 retail shops -- and the adoptable shelter pets they're sponsoring.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064. First Published May 11, 2013 4:00 AM




Advertisement