Heartbroken couple Rae Avatar Barnett and Neil Coleman lost their whippet cross Ruby on May 5 when out walking both her and their other whippet, Louis, in fields near their home in Amersham, Bucks.
They believe the five year-old disappeared after giving chase to rabbits.
The couple have spent weeks frantically searching for her in an attempt to get her back. They have scoured their nearby surroundings for signs of the dog, have spent nights camping out on the news of sightings and even hired a sniffer dog and helicopter to search further afield for the dog.
Until the couple are shown proof that Ruby is no longer alive, they are not giving up hope of finding her and have been overwhelmed by all the offers of help to find the dog.
Rae said: “Ruby is the outgoing one of our two dogs. She was the life and soul and liked nothing more than cuddling up close to you.
"You cannot help thinking about the worst thing that could have happened to her and we hope that wherever she is that she is being fed and looked after.
"Wherever I am driving or walking I am constantly looking to see if she is in the hedgerows somewhere - which is unlikely but you never stop looking no matter where you are. I can’t help myself, I have to do something.”
This dreadful experience has highlighted a scary statistic in recent research by rescue and rehoming charity National Animal Welfare Trust, that one in five dog owners admitted they had lost their dog while out on a walk.
Losing a dog is such a frequent occurrence that there is a huge amount of help available to owners when pets go missing.
Neil and Rae have been supported by the volunteer-run charity DogLost.co.uk which offers advice and support to owners reporting lost or stolen dogs. The charity has some 60,000 dogs be reunited with their owners.
Rae said: “I have been so amazed with the love and support from absolute strangers who will give up their time to help us find Ruby.
"We have set up a Facebook page for her as well and that has been great because so many people get in touch as they are scanning all the different sites in case any ads come up for a dog matching her description. It’s a feeling you just can’t describe having such strong support for your dog. It’s very emotional.”
The fact that many owners lose their dogs while out on a walk has prompted us to host this week-long spotlight on recall training.
While training a dog to come back to them is taken very seriously by the 1,400 respondents in NAWT’s survey, with nearly all of them saying they had a good recall for their pet, that confidence is soon shaken when their dogs run off, with one out of every two dog owners feeling they need to do more recall training.
Two thirds (64.4%) said that if they could turn the clock back they would spend more time training recall for any situation from chasing wildlife – their dogs’ number one distraction – to other dogs.
Like many people in the survey, Neil and Rae did have a recall for Ruby and had attended training classes with her when she was a young pup. Prior to her going missing, the family had recently moved to a new home which was at edge of the Chiltern Hills.
The dog was used to going off lead for a few short minutes to explore wooded areas and up until that day had always come back to her owners.
Talking specifically about training, the couple both remember the words of their dog trainer.
Rae added: “She said, if you have a child, do you remember how long it took you to teach them to say please and thank you? Well as we know, it takes a long time.
"She said training a dog to come back takes a long time too. Recall is about constantly practicing with them to come back to you using whatever works for your dog be it a whistle, your voice, treats.
"We tend to humanise our dogs these days. But we need to remember they’re dogs, they will go off and explore interesting smells so we need to constantly remind them to come back.”
The couple’s harrowing experience with Ruby has taught Neil another important lesson: “What we have learnt is never to let your dog out of sight when you let them off lead. If they go out of sight, it doesn’t take much for them to follow a distraction like Ruby did.
"Once they’re out of sight they could be anywhere, near a main road or even stolen by someone. It doesn’t take much for someone to slip another lead on your dog’s collar. Also know where you are walking them too.
"When we moved to the area, we didn’t really know it properly and didn’t realise that Ruby could run into one field after another as it’s far more rural compared to our last home even though it’s only five miles away.”
If you’d like to find out more about Ruby’s story and see if you can help, please visit the Help Find Ruby Facebook Page
or contact DogLost in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top tips from Neil and Rae
• Know where you are walking your dog. If you’re unfamiliar with the area and you are walking your dog off lead, then take a look at Google Earth. You may be surprised at what roads or fields are nearby and what risks they might pose to your dog.
• Don’t lose sight of your dog if he or she is off lead. You need to keep an eye on them at all times.
• If you do lose your dog, make sure you are aware of all the free voluntary services that exist in your neighbourhood. Search on Facebook and visit www.doglost.co.uk