The Hill is very canine-centric. Many local businesses welcome dogs at the work place, not just one day a year on special occasions. The town strongly supports ARF and its endeavors to save dogs and reconnect them with their family.
But now, ARF has taken an important and vital step forward, due solely to the desire of Robert Hewitt to provide a search and rescue program for lost or missing dogs.
If you cannot find your dog, call Mountain Pawlytechnic at (951) 663-6642 to report the missing canine. The message, along with a series of answers to questions to help Hewitt begin the search, will be relayed to him. His first step will be contacting the owner or person who last saw the dog.
Already Hewitt has had five successful missions reconnecting the canine and owner.
This valuable effort came entirely from Hewitt’s own personal motivations. He enjoys the wilderness, has tracking and mountaineering skills and loves dogs. Several weeks ago, he was asked to help find a dog that had run off into the forest.
Once involved, he realized the day was ending and he was not prepared for an overnight rescue mission. Fortunately, the dog returned to the owner’s campsite within two days, but Hewitt’s natural inclination to help, and a career in public safety spawned an idea for the search and rescue program.
“I thought, why not formalize and set parameters,” he said. “I’ll get myself equipped to handle a range of incidents.”
A career Los Angeles County firefighter, Hewitt rose to become a battalion chief, but injured a shoulder. Surgery and physical therapy have kept him sidelined for more than a year.
But he still has the instinct for helping. After that initial effort, he developed the idea for a more formal program and plans to take some tracking courses from the Western Tracking Institute in San Diego.
“This will help me eliminate the wildlife paw prints, like a coyote, from the missing domestic dog print,” he said. “Once you have the dog’s print it’s relatively easier to stay on its trail.”
He now carries a backpack in his truck and a night pack in case it’s going to be a longer mission.
He also has been visiting and talking with officials at the Riverside County Animal Services Department. He acknowledges that there will be cooperation between them and his efforts, particularly if the animal is aggressive or trapped and injured.
Not all rescue missions require treks in the local wilderness. This week he helped a family recapture its dog simply by calming the situation and offering friendly beef jerky.
The dog that ran out the door and of the yard was intrigued by the food offering and eventually trusted Hewitt sufficiently to follow him past the owner.
Hewitt gave the woman a piece of beef jerky to offer to the dog, who trotted over and received hugs and a leash.
“After a rescue, he spends some time with the owner counseling and offering suggestions on how to keep the dog secure in the yard.
“The next step is to analyze why the dog ran away,” Hewitt said. The most common reason is noise created during a thunderstorm. “That frightens most dogs,” he said.
Hewitt advises new dog owners that the most important command they can teach their pet is “Come!”
“They need to develop a successful relationship with the dog so that it thinks about all the wonderful things that will happen when it returns,” he advised. “It’s important not to scold the dog.”
While these first missions have successfully reunited canine and owner, Hewitt and ARF members urge people to be sure their dogs have either collar tags or microchips to help identify the owners if the dogs are found alone; otherwise, Hewitt may have to turn the dog over to Animal Services.
Hewitt’s rescues have exclusively been finding dogs. He says it is much harder looking for cats and almost totally impossible to get them to trust a stranger.