Some refer to her as a dog whisperer, but a more accurate title for Char Spinosa might be a dog profiler.
Like the lead characters in a number of FBI-centric television shows of late, Spinosa possesses the ability to know more about her subject than that subject seems to know about itself. Unlike those television characters, though, Spinosa works her magic on those of the canine persuasion.
Spinosa, who hangs her shingle out as Niagara’s K9 Tracker, is able to quickly read a dog’s personality and predict its behaviour. That ability has come in handy over the past 10 years as she has aided in the search and rescue of more than 100 dogs, most of them in the Niagara region.
With her self-published new book, K9 Tracker S & R: Lost Pet Recovery, Spinosa is hoping to help even more distressed pet lovers reunite with their lost friends. Subtitled Tools, Tips, Techniques & Tails, the book is the culmination of six years of Spinosa chronicling her rescue stories and developing her own methods for search and recovery.
“What good is knowledge if you can’t share it?” Spinosa asks. “Originally, I was going to write a book about the stories over the years. Then it flipped, because I thought I can do more with this if I include more.”
She breaks down the subtitle. “I go through different tools, and explain their use, when they’re good when they’re not so good. Then, the techniques, the different ways that you can use the tools, where to use them, how to use them. The tips are what I’ve learned, and that comes into lost dog behaviours. And I give them a tutorial on how to do a poster, and how to put it up.”
Finally, of course, there are the tails, which are actually tales of successful search and rescue operations mounted by Spinosa. One of those tales stars Louie, a tiny Maltipoo rescue who bolted from a dog boarder while his companion, Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Barbara Worthy, was away in Africa.
“She (the boarder) opened the door, and Louie got out,” says Worthy. “My friend Louise put up a Facebook post and she (Spinosa) saw it. It was only up for an hour, and she phoned Louise and said ‘there’s a dog missing. I think I can find it.’ The whole town was out looking for Louie, and she told everyone to go home and leave it all to her, and she found him.”
Char remembers that search fondly. “Louie took off and everybody was out trying to find him. I got the details from her (Louise). She called me around 9 p.m. and told me the dog was sighted running towards the library. So I drove over there, looked to see if he was in any of the doorways, but he wasn’t. So I just randomly drove, and I had a talk with God.”
This is a common theme in many of Spinosa’s stories. She claims that time and time again it seems some sort of divine intervention has led her to be in the right place at the right time.
“I asked God to bring me to Louie,” she continues. I’m just randomly driving in that area, turning left, turning right, driving through new construction, and I come to a T in the road. I look to the left, and here’s one of the Sentineal Carriages heading back to the barn. I asked her if by any chance she had seen a little ball of white and she told me ‘Yup, two doors down on the left side.’ I see a big house that is so lit up it’s like a lighthouse. I see two little eyes hiding by a flower pot.”
Spinosa got out of the truck, armed with an unloaded snappy snare, a six-foot long pole with a loop on the end of it. “My instinct told me to approach him like a predator, while throwing little bits of hot dog to him,” she says. “I reached forward and put the snare over his head just as he looked like he was ready to run away. I tried to reach some of Barbara’s friends, but I couldn’t get a hold of them. So I brought him home, wrapped him in a blanket, and slept on the couch with him in my arms.”
Louie was on the lam for about eight hours, and Spinosa was able to determine that Louie had made it from the boarder’s house in Chautauqua, across Mississagua Street to the library, and was most likely trying to find his way back to his home near the sailing club.
Worthy found out about the incident after Louie had been returned to her friend. “It was a miracle, really,” she says now. “She’s sweet, and she’s amazing. It only took her about an hour to find him, she knew exactly what to do, and she pinpointed him.”
In fact, just this December, Worthy turned to Spinosa to help her son find his dog when he went missing from his home in St. Catharines. She did that by instructing them in her methods over a phone call. Sure enough, after following Char’s instructions, the dog came walking back up the driveway.
Spinosa also tells the story of recently helping to find a dog in China all the way from her home here in Niagara. That one involved the internet and the perusal of Google Earth to determine where the dog might have been, as well as Google Translate to communicate with the locals there.
Not all of Spinosa’s rescues are that easy. She tells the story of a search and rescue that took 119 days for a dog who somehow made it to Niagara Falls from Barrie. And she speaks fondly of past successful searches for dogs named Benji, Chloe, Harry Houdini, Poppy and Sammy. Relating her efforts, she often chokes up with emotion, remembering what it felt like to finally reunite each loving owner with their furry friends.
Along with her belief that her successes are guided by a higher power, Spinosa relies on tools such as that snappy snare, as well as harnesses, muzzles, slip leashes, and a trap armed with an electromagnetic lock and a photo beam that safely captures the roaming canine.
While others not in the know often pursue lost animals with a posse, making noise and laying out food to entice them, Spinosa uses a different approach. In fact, it all depends on how she profiles each individual animal.
“I learned very early on that a dog is not a dog,” she explains. “I will not look for a chihuahua the same way I would a bullmastiff. A bullmastiff won’t run, they walk aimlessly until their paws bleed. Whereas a chihuahua, you’ll find it in the flowers, hiding behind a house. They stay in well-lit areas.”
She boils it down to what she calls the “five P’s:” profiling the dog, profiling the breed, profiling the history, profiling the owner, and profiling the environment.
“You want to tie that all in with what I call the mechanism of the run,” she adds. “That’s my starting point. And when you go to my website (k9tracker.ca), I have a form. It tells you everything that I need to know before I call you. Then I fill in the finer details. By the time I do that, I already have a mindset of where I’m going and what I’m doing.”
Spinosa, who once trained as a private investigator after a career in the downtown Toronto brokerage industry, only started offering her services as a business about four years ago. Her successful search for Harry Houdini, who she eventually tracked to Penner Home Hardware, resulted in her being handed a cheque by well-known Danny and Ron’s Rescue in Florida, from where Harry had been adopted.
She claims that when she does charge for a rescue, it’s usually just enough to cover her costs.
Spinosa outlines many of the methods and tricks of her trade in the new book, hoping to stop pet owners from doing the wrong things in their searches.
No word, however, on if she’s able to tell the reader how to access that divine intervention that she swears guides her.
The book can be ordered via her website or her Facebook page, K9 Tracker Search & Rescue.