It was getting dark. They could wait no longer before returning to Phoenix. Without their lost log.
Angela Casto, her two children and friends were camping in the Coconino National Forest near Willow Springs Lake. Their dog, Angus, a German shepherd, had stayed with them off leash with no issues. The third day, July 11, they got up, Angus went outside - and vanished.
“Angus went missing when we had been up there two days,” said Casto, “I got up at 6:30 a.m., Angus was right beside me then went off by the woods and literally disappeared. It was silent, I didn’t hear a twig snapping, anything.”
“We immediately drove in a circle around the area but saw nothing. There were so many people with dogs, we asked them all to keep their eyes open. It was our last day there. Our campsite was about 14 miles from the Woods Canyon general store. We were told that people usually bring lost dogs to the store and they would hold him for us if he came.”
After a day of searching, it started to get dark. “The kids were crying and said we couldn’t leave him, but we were in the middle of a forest with no idea where he could be and I had to be at work the next day.” Casto works at AJ’s Fine Foods in Chandler. Her boss Anthony Perez and his wife Ann were with her that day.
A single mother of two boys, Vincent 16 and Paul 13, Casto had never visited the area before. “I didn’t realize the severity of how many people lose their dogs out there.” she said.
The group reluctantly drove back to Phoenix, without Angus.
“I didn’t hear anything until Monday July 16, when I got a call from a lady by Willow Springs saying she thought she had seen him.”
“A second call came in that day reporting that a dog was seen crossing 260 by mile marker 284 and was hit by a car. He continued south on the opposite side of where the campgrounds were. We went up there and stayed the night. Nothing.”
Nicole, a friend of Castro’s who fosters with Back The Blue Pet Rescue posted on the Payson AZ Lost/Found Facebook group and suggested Casto join the group. Word was spreading.
“After I joined, I met Marsha Crabtree and Alison Webb. Crabtree immediately said ‘Send me a picture, we’ll make flyers.’ She printed flyers for me and people were asking what road we were on. Boom. People started posting and it spread like wildfire. Everybody was out there looking for him. It was absolutely amazing. We went up there again to search for him and put up more flyers. The store in Forest Lakes recommended I get in touch with Cheryl Van Horn who works for the Forest Lakes Fire Department.”
On Tuesday July 24 a man called and said he saw a loose German shepherd. Casto went up that morning with her friend Tom McFetters and met Webb and Crabtree in person.
“Alison said ‘just let us know when you can’t be here and we’ll cover the rest.’ Cheryl from the fire department checked the feed station. There wasn’t a day someone wasn’t looking for that dog.”
“Everyone that did those feed stations brought food, I didn’t have to bring anything. My friend Tom and I spent three days up there in his Jeep Cherokee searching. It’s pitch black there, you need night vision goggles to see anything.”
Casto continued, “Another four days went by and a guy on an ATV called Crabtree, said he whistled to a dog who took off limping. I went back up there again and went all around looking for him.” Earlier in the search, Crabtree connected Casto to Eva Livesay, a volunteer for a non-profit based in Phoenix called Humane Animal Rescue and Trapping Team (HARTT). They search for and live trap lost dogs and injured cats using humane traps and cameras. https://azhartt.org/
Livesay said “I first spoke with Angie about three to four days after Angus went missing. I advised her on some things she could do to help him get safe again. It was hard for her because she lived so far away and she couldn’t stay in the area which is the first thing we recommend because eventually the dog will circle around and come back to where he was lost.”
“Many dogs get lost when people are camping. They pick up on a scent and get disoriented, get into flight mode and keep running. Pets should be on a leash at all times, with ID on their collars, preferably a harness.” said Livesay.
“I didn’t hear much for a while and then they got a sighting and I was able to bring a trap and cellular trail camera. If there is any movement around the trap, it instantly sends pictures to our cell phones. I’m familiar with the area because my parents have had a cabin in Forest Lakes for 30 years. We set up the trap for four days at the location of the sighting but Angus never came to that spot.” said Livesay.
Angus had been missing 14 days when the live trap and feed station were set up on July 24.
On Saturday July 28, Casto and Perez returned to search. A woman texted her that her husband was fishing in Sardine lake and thought he saw him. She sent a picture from her husband’s cell phone. It was about two acres away from their location. Perez said “There he is, running away from us.”
Casto said “I finally saw him for the first time in 18 days and it took everything in me not to shout his name. It broke my heart and I was busting into tears.”
“I called Eva and Marsha about the sighting. We had to move the feed stations. Cheryl and the guys at the Forest Lakes Fire Department came out to help. We put his food, bed, everything in a circle. Alison said “We can’t get the trap and camera it’s too dark.”
“I said ‘Give me the keys, I don’t care if I have to carry this thing on my back, I’m not leaving without my dog. We had to cross 260, I threw the cage in the back of my car with all the wires, the camera, called Eva and got everything set up. It was then 11 o’clock at night.”
“We drove across to 260 to avoid spooking the dog. We sat there until 2 a.m. At 2:17 a.m. the dog finally went to the feeding station. He was completely avoiding people, he wasn’t going to move until it was completely silent.”
“Then Eva said he was at the trap, the trap was closed but he was on the other side of it. We reset the trap, put liver sausage down and waited. At six in the morning, Eva called and said ‘he’s in the trap.’
“She said ‘Whatever you do, don’t take him out of the trap. I called Cheryl with the Fire Department and said ‘We got him.’ She said ‘Give me ten minutes’. I called Marsha and told her and she was on her way there. We were just sitting in the parking lot with my dog in a trap then Marsha pulled up with Alison in a SUV. They picked up the trap and carried it all the way to 260.”
“We met my friend Tom at Safeway in Payson, loaded the cage into Tom’s car and took Angus to an emergency vet in Phoenix.”
“Say what you like about social media but I had people from all over on the Payson AZ Lost/Found Facebook group. Paw Boost sent things out, somebody sent me a link for a paid pet amber alert service. I signed up. They called people on their phones and put out a pet alert. Most of the help came from Payson AZ Lost/Found Pets. Marsha and Alison and a thousand other people I’ll probably never meet.”
Strangers helped her get through the 18-day ordeal.
“You get to a point, you get a feeling, I know he’s not dead. I’m a spiritual person. My parents are both passed away, I have no family in Arizona (outside her children). I prayed to St. Anthony, St. Francis. A lady from work did a prayer chain for Angus. I had spiritual support from them and emotional support from Marsha Crabtree. I spent my son Vincent’s 16th birthday up there. I was being pulled in 80 million directions. He understood that I had to find Angus.”
“The night before I prayed ‘Please just guide me to the location that he’s at. A needle in a haystack. We went up there and the first thing we did was go up to Sardine lake then I got the text message from the couple who saw him there. I truly believe it was divine intervention that we found that dog and he wasn’t eaten by a coyote of something.”
“I cannot believe how much support I received from the Town of Payson and strangers. They do this from the goodness of their heart. How do you repay somebody for that? The time, energy, flyers, talking to people. I was so worried that Angus would become irrelevant. I didn’t want him to become forgotten.
Every day I would check Facebook and there were hundreds of people I didn’t even know saying ‘I heard you lost your dog, we’re going camping up there, send us a photo and we’ll look for him.”
“There wasn’t a single person who didn’t offer some kind of help. If I didn’t have that community support I would never have found him.
Casto said “Angus normally doesn’t howl. When Eva and I were watching the video and saw him come to the feed station where we had set the trap, he sniffed around the food and where I’d rolled around in the ground and he lay down and just howled. He was calling for me. It broke my heart to see that. I would not have been able to bring him home that night without the help of that organization (HARTT).”
“It’s heartbreaking that you get such a bond with all of these people because you’re in a time of need and they’re basically covering every base for you. They’re like your family - how do you stay connected with them? How do you say thank you? I never want to forget them. I want so much to give back to them and let them know how much they are appreciated”
Angus lost 20 pounds and suffered a broken right leg when he was hit by the car. He was trapped nine miles from where he went missing.
Casto took him for surgery at VCA Animal Referral and Emergency Center of Arizona in Mesa where they operated on his leg, and placed a cast.
He is recovering well, happy to be home with his family after his 18 day adventure in the forest.
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