Hundreds of families have been reunited with their lost dogs thanks to the services of a dog tracker.
Babs Fry socializes dogs at her property in Jamul, Calif. After losing her own dog, Fry has devoted years helping others find their lost pets. She recently founded A Way Home For Dogs. (Ana Ramirez/Union-Tribune)
AMUL, CA Babs Fry was horrified seven years ago when a pregnant terrier mix she was fostering at her Jamul ranch in eastern San Diego County vanished.
Then Fry received an email from a professional pet tracker with some unique dog recovery recommendations.
“I lost a puppy and was terrified no one would find her. Then this woman called, and I thought she was insane. But ten days later, that dog appeared in my driveway.”
For Fry, a seasoned Realtor, that was the start of her new nonprofit, A Way Home for Dogs. The group helps lost family dogs and stray dogs find their way home for free.
Fry says she has assisted in the recovery of hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs since she began training as a tracker and trapper seven years ago. Her unusual recovery counsel has been highlighted on César Millán's website and in the New York Post.
It takes up to 50 calls a day from pet owners seeking guidance from as far as Canada, Australia, and England, according to Fry. She frequently has six cases going at once. Fry updates her Facebook page at least twice a week with videos and stories of successful recovery. Post-Fourth of July and New Year's Eve rehabilitation is at its best when fireworks have scared numerous dogs.
Rita Rodriguez of Point Loma volunteers for Fry. She helps Fry care for strays and rescued animals, and she sometimes joins him on tracking expeditions. "Fry goes above and beyond to help people," she remarked.
“It's not a job for her, it's 24/7. “She answers calls at 3 a.m.,” Rodriguez said. "She is passionate about helping animals. Babs has a large heart. A true heart. That's why I adore her.”
Fry works with pet owners over the phone to build a customized recovery strategy for their dog based on its breed, temperament, past behavior, and how it got lost. For the remaining 10%, Fry travels out into the field herself, sleeping in her truck for days on end, utilizing field cameras, roasting chickens, scent-marking clothing, and humane trapping cages to recover dogs. Her recovery missions range from three to five days to a month or more.
Penny, a 1-year-old Vizsla, escaped from a boarding facility in Valley Center while her owners, Mike and Mandy Colafrancesco of San Marcos, were on vacation. Fry's diligent efforts on their behalf astounded the Colafrancescos, as did her ability to locate Penny after 34 days. They were also irritated that Fry refused to accept any remuneration for her services, even a can of soda or gas. They reimbursed Penny's rescuer by paying the cost and submitting papers for Fry's new organization instead (awayhomefordogs.com).
“She is a wonderful lady who struggles to accept people's generosity,” Mike Colafrancesco remarked. “We hope that by becoming a registered nonprofit, she can obtain money and start helping others.”
Fry is motivated to track dogs by her lifelong passion for animals.
“To be honest, I've always liked animals more than people,” Fry admitted. ”I started volunteering with animal rescue when I was old enough, and then I discovered tracking.”
Laura Ann Bidinger, the pet detective who found Fry's terrier mix, and Mike Noon are two local specialists who offered to train Fry and let her shadow them on their assignments.
Fry advises concerned pet owners to resist the impulse to go out looking for their dog. Sightings can be announced to the broader community by contacting dog shelters, publishing flyers, and using social media. Searching for a dog in a car spreads the owners' scent around and confuses a dog
Fry also warns against utilizing online tools to find and capture lost dogs. She warns that pursuing or yelling at a scared runaway dog may deter it from returning home, and that improperly using a trap cage may result in a dog never returning.
“A human concept is usually a lousy idea,” Fry says. “We fear for our dog's life and feel guilty. Also, none of that makes your dog safe.”
Fry said she had to think like a dog to properly track and catch a dog. The crow flies, not by roads or sidewalks, thus looking by car won't work. Lost dogs are also in a “fight or flight” mode, so they'll flee from everyone, including their owners.
So should dog owners, she says. Dogs are animals with the instinct to survive in harsh environments, such as storms, desert heat, ice, and lack of food and water. In the outdoors, predators like coyotes can be deadly, but Fry says a dog's survival skills improve with time.
“They won't starve. “They will hunt, forage, and consume roadkill,” she said. “They're not biologically engineered to die.”
28 days after Penny went missing, Colafrancesco and his wife were beginning to lose hope when Fry, who had been posting posters, pursuing leads, and sleeping in her truck in Valley Center, picked up video of Penny on a field camera. Five days later, Fry managed to entice Penny into a trap cage using a blanket scented like Penny's brother Truman. Penny had lost almost half her body weight but was otherwise healthy.
Colafrancesco stated Babs had an extraordinary sixth sense with animals. “She is fantastic. We wouldn't have our puppy today if not for Babs' intervention.
Despite working alone most of the time, Fry has a team of approximately ten volunteers, including Rodriguez. Her spouse, Derek Fry, is an executive with a Dallas-Fort Worth-based helicopter rental company. An animal sanctuary is one of the Frys' dreams for their 22-acre Texas property. For present, her sole concentration is A Way Home for Dogs.
She thanks the Colafrancescos for establishing the organization since she pays for gasoline, fried chickens, equipment, food, and professional training for stray dogs who have been traumatized. Donations will help her track and retrieve additional canines.
“I never wanted to start my own rescue organization,” she added. “I really wanted to help these dogs and their owners.”