Written by Linda Nienaber and Nicola Lees
Professional photography by Kritzography https://www.facebook.com/Kritzography/
Drogon, my beloved dog, disappeared in an area comprising mostly farmlands with crops and grass as far as the eye can see; to make matters worse, he was 20 to 25km away from his home environment. I had no idea where to start looking, which way to go, and what would be the most effective strategy to implement in order to find him as quickly as possible.
Too much to cover alone
On the 30th of January 2019, my male Australian Cattle Dog went missing from Elandsfontein AH, Pretoria.
The quest to find Drogon began with driving around the farmland area, calling and calling. I soon realised that the area was too big for me to cover and that the sound of my voice probably didn’t even travel that far.
I decided to make posters and handed them out to everyone I came across in that area, including farmers, farm workers, people driving/cycling in the area, taxis, abattoirs, police in the area, security companies, vets, and animal shelters. We posted him on Facebook, too.
On the 2nd of February 2019, I was informed of a sighting near the Busy Bee Primary Farm School. To my surprise, it appeared that he was moving in the direction of home. I rushed to that area as quickly as I could, persuading strangers to drive around with me to help look for him, including into the farm workers’ rural residential areas.
Some of the workers I came across said that they’d seen him in a particular field near the main road. This obviously resulted in me walking in the field for hours, calling relentlessly. Logically, for my own safety, this was not the best decision to make, as I was alone at that time. Also, with the grass being almost as high as my face it was crawling with ticks and insects after the heavy rainfall. But I had to try.
As time went by, the feeling of desperation to find Drogon increased dramatically as people indicated to me that the chances of finding him decreased with every day that went by…
A disturbing discovery
For a long time (which felt like forever) there wasn’t a word from anyone regarding Drogon. All I could think of every day was: where else can I look? How far could he have travelled? Is he actually still alive?
Then, I received a message from people who know Drogon well: while cycling on the R25 road, to their horror, they’d seen a dead, burnt dog on the side of the road. Although the only part of the dog that was recognisable was its legs, they were convinced that it was Drogon.
You can imagine what went through my mind at that time, but I was the only one I knew who’d be able to recognise him and, as such, had to build up the courage to go and look – no matter the outcome.
It was the most heart-breaking and disturbing thing I’d ever seen: the deceased dog’s body was infested with flies, maggots and worms, and the smell was awful. With a large part of the dog’s body burnt, I couldn’t immediately determine if it was Drogon or not. We tried to turn its body around to view it from both sides in hopes of finding something that would confirm that it wasn’t Drogon. I’ll never get that image out of my head. Fortunately for me, it turned out not to be Drogon, but I still felt incredibly sorry for that dog.
As time passed, it got to a point where I needed to call on my friends for help, as I was clearly not getting anywhere in my quest to find Drogon.
Instead of driving around day in and day out, the focus turned towards getting the word out there. I realised that I couldn’t be omnipresent, and the chance of spotting him was slim. One of my best friends pointed out to me that, somewhere, someone must have or would see him. Being a graphic designer, she designed posters for me that were more eye-catching than the ones I had.
This time, luckily, it wasn’t only me handing out posters and looking for him, but my friends too. Me looking for Drogon alone basically turned into a whole army of people driven to find and rescue him.
We went as far as putting up posters on the gates of businesses, houses and at all petrol stations in the surrounding areas. Drogon was posted all over Facebook, with almost 3000 shares (just from me and my best friend’s posts), as well as being posted on all the WhatsApp groups we could think of. People from as far as Holland and America got into contact with me regarding Drogon’s disappearance. Drogon was becoming famous!
Never give up
Although the focus had shifted towards creating awareness, my friend and I still spent countless hours driving around searching for Drogon, even through the night with a spotlight until one or two o’clock in the morning.
We never gave up – we eventually drove as far as Delmas, half way to Pretoria and Bronkhorstspruit, and didn’t miss a street in the Bapsfontein area. Every bar, spaza shop and petrol station in and around the farmlands had posters on display. Sometimes we’d visit places more than once to just make sure posters hadn’t been removed (a lot of places removed the posters as we walked out the door).
Finally, it got to a point where we started to lose hope and were really scared that Drogon was lost for good. People started saying things like they heard Drogon was dead… All sorts of stories made their way to us.
What an emotional roller coaster!! There were even people that seemed to think we were mad to search so relentlessly for a dog, and I started to get the impression that some people were getting irritated.
A wild goose chase
Then, we got word on the 5th of February 2019 that Drogon had been spotted in Nest Park, Bapsfontein. This was in a completely different direction than home. The woman that apparently saw him got her friend to phone and let us know. She assured us that it was definitely Drogon.
But when we tried to get hold of her to get more information, she refused to speak to us. She told her friend to tell us that she was too busy with her horses and wasn’t willing to keep an eye on the dog until we could get there. On top of this, both women refused to give us at least some kind of starting point to look for him. Later, it also came out that she’d posted the sighting on a WhatsApp group but removed it from the group five minutes later.
I couldn’t believe this: why would someone call you, claim they’ve seen your missing dog but then refuse to tell you exactly where? With the little information we had, we immediately got together in a group of four cars and drove down every possible street in Nest Park.
My bakkie broke down in the quest and had to be towed in as I tried to drive into places that weren’t really suitable for navigation with any type of vehicle. I was just so desperate, and wasn’t going to leave any stone unturned. After all that, we still had no luck, and it turned out that we were probably on a wild goose chase as it was later confirmed that the sighting was probably not even Drogon.
On Wednesday the 6th of February 2019, a woman called me with a suggestion: her dog had been lost and she’d found it using a drone. After so many dead ends, I thought it was a great idea, so we asked for volunteers on Facebook to assist in flying a drone over the area. We had several people willing to help, but a man named Mark Flowers was immediately available.
He kindly assisted us in getting permission to fly his drone (including permission from Waterkloof Air Force Base), but the farmers were completely against the idea of flying drones over their farms, which caused great difficulty. As such, it turned out that our hopes of finding Drogon with a drone was another fruitless exercise.
A life-consuming mission
I must admit, there were many times when I said to myself, “Linda, you’ve done everything in your power to find Drogon.” My mission completely consumed my life at that stage.
For example, while driving, I would think, “This is too far, turn around…,” then I’d change my mind and think, “But what if he’s just around the corner or just over this next hill?” And I’d just continue and continue, on and on. Funnily enough, when these thoughts came up I’d invariably get some sort of message that would put me back on track.
I remember someone sent me a message and it was as if it was Drogon talking to me. The message was from the perspective of a dog, saying that you have many friends that can help you, but I only have you in the world.
Another false lead?
At 04:30 on the morning of Friday, the 8th of February 2019, a farm worker named Geelboy phoned to say that he’d seen Drogon in a huge open field behind the Kliprand General Dealer on the corner of the R25 and 9th Avenue.
I had my doubts about this as we’d received so many false leads – plus, we’d already driven past that area countless times. Still, what if it really was Drogon? Of course, I rushed there alone at the crack of dawn with the hope of finding him.
I searched that field by myself for almost 2 hours. I lost my voice from calling for Drogon so much, and with no voice to be able call anymore, it was clear that I wasn’t going to find him that way.
I contacted some friends for help and decided to fetch my horses so we could search the area on horseback. We also had people searching on foot, sniffer dogs and Mark Flowers with a drone in the air.
Then, the miracle happened: two of my friends with the sniffer dogs spotted Drogon. He jumped out of a rocky area surrounded by trees. As one of the friends knew Drogon well, she confirmed that it was definitely him! She explained that he appeared bewildered: when she called him, he dashed right past them, not even recognising her, then stopped, glanced back, and then disappeared again. They managed to call me, indicating the good news. I galloped my horse to where they said they’d seen him, but he was already gone.
Listening to Geelboy and the other people who stayed behind the general dealer, we realised that the rocky area that Drogon had leapt out of was like a den that he’d made for himself. We found his paw prints and some other signs indicating that this was where he was staying.
By then, the horses were tired and I had to take them back home. I fetched my clothes, his blankets, toys, food and water and placed them in and around the area where he’d made his den. I even went as far as to leave some of my hair behind and rolled around in the grass so as to leave as much of my scent behind as possible. I was sure that this would lure him back to that area and that my smell would give him some comfort.
My two friends and I then sat in the field (far away from Drogon’s den) all day, trying to spot him with binoculars. When it started to get dark and was dangerous for us to be there, we left for the night.
The happiest day of my life
The next day, at 05h15 in the morning, we returned to the field, prepared to spend the whole day waiting again. As we walked into the field, we saw Drogon standing on top of a huge rock. It was like a scene out of The Lion King. I got goose bumps, as this was the first time I’d seen him since he’d gone missing.
I was cautioned by my friends not to run to him and just stay quiet; in cases like this, when dogs are so scared, they don’t even recognise their owners.
My friends went really slowly around the outside of the field so as not to scare him away. Meanwhile, with extreme caution, I slowly made my way to where we’d seen him on the rocks. I was terrified that he wouldn’t recognise me, and because my voice had become so hoarse, I thought he might not recognise it either.
Assuming he was still in his den, I sat down in the grass for a while, and then slowly approached the rocks. I began softly calling him and sat on a rock with my back to where he’d been spotted.
Little did we know that he’d already started moving away. In fact, he’d gotten about 500m away from where we’d seen him when he hesitated, seeming to realise it was me. My friends who’d hung around with me saw things unfold. He warily began to move closer, approaching very cautiously. As I glanced to my right, he came around the corner, stopped for a second, and looked straight at me.
The moment our eyes connected, Drogon realised it was me. His face lit up, and he came sprinting towards me and jumped into my arms with such enthusiasm that I almost fell over.
What an indescribably amazing moment – I’ll remember it for the rest of my life!
After ten long, exhausting days, we’d found my boy. The search was over and well worth every endless hour we’d spent on the road. I was as sick as a dog, but I would’ve done nothing differently. When so many people told me to give up, I proved to them that persistence pays off. With the support of my friends, I stayed motivated and kept going. There was no way I would’ve given up. To everyone’s surprise, Drogon was still in really good condition. He was taken straight to the vet for a check-up and, most importantly, a microchip.
After days of relentless searching, crying and emotional turmoil, my fur child, Drogon, was home.
It was the happiest day of my life so far!
Gratitude and hope
I just want to say the hugest thank you to every person who helped. Other than Mark Flowers (who, sadly, passed away the day after finding Drogon), I’ve not mentioned names to avoid accidentally leaving out anyone who was there to support and assist me.
Drogon was famous in Durban, Cape Town, Holland, America and many other places. I received messages from people saying that they’d given up on the search for their dog, but that Drogon’s story inspired them to continue their search, which paid off in the end with them finding their dog. I’d therefore like Drogon’s story to go as far as possible for the benefit of other dogs that have been or are lost.
To everyone who’s lost a pet, don’t underestimate the bond between you and your pet. My advice is to take extreme measures and never give up. Don’t listen to the negativity and judgement – just remember: only you know the full story. If I’d given up earlier, as many people suggested I should, Drogon would not be by my side right now. Hence the message to NEVER give up. Your baby is out there somewhere waiting to be found, and whatever the outcome, it’s worth it to have closure!
Geelboy did receive a reward for finding Drogon and contacting me immediately.
The public were such a great help in my journey to find Drogon. Without that support, I might have wavered. Should anyone lose a dog and start to get demotivated, they’re welcome to email Linda Nienaber at Linda.email@example.com or Nicola Lees at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance and motivation.