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Runaway dog Autumn finally caught by Arlington animal rescue worker – The Washington Post

“People were getting frustrated, but I had respect for her genius,” Arlington animal rescuer Jennifer Toussaint said of Autumn, who was captured this month.
Jennifer Toussaint has had her share of tough cases as chief of animal control for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. She’s rescued orphaned raccoon kits and found a foster home for a ball python. She and her team have located and caught countless terrified cats and dogs on the run.
Then a little dog named Autumn came along.
The 3-year-old rescue dog became spooked and ran off during her evening walk in December. Toussaint and other animal control officers spent six months tracking her, trying to capture the elusive pup who still had her teal blue leash attached as she’d dart around the area near Arlington National Cemetery and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
“It’s the most difficult case I’ve had in my entire career,” said Toussaint, 37. “Traditionally, we are able to locate and safely capture dogs within three days of them going missing.”
“Autumn is a very fast dog, and because of a difficult upbringing, she was a genius who saw everything coming,” she said.
Samantha Paulino, Autumn’s owner, said she noticed her pup had an independent streak from the beginning.
“Autumn was afraid of people, and she loved to run,” she said. “But I never imagined she’d be out there avoiding capture for six months.”
Paulino, 29, said she was scrolling through pet adoption websites at her condo in Arlington last year when she came across a profile for the Finnish spitz mix.
She was immediately smitten. Autumn had been rescued from a soon-to-be-illegal dog meat farm in South Korea, said Paulino, and she was drawn to the dog’s sad brown eyes.
“She seemed timid and anxious, but I knew I could give her a loving home and make her life better,” she said.
A Korean pet rescue agency arranged to fly Autumn to Paulino on Sept. 28, and the pup gradually learned to trust her and warmed to her affections, she said.
Then on the night of Dec. 27, Autumn became spooked by something while Paulino’s boyfriend was out walking her.
“The leash somehow got away from him, and she took off running and was soon out of sight,” Paulino recalled. “We filed a report and went out to search for her, but I knew how fast she was. I felt panicked to find her.”
Paulino put up fliers around Arlington and posted on Instagram and Facebook about her missing dog, and she said she hired a person with a dog tracking team to search for Autumn. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington also looked for the pup.
“The days became weeks, and the weeks became months, and I was really losing hope of seeing her again,” Paulino said.
In February, she said she was shocked when an Army band member who had seen one of her fliers contacted her to say she’d seen the wayward canine. Autumn was still wearing her collar, but only about a foot of her leash was still attached.
“She said she was 100 percent sure she’d seen Autumn running between Arlington National Cemetery and Fort Myer during a funeral service,” Paulino said. “Autumn had apparently been living in the woods between the cemetery and the base.”
The military base was off limits to civilians, so Paulino couldn’t search for her dog on the grounds, she said. But the Animal Welfare League of Arlington could.
Toussaint said she received permission in early February for her team to put out food and water in the hope of enticing Autumn. They also set up a dog shelter with a cozy bed to help protect her from the cold.
But Autumn had other ideas.
“She wouldn’t go near the shelter, and we knew that to keep her at Fort Myer, we’d need to respect her boundaries,” Toussaint said. “When you’re working with an animal that is fearful, you have to do things on their time.”
Toussaint began experimenting with food to see what would work best to lure Autumn into a humane trap near a closed public pool area on the base.
“She turned up her nose at my baked chicken and my husband’s pork tenderloin that I brought in warm one night,” she said. “We finally figured out she loved sardines and cat food that is fish-based.”
Then there was the matter of getting Autumn to trigger the trap.
“When we put up netting trapping, she decided not to eat for several days,” Toussaint said. “Whenever we would switch things up, she immediately noticed. We put in a prototype of a trap that comes up from the ground, and I watched her unplug it.”
“People were getting frustrated, but I had respect for her genius,” she said. “I knew this was going to be an earned thing.”
Paulino and Toussaint don’t believe Autumn ran away because she wanted to live outside.
“She’s just very afraid and easily startled because she was a meat farm dog,” Toussaint said. “She is extremely wary of humans.”
Toussaint decided to slowly build a relationship with Autumn.
“I never talked to her, but I whistled in tones to her when I put her food out,” she said. “She seemed to love that. I would stay 10 or 15 yards back whenever I went out.”
Toussaint said she spent many late nights whistling to Autumn while sitting in her car in the cold with the window cracked.
“A few times, she was really tired and would come up and look at me and lay next to the car,” she said. “If I tried to get out, she would take off. So I would just sit there and let her sleep so she knew she was safe. I’d whisper we weren’t going to give up on her.”
Toussaint and her team took turns feeding Autumn twice a day through the rest of the winter and spring. In June, their patient efforts paid off.
Two community volunteers had offered up some new trapping equipment to help capture Autumn.
“The trap was triggered by a sensor hidden beneath a layer of sand in a wire cage,” Toussaint said. “We put out a bunch of plates with food on them, and two of the plates had triggers beneath them.”
“The idea was to put out so many plates that it would trick her,” she said.
Around 11 p.m. on June 11, it finally worked.
“I was sitting there with bated breath — if I didn’t have ribs, I think my heart would have come out straight from my chest,” Toussaint said.
When Autumn triggered the sensor and the cage door came down, Toussaint said she burst into tears.
“I ran to her and whistled, and I said, ‘It’s me!’” she said. “She lay down in the cage and licked my hand through the side, and I reached in and petted her and told her she was a good girl.”
Paulino said she was stunned to get the news close to midnight that Autumn had been caught. “I was so ecstatic that I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I was crying all night.”
After she was reunited with her pup the next morning, a vet check revealed that Autumn weighed 15 pounds — two pounds more than when she went missing.
“That’s due to all the great food Jenn and the other officers fed her,” Paulino said. “They were really dedicated, and I can’t thank them enough.”
Autumn was already microchipped, but Paulino said she bought a GPS tracker and plans to use two leashes — one in her hand, the other attached to her waist — once they’re taking regular walks again. Autumn’s veterinarian also put the pup on medication to help ease her anxiety, and plans are in the works for some behavioral training.
“Autumn is back to her usual spot on the couch, and for now, we’re taking it slow, getting reacquainted again,” Paulino said. “I want to do right by her and give her the best possible life she can have.”


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