City Desk

When Losing a Dog Requires a PR Director

Before Daphne Levitas, some dog owners who lost their charges were reduced to knocking on people's doors, taping a few fliers to trees, maybe posting on Craigslist. With Levitas, a 34-year-old attorney active in dog rescue circles, losing a dog becomes a multimedia experience.

By virtue of my posts about Lucy the Ninja Dog, I received a document marked "For Immediate Release" with Levitas' name and number listed as the contact. It also included a Web address for a blog about Midnight, a 2-year-old rottweiler/shepherd mix, who went missing at a soccer game at Fort Dupont Park in Southeast on March 28. The site, much like Lucy's, includes cute photographs of the lost dog, a Google map pinpointing various sightings, an announcement of a "flyering event" this weekend, and various blog posts about the campaign to find the dog.

Midnight's parents, the release says, are Sarah and Charley. I called Levitas to inquire if she was the PR rep for this operation. "Yes and no," she said.

The deal is that Levitas is a savvy sort who loves dogs and lost one herself, one she was fostering. The dog jumped over an 8-foot fence at doggy day care a year ago. In an unfamiliar neighborhood, the chances of the dog magically findings its foster home were pretty slim. So Levitas learned to exploit whatever tools would help her get the word out in the modern age. The dog was found after five days and is now in a permanent home. Following the ordeal, Levitas decided to share her skills. "There's a steep learning curve," she says. "I try to help the next person so they're not reinventing the wheel."

She's helped out on 20 lost dogs since then. All but one were found, including Lucy.

Not all of them get the full-press treatment, which is reserved for the "super shy" dogs who are unlikely to be picked up by strangers or an animal enforcement officer. In addition to the online and flier distribution of information, these sorts of dogs require traps. Most look like dog crates and are loaded with a spring-activated plate. When the dog goes in for food, the door closes.

But these don't always work. The next step is a "feeding station" baited with something delicious, like steak. As you might imagine, these require vigilance—cameras or eye witnesses, says Levitas.

"But there are all sorts of regulations" regarding the traps, she says. They have to be on private property (in other words, Fort Dupont Park is out) and the property owner must grant permission. Once all that is secured, monitoring "requires a ton of volunteers."

For Midnight's owners—who had just adopted him from a rescue shelter—Levitas created the site and is the one blogging on it. Sarah and Charley live in Takoma Park. The last time Midnight was seen was in the park on Sunday, April 3. Volunteers are needed to put up fliers this weekend. Groups are meeting both Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in Fort Dupont Park. Can't make it but still want to help? Everything you need to know is, of course, online.

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