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Search, Track, Trap

– or, what not to do if your dog goes missing

I live out in the wild 24/7. It’s now my life choice.”

Hazel Muzzle Mutts, of Livingston, is a tracker and one of a team of dedicated volunteers who have made it their mission to find lost dogs and reunite them with their owners.

Abseiling ravines, river searches, thermal scope work, working tracker dogs, setting up and monitoring cameras, maintaining scent and bait feed stations, trekking through mud and forests – these are just some of the things the work entails.

Lost & Found Dogs West Lothian is a community run by Charlene and Hazel with a team of volunteers. They work closely with other organisations all over Scotland, and call on drone pilots, thermal scope workers and trained spotters as needed. It can take days or weeks of patiently tracking to recover a dog.

“It’s commonly misunderstood that getting lots of people out to where a dog has been lost and shouting on it is best. But it can cause more harm than good.”

“It’s commonly misunderstood that getting lots of people out to where a dog has been lost and shouting on it is best. But it can cause more harm than good,” explains Charlene.

“A lost dog is in survival mode. They are not your pet at this point; they are an animal looking after themselves in the wild and you’re a predator - no matter how bonded you are with them.”

Mowdie’s owner is seated on the ground, head bowed, no eye contact. Mowdie zig zags slowly, approaching her. His every movement and reaction is monitored by Hazel’s thermal scope.

Mowdie had run off after a pheasant on a country road 18 hours previously and his owner feared he’d been hit by a 4x4. Hazel, with her dogs and a thermal scope, carefully tracked him through dense woodland, using scent, bait and wait tactics until they located him. “He was aware we were there, but it took a lot of patience before he was ready to come,” says Hazel.

A lost dog needs time to settle and get used to their surroundings before they can start to think rationally, whether it’s a familiar area or not. It becomes their new safe space as they figure things out, and they’ll be suspicious of anything new in that space. Shouting and torches will spook them. Mowdie, like others in this situation, needed time.

A lost dog needs time to settle and get used to their surroundings before they can start to think rationally

After many hours, and with his owner’s scent in the area, Mowdie eventually became confident enough to come forward into an open space, keeping his distance, very unsure.

“This is where the trust between owner and myself comes in,” explains Hazel. “Most of the things I ask them to do is against what their heart tells them.” With your lost dog finally so close, your adrenaline’s pumping but you have to remain calm and focused so as not to react prematurely. Even at this stage a wrong movement can send the dog running again - motion sensitivity is a big thing when they have been loose. “I instruct the owner depending on the body language of their dog. Mowdie’s owner couldn’t see or hear her dog in the pitch black; she was cold, wet, exhausted, and thinking he may have been injured almost 18 hours earlier. So there is a lot of trust needed to have someone you don't know tell you he's to the right, to the left, 50 ft away, stay still, speak softly, don't speak, crawl away, sit, stay...”

“The little cry that escapes from the owner lets me know they have the dog in their grasp. The slip lead is promptly but gently put in place as the owners cradle their dog. Even the most gentle dog can bite at this time. They’re secured in a safe area as they are still a flight risk until they decompress fully.”


There is no time limit in getting a loose dog to safety. Wendy is a Tunisian rescue dog who was at risk of being shot by marksmen. Hazel lived out for 8 weeks, tracking her with specialised equipment. She managed to get her eating from her hand but not trusting enough to secure her. Eventually, Wendy was safely darted (temporarily tranquillised) by Animal Capture UK & Canine Capture UK, and after weeks of rehab she is now happily in a new forever home.

Photos of Wendy's rescue by Joe Matten,

Instagram: @mattenmedia


“It’s an emotional roller coaster, yes,” says Hazel. “However, our emotions cannot come before the dog’s thinking, as it can compromise their safety. It is not your pet until after it's back in your arms, secure and safe.”

Then you'll get that priceless look - the look of ‘what's all the fuss been for?!’” Hazel and the other trackers will do whatever it takes, however long it takes, for you to get that look.



Hazel's dogs
Hazel's dogs

The rescue work relies on kind public donations to purchase and maintain thermal scopes, drones, humane traps, bait feed, cameras and other equipment.

“Thank you so much for your kindness and support. Each and every owner with a missing dog will be eternally grateful.”


Create a scent sample

Hazel works with Search For Lost Dogs Scotland, the only National Association of Specialist Dog Users pet trailing dogs in Scotland. If ever you need them, providing a good scent sample will hugely increase the chances of a successful reunion with your dog.

This takes 5 minutes and you’ll need disposable gloves, a make-up pad and a mason jar.

1) Put on the gloves so you don’t contaminate the swab with your own scent.

2) Take a cotton pad and rub it down your dog’s back, legs, head and mouth.

3) Place in the mason jar and close it (do not re-open). Label with date and your dog’s name.

Repeat with a separate jar if you have more than one dog. (A sealed plastic bag or container will do, however mason jars are better as can hold a scent for years).


Published in Konect July 2021

Author: Helen-Jane Gisbourne


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