On Paula Carroll’s Facebook page is a video she posted of her 95-pound yellow Lab, “Moose,” playing on the floor with his favorite toy. The 14-year-old Lab looks more like a young puppy as he playfully rolls around on his back, fondling the toy with his paws as he clamps it in his teeth. This video has now become a treasured possession for the Bridgeville woman. Just a few weeks after it was taken, on Dec. 20, her dog disappeared.
The mystery of what happened to Moose is not an isolated case. Throughout Sussex County, there have been other reports of pet dogs, often yellow Labradors, disappearing. While none of the cases has turned up hard evidence of someone kidnapping the animals, it is nonetheless becoming a very plausible possibility.
The tragedy of Carroll losing her family’s beloved pet is worsened by the fact that “Moose” was apparently stolen just a few hundred yards from her home along Redden Road. Out for his typical early morning bathroom break, the dog, unlike countless times before, did not return home. Paula began searching for the dog just a few minutes after he would have typically returned to the door.
“We live on five acres near the Redden Forest,” Carroll said. “Moose was always allowed in the back yard, which is the longest portion of our property. He was not allowed in the front yard or the driveway. We were out searching for him in the early morning darkness right up through daylight. We did this for two days. We just assumed he must have gone into the woods and got lost. We had hunters helping us search for him, neighbors on horseback; everyone was helping us try to find Moose.”
Two days after the dog went missing, Carroll received word from a neighbor who had seen her Facebook post about Moose’s disappearance. The woman told her that at about 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 20, she was driving along Redden Road near Carroll’s home and saw Moose in the roadway near a vehicle that was stopped with emergency flashers. Seeing that the dog was not in distress, she drove on.
After learning the dog she had seen was missing, she notified police. The woman told Carroll that the police dispatcher said hers was not the only call that had come in about the dog. “She told me that the police received a call from another motorist who had seen the dog being physically forced into a vehicle,” Carroll said. “Now it was clear that Moose was not lost. He had been stolen.”
Carroll said she is not clear as to why anyone would want to steal Moose, because he is 14 years old. “A yellow lab like Moose has a life expectancy of anywhere from 10 to 14 years. He is essentially on borrowed time,” she said. “I sometimes would have to help him up on the sofa. This is not what I would consider the age of a dog someone may want to take. Nevertheless, to our family, and me he is our baby. This is devastating for us. My grandchildren have grown up with Moose. He has been with us since he was 1 year old.”
On Oct. 17, just a few miles away from where Moose disappeared, another family suffered a similar loss of its yellow Lab/pointer mix, Diesel. Melissa Eagle and her boyfriend, Justin Messick, reside a few miles outside of Bridgeville on U.S. 404. Their home sits on 10 acres of land and Diesel was no stranger to walking out into the woods near the property.
“Diesel was pacing the floor letting my girlfriend know he needed to go outside to the bathroom,” Messick said. “She let him outside and just a few minutes later she went to the door to check on him and he had not returned. She went outside and called for him but he did not respond.”
Eagle said that Diesel typically walked around the outside of the house when he went to the bathroom and actually had worn a path. He would sometimes go into the backyard by the woods, but did not spend time in the front area of the house. “We have a 225-foot long driveway that leads to the road,” she said. “He never went near the road. When he had not come to the door after I called for him I went outside and continued to look for him. I walked around the house toward the front of the house, following his path. As soon as I got around to the front I called out his name and a car sitting on the road immediately took off.”
Eagle said she could not say for sure that the person driving the vehicle — a dark-colored, small, 4-door SVU — took Diesel. But given the fact that it would be unusual for Diesel to wander off from their property, it seems a very real possibility.
Eagle, a veterinarian technician with All Creatures Veterinary Service, said she and her boyfriend have not stopped trying to find Diesel. She said they have been using social media to spread the word about the missing dog, have been in contact with police and have reached out to animal shelters in Delaware and Maryland. She said Diesel is 7 years old and five of those years have been spent at their current home near Bridgeville.
“We do not want to give up hope that we may find Diesel,” she said, “unfortunately, it appears that he has been taken by someone. It’s hard for us to imagine anything else could have happened, especially in such a short amount of time.”
Recently, social media outlets, including Facebook, have been inundated with reports of missing dogs from Delaware and Maryland. Sussex County now seems to be one of the locations where a number of dogs are being reported missing.
The owners of a yellow Lab named Ace that went missing from the Ocean View area in September used Facebook as a major source to get help in finding their pet. Now boasting almost 4,000 members, the Facebook group “Race to Find Ace” has received hundreds of posts from concerned people wanting to help to find the dog.
George Elliot and his fiancé, Nicole Peterdozzi, have been amazed at the number of people who want to do anything they can to help them find their dog, but are also concerned with how many people have posted about also losing their own dogs. While the couple has posted a $6,000 reward for the safe return of Ace, they know that people in the community are doing everything they can to help get the word out because of the heartbreak that comes with the loss of a family pet.
“The reward money is in case someone has taken Ace for the money,” Elliot said. “We can’t be sure, but he may have been picked up by someone who would like to breed him or use him for hunting. He is a little timid, but he loves riding in the car. If someone opened the car door, he would jump in. We just want him home. If someone would return him safely there would be no questions asked.”
Peterdozzi said Ace, who weighs 95 pounds, is a lovable dog and typically stayed within a half-mile radius of their home. She said he never stayed outside longer than an hour or so. “He is a Lab, so it is in his nature to roam. However, he would not go near the road and he had a set area that he frequented. This time he just vanished,” she said.
Elliott said he searched along a nearby canal daily for a week and half, walked the marsh area on foot, and knocked on the doors of every house within a five-mile radius. A search party of 30 people turned out to help the couple look for Ace. Some flew drones and airplanes helping with the search. Since he disappeared on Sept. 22, there has been no sign of the dog.“This is a beautiful, loving dog,” Elliot said. “He would go to work with me every day and would not leave my side. The kids could hang on him and he just loved them. He is a big baby. Just a wonderful disposition.”
Elliot and Peterdozzi appreciate all of the caring people who have reached out to help them find Ace. They also remain concerned about just how many dogs have been reported missing and the heartbreak that they know it causes. They are hopeful that their story about Ace has been a help to others. “I never realized how many dogs go missing until ours did,” Peterdozzi said. “When we see another dog missing, it’s an opportunity to help them as well. We’ve got such a big community of people following this story, so the awareness helps us and others.”
Not far away, Holly Walker, who lives in Lewes, said she understands the heartbreak of losing a pet. Four years ago, she lost “Kaos,” her 100-pound yellow Lab. She has been on a vigil to find the dog since he disappeared in August 2015; she refuses to give up. She has posted on social media and recently developed a Facebook page titled “Ole Blue Chair,” which she is using to help people who have lost their animals.
“I started Ole Blue Chair with a mission of uniting dogs and families together. My goal is to give back to the community what they gave to me when Kaos was stolen, which is their time, resources and love,” Walker said.
In the case of Kaos, Walker said she is confident her dog was stolen. On Aug. 31, 2015, her two dogs got outside and ran down the street. After she had searched for the dogs, she received word from a neighbor that both dogs were in another nearby fenced-in yard. A construction crew was working in that yard, and had opened the gate to let the dogs into another gated area so that they would not be in the way. Before Walker could get to her dogs, one dog, “Tux,” had escaped and returned home.
She obtained surveillance video from the time that Kaos was reported to be in the fenced-in yard. The video shows a worker’s truck with the passenger door open. The vehicle drives away and returns 28 minutes later. This, she is convinced, was the driver of the truck removing her dog from the work site and taking him to another location.
Walker describes the heartbreak that she and her two young boys have suffered since the disappearance of their family pet. “My boys were devastated,” she said. “The first Christmas I asked them to send a letter to Santa and both boys wrote all they wanted for Christmas was Kaos to come home. It has been four years and I am still trying to find a way to find out who the driver of the work truck was that day. If I could talk to him I would just like him to tell me where Kaos went.”
Walker said she hopes the Ole Blue Chair Facebook group can help those who have lost their family pets. She encourages anyone who owns a dog to get a microchip installed and “do not let them out of your sight when they are outside.”
The Brandywine Valley SPCA in Georgetown agrees that it is important to permanently identify a pet with a microchip. According to its website, this can be done for $20 at the facility. “While collars can fall off and tags can go missing, a microchip is permanent and ensures that your contact information remains with your pet at all times.”
Anyone who has lost an animal can file a report with the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare and can do a walk-through at their shelters to determine if the pet has been brought to one of these locations.
In addition, the Brandywine Valley SPCA site, bvspca.org, has a “facial recognition” feature. Owners who have photos of their missing dogs can use it to search a national database of missing animals.