California Dog Eludes Dogcatcher for 5 Months

Cooper, the star of Katherine Nguyen's two-part article, reminds me so much of my Annie. When she came to live with me I don't think...

Joy  |  Oct 9th 2007


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Cooper, the star of Katherine Nguyen’s two-part article, reminds me so much of my Annie. When she came to live with me I don’t think she quite understood she was home. Every time I turned around I was getting a call from another neighbor who met Annie coming into their home or on the street. It seemed I would never get the yard Annie-proof! Long story short, I met a lot of neighbors and I think I have now lined every inch of my fence with bricks or rocks, and Annie has finally come to realize she’s home.

And if you love happy dog-story endings, read both parts of this story!

Big barks to Animal Control Officer Schomburg! I only wish we had thousands more like her!

Thanks to Katherine for barking in her recent article in the Orange County Register. This is the first part of the two-part article.

Katherine Nguyen wrote:

Hi there, just wanted to submit a story I wrote for The Orange County Register that ran today and yesterday. It’s a two-parter about a local dogcatcher who became obsessed with finding and catching a stray named Cooper. He was dumped near an airport in February and managed to elude authorities for 5 straight months, even after they tranquilized him, set traps for him, etc.

Cooper also survived getting hit by a car and even busted out of a shelter by chewing through a chain link fence. It’s just a terrific story about an animal control officer who loved her job and just wanted to help this dog find a home.
He’s up for adoption now.

Four-legged fugitive evades capture for months
PART 1: Lanky stray outruns authorities, compelling one officer to become obsessed with quest.
By KATHERINE NGUYEN
The Orange County Register

They set traps and chased him by car and by foot. At one point, the lanky fugitive was surrounded by six officers and shot twice. And still he outran and outsmarted the authorities.

The officers werent hunting some dangerous criminal. Just a skinny German Shepherd mix they dubbed Cooper, after D.B. Cooper, the daredevil extortionist who escaped capture in 1971 after hijacking a plane and collecting $200,000 in cash.

And, as the days stretched into months, the legend of the dog that couldnt be caught grew. Dog catchers throughout Orange County never heard of an animal that tried so hard and was so successful at avoiding capture.

Coopers story began no differently from those of hundreds of stray animals. On Feb. 21, Newport Beach Animal Control took a call that a dog and a puppy had been dumped near a hotel by John Wayne Airport and left to fend for themselves.

Someone just threw these dogs out like they were trash,” said Animal Control Officer Valerie Schomburg. That just made me more determined to help them find a better home. They deserved better than that.”

Schomburg knew she had to nab the dogs soon. Animals on the street, especially in an area as busy as the airport, dont survive long before being hit by a car. So after finishing her normal work shift, she drove around looking for the duo and attempted to lure them in.

Cooper was Schomburgs mission.

Not an easy one, either. She tried enticing the dogs by waving beef jerky treats. She placed food in a trap. But Cooper and his puppy sidekick fell for none of it. Schomburg and other animal control officers couldnt get within 300 yards of either canine.

Theyd see the white truck and take off running before we could even get out of the car,” Schomburg said.

I think Cooper was in survival mode.”

It shouldnt have been so hard. Most strays are caught within a day and either returned to their owner or placed in a shelter. After six years of chasing runaways, lost pets, and loose strays, Schomburg considered herself a pretty good animal catcher.

She figured that if they caught the puppy younger and less wily they could get Cooper. Once, while sprinting after the puppy behind the hotel, a delivery man offered to help. But he took a nasty fall, bloodying both knees. Schomburg had to stop the pursuit to help the injured man. The hounds got away.

Even the staff at the Radisson, the hotel where Cooper and the puppy hung out, became familiar with the quest to catch the pooches.

Oh, you just missed them,” theyd tell Schomburg when she arrived at the hotel to chase a Cooper sighting.

At one point, Schomburg managed to cut Cooper off with her truck. She jumped out near the corner of Bristol Street and the 73 toll road because she didnt want to chase him into traffic. Normally when Schomburg does this, the dog will stop and run the other way. But not only did Cooper not stop or bother to turn around, he darted right past her without hesitation. Foiled again.

He wanted nothing to do with us,” Schomburg said. So I figured he probably wasnt a nice dog. I dont think he trusted anyone.”

Nearly a week into the pursuit, she hatched the plan with two other animal control officers and three police officers to apprehend Cooper once and for all. One of the departments best sharpshooters managed to strike Cooper twice in the rump with a tranquilizer gun.

Any normal dog would have gone down in 15 to 20 minutes. But we chased him for 45 minutes. He never went down, and we lost sight of him.

He must have had a real good nights sleep that night.”

Then, the game turned tragic. In mid-March, the puppy nobody knows if it was Coopers offspring or a sibling was struck and killed by a car.

Schomburg was sad but not surprised.

The puppy wasnt as fast or savvy as Cooper was, being so young,” she lamented.

She also believed Cooper could only dodge traffic for so long.

Two more weeks passed, with only a few Cooper sightings. By now, Schomburg had spent more than a month chasing Cooper, longer than she ever needed to capture any other dog.

Cooper was on her mind constantly. She couldnt stop wondering if he was OK and where he slept at night. She couldnt stop talking about him to her co-workers, and especially to her husband, Tom.

Those who knew Schomburg werent surprised. She had volunteered to rescue lost pets during disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in her bringing home one of the rescued dogs. Somehow she had cajoled her husband into keeping three cats and two dogs inside their cramped townhome.

Then, near the end of March, Schomburg got the call shed been dreading. Someone reported that a German Shepherd mix had been hit by a car, near the airport. The driver said the dog was hit hard. It was Cooper.

I thought, Oh no, God, Im going to have to go retrieve his body.”

Follow this link to read Part II.