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Wily dog eludes Santa Fe's determined pet detective for 8 months

August 23, 2012|By John M. Glionna
  • Pepper escaped during a walk in December and led Santa Fe's unofficial pet detective on a merry chase.
Pepper escaped during a walk in December and led Santa Fe's unofficial…

For eight long months, ex-lawman Steve Dobbie has matched wits with a Santa Fe, N.M., escape artist whose spirit, tactical instincts and sheer will to remain free have repeatedly left him shaking his head in respect.

Dobbie’s quarry isn’t human – he’s a stray dog named Pepper. But Dobbie still experienced the thrill of fist-pumping victory when he finally got his man, er, dog, after some 240 days of sheer frustration and near-misses.

“During his time on the streets, a day didn’t go by when I didn’t increase my respect and admiration for that dog,” Dobbie told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s wily, tenacious and smart. How he survived for so long on the streets, frustrating everything we did to corral him, is beyond me. It’s a miracle.”

Since December, the 63-year-old Dobbie – a retired architect and former reserve California sheriff’s deputy with experience in big-game trapping – has applied his skills to corral the 3-year-old shar-pei and shepherd mix.

Pepper was a stray brought to a Sante Fe shelter last year. Officials found a home for the dog with an elderly resident who was apparently no match for the dog’s wayfaring spirit. One night Pepper dashed away while on a walk.

That’s when animal control officials asked Dobbie to take on the case as the city’s unofficial pet detective. He stalked Pepper with a net gun and a high-powered air rifle equipped with tranquilizer darts. Along with his wife, Yvette, he posted fliers and wanted posters all over town. He developed a posse of several dozen volunteers who created their own Facebook group, Pepper’s Posse.

The group huddled, traded tips on nabbing the runaway, and waited. Yet time and again, the pesky pooch slipped through Dobbie’s grasp.

Their big break came in late July when a Sante Fe resident contacted them to say that a dog matching Pepper’s description came to her home for a free meal every night. Dobbie investigated and learned that the dog would arrive between midnight and 2 a.m.

Although Dobbie had located his prey, he decided to be patient. Pepper wasn’t the only crafty one.

“The dog was so damned elusive. He notices any slight difference in anything. We had to bide our time,” Dobbie said. “Every night the dog came to the house, he would case the house one or two times. Very shy, very strategic.”

But Dobbie and his posse had a plan: They instructed the woman to move the dog bowl from which Pepper ate one inch each night toward a fenced-in backyard.

Dobbie laughs at the telling.

“Each night, one more inch, until we finally had Pepper going through a gate and into her backyard.”

But Dobbie still wasn’t ready to spring the trap. He reinforced the yard with wood painted black so Pepper wouldn’t notice, and raised the fencing to more than eight feet. 

“Time may have been Pepper’s enemy,” Dobbie said, “but it was our friend.”

Finally, last Friday, it was time for action. When Pepper entered the yard, Dobbie used a trip lever to close the gate.

The result? Sort of an anti-climax.

“He actually curled up in a corner and gave up,” Dobbie said.

This week, Dobbie found an animal sanctuary near Sacramento that agreed to take Pepper.

“Finally, this dog is going to be able to run in a safe environment,” Dobbie said. “He crossed the three busiest roads in Santa Fe at least two dozen times a day. He’s a sweet dog, not a mean bone in his body. But one day, he was going to get hit. I thought it was needless for him to lead a life on the streets. Now he won’t have to.”

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john.glionna@latimes.com

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