A communitywide search for a golden retriever reveals Oxford’s big heart and the magic of social media.
Written by Michaela Gibson Morris | Illustrated by Frank Estrada
Last fall, a golden retriever named Finley set Oxford atwitter with his disappearing act.
The 1½-year-old pup from Clarksdale came to town for a football weekend in October with his human Ann Granville Heaton, a University of Mississippi alumna. Faster than you can say “abracadabra,” Finley made his great escape from the condo Heaton was sharing with her parents, Cliff and Chris Heaton.
“It happened in five minutes; he was nowhere to be found,” Heaton said.
Heaton felt secure letting Finley out into the small, gated backyard area while she started coffee. But the gate that was usually shut was ajar the morning of Sunday, Oct. 24. When Finley didn’t materialize, Heaton and her family started a search on foot, combing the condo development and checking with neighbors. They widened the search around the University Drive area without luck.
“It was crazy; no one had seen him,” she said.
The American Humane Society estim-ates 10 million pets are lost each year in the United States. Even well-behaved dogs can be spooked by fireworks, scared by a repairman, tempted by an interesting smell or made anxious by any unanticipated event, said Oxford veterinarian Dr. Apryl Garcia of Bottletree Animal Hospital in Oxford.
“They think it’s not going to happen to them until it does,” Garcia said.
Heaton had already taken one of the most important steps recommended routinely by veterinarians and animal shelters: Finley had been microchipped as a puppy. While microchips do not use GPS to track the animals, they are tied to a database that will provide contact information for the clinic or shelter that placed the microchip or the pet owners, if they registered. Shelters and clinics routinely scan animals brought to them to look for a chip. A 2009 study found that lost dogs with microchips were more than twice as likely to be reunited with their humans.
“It’s absolutely the easiest way,” said Tupelo veterinarian Dr. Shelley Russell of Animal Care Center of Tupelo. “Microchips are not going to fall off.”
Placing a microchip, which is the size of a grain of rice, doesn’t require surgery.
“It’s not any different from a shot or vaccination,” Garcia said.
When Finley failed to reappear by Sunday night, Heaton and her family got their human network busy using social media and distributing flyers. Oxford police, local businesses and individuals shared Finley’s photo widely. Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffen provided high-profile signal boosts, asking for help to find Finley on Twitter. He offered to double the reward the Heatons had put up.
“On Monday, my phone blew up,” Heaton said. “It really showed how wonderful Oxford is.”
Strangers volunteered to go out looking for Finley. People reported sightings of golden retrievers matching Finley’s photo. During the search, Heaton found another lost dog and was able to help him get home.
“It was very exciting to help someone else,” Heaton said.
Heaton kept searching through Tuesday night. She had to work in Clarksdale on Wednesday and then immediately returned to the Oxford condominium. On Thursday, Oct. 29, Heaton paused to check in with neighbors who live two doors down. They chatted for a minute while standing in front of the house in between. Heaton remembers hearing a noise that sounded like birds bumping into a window.
“They were saying, ‘I hate that we haven’t seen Finley,’ and we looked in the window, and there he was,” she said.
For four days, Finley had been next door, locked in the neighbor’s condo.
As best as Heaton can figure out, Finley had slipped in the open garage door of the neighboring condo and remained hidden as the residents, who live in Jackson, departed on Sunday, she said. Instead of being out in the cold, he made himself comfortable and helped himself to Halloween candy.
When Finley heard Heaton talking, he pushed through the shutters so he was visible through the window.
Neighbors were able to contact the condo owners and get access to liberate Finley. Heaton began to clean up the mess he had made over four days.
Finley got a clean bill of health from his vet and seems none the worse for his adventure, Heaton said.
Back home in Clarksdale, Finley alternates going to work with Heaton and her dad, supervising the family pecan farm. The family sent Coach Kiffen a basket of pecans and a photo of Heaton and Finley to thank him for his help.
In the wake of Finley’s four-day adventure, Heaton is even more vigilant about sharing posts for lost animals.
“It just breaks my heart,” Heaton said. “I know how they feel; you want to help them get home.”
Finley has a new accessory just in case he decides to try another disappearing act — a tracking collar.