Rescue operation pays off for missing mastiff

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Associated Press

Posted on November 16, 2012 at 4:30 PM

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — She was the dog who came in from the cold.

Madison, a stray mastiff whose roaming around Madisonburg for weeks prompted a community rescue operation, spent Thursday at Metzger Animal Hospital resting under blankets, filling out her emaciated frame and accepting rubs from loving hands.

The night before, with the temperature below freezing, she wandered into an elaborate enclosure set up over three days by a professional pet detective. Searchers had grown increasingly anxious for Madison, named after Madisonburg mountain, as the weather turned wintery and deer season approached.

Her peaceful capture ended a persistent and often frustrating search documented on a Facebook page that generated more than 2,000 "likes" from followers near and far.

Before Wednesday night, constant sightings and a previous trap had led to the same result: Madison still on the loose, porcupine quills in her face, her strength ebbing.

When Christa Gallagher, a search co-organizer from Howard, heard the good news, she shed tears of relief. Days and nights of worry were over.

"If we had quit, she would have died," Gallagher said. "That's it."

Her rescue partner, Bridget Genua, of Bellefonte, had one thought about the mastiff she had devoted herself to saving: "To look in her eyes and let her know that people aren't bad."

After removing the quills and examining Madison, who probably lost 40 to 50 pounds, veterinarian Fred Metzger pronounced her in "amazingly good health." Her docile nature, contrary to his expectations of a feral, starved animal, led him to a conclusion.

"This isn't a wild dog," Metzger said. "This is someone's pet that has been running around for a couple of months."

But nobody ever claimed her after Gallagher began searching last month.

She saw a photo of Madison on Madisonburg mountain, then learned the mastiff had been on her sister's property miles away in Mingoville a week before. It was clear Madison was lost.

More sightings prompted the Facebook page and offers of help. One was from Genua, and the two mothers met, became friends and joined forces to find Madison.

Gallagher's resolve stiffened when she spied Madison for the first time as the mastiff struggled down Madisonburg Pike in the midst of Hurricane Sandy's driving rain.

"Once I saw her, it wasn't ending until we caught her," Gallagher said.

An attempt using trail cameras and a trap meant for Great Danes failed. Despite the food inside, Madison shied away from the bait.

Meanwhile, Madison sightings around Madisonburg persisted. Gallagher and Genua constantly checked in with Fisher's Shoe and Saddle Shop, an Amish-run store in the village, for updates.

Every night, Gallagher would comb the woods with her flashlight. When the early trap was set up, Genua checked it every morning before going to work.

By the time an Amish woman showed them a leaf pile where Madison was sleeping, the mastiff's plight had drawn Facebook commenters from as far away as Japan, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Locally, would-be rescuers flocked to Madisonburg's woods, some chasing Madison to no avail. Gallagher and Genua worried that Madison, spooked and weakened, might run until she died. Because of her condition and other factors, they ruled out tranquilizer darts.

So they turned to Steve Hagey.

The owner of Detect-A-Pet, a missing pet service in Hatfield, Hagey agreed to take the case. Searchers had raised about $2,200 online to pay him, promising to donate any leftover funds to Centre County PAWS.

Starting Monday, Hagey carried out a 3-day plan. From a Google satellite map of Madison's sightings, he set up trail cameras to monitor her movements.

On the second day, he built a camouflaged wire enclosure and placed food inside. A camera captured Madison walking in and out of the enclosure.

Wednesday night, Hagey and two assistants camped out with night-vision goggles and a remote-controlled door. They knew Madison was heading their way from the steady stream of texts sent by local residents.

"We had constant eyes on her from the community," Gallagher said.

Then the anticipated moment arrived: Madison entered the enclosure, the door snapped shut and her odyssey ended.

Hagey hasn't submitted his bill yet, so Gallagher doesn't know how much Centre County PAWS will receive. But she is certain about one thing: Madison was saved by many.

Bob Leigey and Desiree Walsh allowed rescuers, including Hagey, to set up the rescue on their property and fed searchers. They were among dozens who contributed sightings, money and support such as bringing the Great Dane trap from near Gettysburg or creating the satellite maps.

"Without the community and especially the people in Madisonburg, it wouldn't have been possible," Gallagher said.

Added Genua: "We honestly can't say enough for what these people did."

Help during the search also came from Anne Marie Rodgers, an animal rescuer who runs the Orphaned Kitten program in State College. She owns a mastiff, and will work on finding a foster home for Madison, who's estimated to be about 5 or 6.

Rodgers expects a lot of offers but warns that Madison's rescuers will be choosy. Mastiffs, with their size and slobbering, present a special challenge, she said.

"This is not a dog for everybody," Rodgers said.

For now, though, Madison doesn't want for care. She lounged on a sofa Thursday, one pampered pooch surrounded by admirers.

"What a great day," Metzger said.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/Wf0zWC

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Information from: Centre Daily Times, http://www.centredaily.com

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