by Robert Hirtle
August 16, 2011
MAHONE BAY - For most dog owners, their pets are not merely pets but more like a part of the family. So when Bill Kowalski, his wife, Alexandra Nedergaard, and their children, Kasia and Chloe, learned that their beloved dog Bela had run off, they were devastated.
"We were away and we had left her with a neighbour," Mr. Kowalski recalled. "They let her out to go to the bathroom ... and she bolted. We don't blame them in the slightest."
Bela's disappearance happened on the evening of July 30 during the Mahone Bay Pirate Festival and Regatta's re-enactment of the burning of the Teazer.
The noise from the firing of imitation cannons on the town's waterfront had spooked the 11-year-old pup, and the family learned of her disappearance the following day when they returned home.
"She's never done this, so we waited for a day or so and then we realized that wherever she was, she'd probably gone further than she knew how to come back from," he said.
At that point the family began searching in earnest for Bela and through those efforts they soon discovered exactly what kind of community they live in.
"A lot of amazing people helped and this was the most positive thing that came out of this," Mr. Kowalski said. "Some very good friends of ours helped make flyers, then somebody recommended the Nova Scotia Lost Dog Network, so I went on their [website]."
Ironically, Bela's disappearance occurred close to the time that an Austrian family had lost their dog, Luna, while visiting Halifax. That incident, which had a happy ending, had given the Lost Dog Network a significant amount of publicity and raised awareness of the organization across the province, including in Lunenburg County.
"That group had already gained a few hundred members thanks to Luna and so from that group there were dozens of people from the area who acted as though we were missing one of our children," he explained. "She really is a member of our family, she's 11 years old and was our first baby. So we were really astonished at how many caring, unselfish people there are in this community. And we didn't know any of them."
Mr. Kowalski said that one evening during Bela's disappearance, he received a call at 10 p.m. telling him the dog had been spotted along Highway 3 in Martins River.
"I went out there and within five minutes of my arrival, there were at least 10 people out there on the road looking for her and I didn't know a single one of them," he said. "They were really great and very encouraging."
For nearly a week sightings of Bela kept coming in to the family and Mr. Kowalski followed every one up, often missing her by only a matter of minutes.
"Alex was out looking on her bike on the trail and we had all kinds of people offering to help," he said. "I finally found her right before sunrise because of some advice somebody had given me on the network who said go back early in the morning, before the sun comes up, to where she was last seen. And that's just what I did."
Mr. Kowalski discovered Bela, again, running along Highway 3 in Martins River.
"She didn't know me at first because she was so panicked. So I just got down on my knees and talked really softly to her and held out a ball and after about five minutes of back and forth she came to me," he recalled.
It had been seven days since the border collie-spaniel mix had run away and, apart from being much thinner, she appeared little worse for wear.
A checkup by the family's veterinarian revealed that while Bela had lost six pounds, and had suffered some damage to one of the pads on her paw and some chaffing under one leg, she would indeed be fine.
"The vet said she's doing remarkably well considering what she'd been through," Ms Nedergaard said.
Although they came dangerously close to losing their cherished pet, the family believes the experience did serve as an eye-opener for them on several fronts.
First and foremost was the care and compassion displayed by members of the community, many of whom were perfect strangers.
"People were crying to hear she was gone and they were crying when we were reunited with her. It was unreal," Mr. Kowalski said. "It's also a great reminder for people to make sure their dogs are safe during thunderstorms or when cannons or fireworks are being shot off."
Finally, the incident brought to light just exactly how much influence social networking has on today's society and how people can utilize the internet to help each other.
"The Lost Dog Network has a website but they're most active on Facebook. If you're missing a dog and you send them a picture, they'll immediately post it and everybody who is in the area will look for the dog. We could not have found Bela without them. They were amazing," Mr. Kowa
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