From the streets of Puerto Rico, to an animal shelter in Salem; a loving home in Saugus; the woods of Lynnfield; a backyard in Melrose.
For most of his life, Bailey, a shy, rusty-brown Labrador mix, has traveled to find a place to call home, and a web of volunteers are working hard to help.
The search for home started last June when Bailey, a “sato” — Puerto Rican slang for street dog — was rescued and flown to the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem with the hope he would be adopted.
A Saugus family brought him to their home in September to see how he got along with their dog.
They never found out.
Shortly after arriving, 6-month-old Bailey escaped on Sept. 17 from the family’s unfenced yard on Walnut Street. With a ripped portion of his extend-a-leash still attached to his collar, and a Northeast Animal Shelter tag, Bailey was spotted running across Route 1, disappearing in woods near Suntaug Estates, a large condo complex in Saugus.
Immediately, a dramatic search began, along with the worrying.
“You go to a place you don’t want to go,” said Marianna Massa, coordinator of Northeast’s sato rescue and adoption program.
“We put posters up everywhere,” Massa said, including online postings to Craigslist and Granite State Dog Recovery’s Facebook page.
“Social media plays a huge part in search for lost dogs,” said Beth Corr, a Newton resident and Granite State volunteer. With over 13,000 Facebook followers, the nonprofit, based in Manchester, N.H., has a wide reach.
Granite State volunteers help in countless ways, from setting up humane traps and food stations, to posting fliers, transporting traps and cameras, sometimes miles away, even into Maine. Last year alone, Corr said, Granite State reunited 600 lost dogs that came across their page.
“It takes a village,” said Bella Travaglini, a Peabody resident and North Shore journalist who began volunteering with Granite State two years ago after Daisy, a border collie mix from Stoneham, went missing (and has not been found).
“I never expected to do this, but am hooked,” Travaglini said.
Calling Northeast to offer assistance when she heard of Bailey’s escape, Travaglini quickly organized “Team Bailey.” After a sighting in the woods behind the Christmas Tree Shop in Lynnfield came in a few days later, Travaglini led almost 40 volunteers — including members of the Saugus family from whom he escaped — on a five-hour search. Large search parties are not typically recommended because it can scare a dog further, but the woods were dense and the dog a puppy. Humane traps and cameras were set, and food left.
Then the volunteers waited, sitting quietly in the woods for hours.
Travaglini returned later, for a couple of nights.
While resuming the search on a smaller scale with Massa, Travaglini said the Saugus family continued searching, too. A report 10 days into the search at the Lynnfield Woods Office Park, where Bailey was spotted sunning himself on the lawn, gave them hope.
But when office workers chased him, hoping to catch him, Bailey ran again. To where, no one knew.
Additional sightings were made of look-alike dogs as far away as Cumberland, R.I., and Newton. But no Bailey.
Then, fortune stepped in.
Five miles away, on Thanksgiving morning, Melrose resident Laura Castergine was raking leaves in her front yard on Orient Avenue, unaware of the months-long search. Her labradoodle, Jerry, kept running to their backyard and barking at the back corner, stopped by an invisible fence. Known for his friendly barking to people passing by from their front yard, Laura thought it unusual Jerry kept running to the backyard.
“We call it ‘no man’s land,’ ” Castergine said of a wooded, overgrown intersection of her and three neighbors’ backyards.
Spotting a dog, she thought nothing of it, figuring it was one from the neighborhood. Then Griffin, her fourth-grade son, noticed his football was ripped. He found his soccer ball in a neighbor’s yard.
“That’s when I figured it must be a puppy, it was so playful. I put some of Jerry’s dog food out in my neighbors’ yard, so Jerry couldn’t get it,” Castergine recalled. She saw Bailey two more times, when he’d eat the food and leave. She realized the pup might be lost.
On Dec. 5, Castergine called Diane Kurkjian, Melrose’s canine control officer. Kurkjian remembered hearing about Bailey from other local animal control officers. She also follows Granite State’s Facebook page, so she contacted the rescue group.
“I don’t want to get your hopes up,” Kurkjian told Corr, “but I have a lost dog here in Melrose and there’s a possibility it’s Bailey.”
Travaglini and Massa snapped into action.
Grabbing a humane trap, Travaglini and Massa set it up in the Castergines’ backyard. Massa said the dog watched them from about 50 feet away, hidden by the shadows of trees and bushes.
But was it Bailey? Even they weren’t certain, since the puppy had grown so much in his 2½ months on the lam.
With bait from a local Burger King set inside the trap — a double cheeseburger and french fries — dusk settled. The team prepared for a long night. They trained Laura on how to use the humane trap, expecting the rescue to possibly take days.
Within minutes though, Bailey stepped inside the trap. But the door didn’t trigger; Bailey grabbed the fast food and escaped again.
Unwilling to give up, the team drove to Turner’s seafood in downtown Melrose, bought some fried haddock, and reset the trap.
This time, Bailey went in and the trap door shut as the puppy dined.
The search duo looked inside.
It was Bailey.
“Marianna and I cried, we felt so overjoyed,” Travaglini said, noting she had never met Bailey till that moment. “It was like chasing a ghost,” she said. “He just vanished. And then to actually see him?”
How the street pup survived is anyone’s guess, but Castergine thinks Bailey hid under a broken section of fence in the woods behind her house that acted as a lean-to and provided shelter during Hurricane Sandy.
Bailey’s grit impressed Castergine. But it was the volunteers’ own doggedness to find Bailey that moved her.
“What struck me is how passionate these volunteers were. I would’ve given up, but they cared so much,” she said. “That’s what amazed me. Within 20 minutes, they had me engaged.”
Bailey’s rescue has had a ripple effect. Since sharing this unique experience, Travaglini and Massa have since become good friends. Travaglini said she’s bonded with a core group from Northeast Animal Shelter who do searches regularly: Nora Cook of Everett; Susan Parziale, Gail Gilmore, and Donna Gately, all of Medford; and Kevin Kelly of Winchester, all unpaid volunteers, fueled by the tremendous feeling of making a family whole again.
Currently searching for Marisol, a Medford dog lost just over two years ago near the Middlesex Fells Reservation, Travaglini said recent sightings in Woburn give them hope.
As for Bailey, the Saugus family was not allowed to adopt him because of their unfenced yard. So he’s back in foster care, still waiting to find his forever home.
Kathy Shiels Tully can be reached at kathyshielstully@- gmail.com.