Pepper, a 3-year-old shar-pei and shepherd mix, dashed away while on a walk…
Call it Steve Dobbie’s holy grail -- or the exhaustive search around Sante Fe, N.M., to track down a rascally stray pooch named Pepper.
For months, the retired architect and former reserve sheriff's deputy from California has applied his design and law enforcement skills to corral the feisty 3-year-old shar-pei and shepherd mix, who escaped in December from his elderly owner.
Dobbie senses Pepper doesn’t like him, that he knows the old deputy stands between him and continued freedom. But Dobbie isn’t giving up. He’s got a posse of 20 volunteers to aid in the chase. He’s stalked Pepper with a net gun and a high-powered air rifle, equipped with tranquilizer darts.
But the dog is still loose.
Dobbie is no amateur sleuth. He worked for the Forest Service in Montana and Wyoming, where he said he routinely trapped wildlife. Nowadays, along with his wife, Yvette, he’s an animal lover with an instinct for finding lost pets.
In January, Dobbie helped track down another high-profile lost dog named Zorro. So folks at the Sante Fe animal shelter turned to him with their latest Most Wanted case.
“Steve is amazingly systematic,” shelter spokesman Ben Swan told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s an architect by trade. And he takes a systematic approach. He does grids. He thinks like a dog.”
In the hurly-burly of national news, Dobbie’s quest to catch Pepper might fall well beneath the radar. But around Sante Fe, locals are amazed and amused by these two -- predator and prey -- matching wits, Swan said.
Pepper was a stray brought into the Sante Fe shelter last year. Officials found a home for the dog with an elderly resident who, Swan said, “didn’t realize the commitment” of keeping such a footloose animal. One night Pepper dashed away while on a walk.
So, if you’re the Santa Fe shelter, who ya gonna call?
There have been several almosts and near-misses. Dobbie recently received one tip Pepper had wandered through a local backyard the same time each evening. “I set a bait trail and fixed the yard up," he told the Albuquerque Journal. "I sat on it for three nights and nothing. Then, on the fourth night, he came.”
The cagey Pepper sniffed around and finally entered the fenced backyard. His pursuer slammed the gate.
“He was trapped in the yard, but it took all of 60 seconds for him to get out. He literally broke down the wood fence and ran away. He never came back,” Dobbie said.
And so the hunt continues.
“We just had a meeting at the shelter and I said, ‘Well, Pepper is still loose,’ ” Swan told The Times. “And this is June. That dog is so clever and streetwise. He knows his name, so if you call it, you’ll give him a head start to take off running. We put traps out for months. Well, we caught a few foxes, but never Pepper.”
Dobbie told the Journal he doesn’t like being outfoxed by a dog, though he admits to grudging admiration for his quarry:
"There's just something about this dog,” he said. “I told someone the other day that when they catch him, they should take him to Los Alamos and have those scientists study this guy -- the brain on this dog is amazing.”