A mastiff search effort

Big dog finally captured after months roaming in the wild

DIANE LUCZAK, DIRECTOR of the Almost Home Animal shelter in Quinnesec, scratches Emma Grace’s neck as Phyllis Carlson of Quinnesec asks the English mastiff for kisses after the dog was captured this week after almost five months of roaming Dickinson County. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — For nearly five months she remained a shadowy image on trail cameras, managing to elude those who would make her give up her wild, wandering ways.

Yet the saga of the escaped English mastiff finally ended this week with the nearly deer-sized dog safely at Almost Home Animal Shelter in Quinnesec.

The giant brindled canine now is getting back in shape at the shelter for life with a new family.

“We have a lot of interest in her, but we have to get her used to being a domestic dog again,” said Diane Luczak, shelter director.

The dog, formerly known as Tiku, and a second mastiff named Penny had been abandoned in the Foster City area when their owners moved to lower Michigan.

As the animals were being brought to the shelter, which was closed Aug. 6 but the Dickinson County sheriff’s department had a key, Tiku slipped her collar.

Thus began the long pursuit of the 100-pound dog as it turned up on several trail cameras in a large radius surrounding the shelter, including East Kingsford, White Birch Village and eventually Happy Tails Boarding and Grooming in Breitung Township, where she was caught.

Phyllis Carlson of Quinnesec was a major player in managing to finally recover the mastiff.

“Once I got involved, I was committed to finding her. I spent hours and hours and hours putting out food, changing trail cams, checking baiting stations, but I can’t pick up a big trap and move it. I had a lot of help doing that stuff,” said Carlson, who credited several local residents for helping to track, feed and put up fliers.

She began by setting up a 6-by-6-foot kennel with a trap attached with the help of Jason Maahs, founder of Paws to the North Rescue.

The mastiff, unfortunately, proved less than cooperative.

“She was coming in pretty regularly, but she was picky about her food. The trap was set up that she had to pull the bait to close the door, but you couldn’t get her to pull on anything. She wasn’t that kind of dog,” Carlson said.

To further complicate matter, windy nights would trigger the trap to close on its own, forcing Carlson to make modifications.

“I jammed the trap open and starting putting the bowl of food in front of it, then a little bit, a little bit, and finally I had it 3/4 of the way inside and she was putting both front feet in and reaching for the food. Finally one day she put one back foot in. I told Diane with in a week she will be confident enough to come all the way in and I can reset the trap,” Carlson said.

“And then,” Carlson said, “she just disappeared.”

They wondered whether someone had begun putting out food or even had picked her up, Carlson said.

That’s when a fan of the breed who wished to remain anonymous put up a $300 reward for the dog’s safe return.

The mastiff hadn’t been seen for 2 1/2 weeks when it turned colder and the first significant snow fell. Carlson feared their trap wouldn’t be accessible once the snow cover deepened.

So they moved the trap. Of course, an hour later, the dog showed up on the trail camera still at the site.

“We could never figure out where she was bedding down,” Carlson admitted.

The anonymous benefactor pitched in for a couple more trail cameras, food and treats.

But the big break came a few weeks later, when the dog’s prints were found outside of Happy Tails Boarding and Grooming in Breitung Township after another snowfall.

Owners Terri and Tim Bartles noticed the dog began regularly returning. Carlson set the trap and trail camera outside the business.

The dog wound up in the trap the first night but escaped before Carlson arrived. It then became more difficult to get the mastiff to take the bait.

“She would trot right in and eat everything around the trip wire and leave. We had created a smarter dog,” Carlson said.

Eventually the Bartles, Carlson and Luczak began a stakeout, each taking turns monitoring the site. They set up a baby monitor to watch the trap from the grooming room — and watched the dog come in and out without being able to catch her.

“Sometimes Diane and I would stay up there until midnight or one o’clock,” Carlson said.

They decided they would need to manually shut the trap when the dog went in to eat. “I went out and bought the stuff I needed and I got it set up to go,” Carlson said.

Carlson and Luczak had the night shift Tuesday evening when Carlson heard the mastiff come in, dropped the door and finally had the dog.

It all was so easy Carlson couldn’t believe she had her when she called in Luczak.

“We thought we caught a panicked dog, but she greeted us with a tail wagging. She tried ‘grring’ at us a little bit, but then took a Milk Bone out of my hand. We were expecting a wild beast. We were really surprised,” Carlson said.

Although a little thin, the renamed Emma Grace seems to be in good shape, with no signs of frostbite and unblemished foot pads and ears. Blood work and other checks will be done but otherwise she seems to be healthy.

“She is not as thin as we would of thought, but she could use some weight,” Luczak said.

Carlson said she is tired and relieved the dog finally has been collared.

“I can finally get some sleep and cook my husband a meal. I’m really relieved that she is as docile as she is and that she is not feral,” she said.

Carlson said she has asked the reward be sent to the U.P. Wildlife rehabilitation center to buy food. “I got to keep the trail cams, though,” she said.

The shelter already has a list of people wanting to adopt the dog. Luczak is confident the right home will be found when the dog is ready.

“She needs to chill,” Luczak said. “She needs to acclimate to being a normal dog again.”