The past few weeks will go down in history as the period of the runaway black labs in the Farmington Valley, including two Avon dogs and Sassy and Ellie from Farmington.
But even more remarkable than the timing is the band of community support of late from near and far to return missing dogs like Avon's Bosco and Iris back to their homes. The black labs had gone missing on Sunday around 3 p.m.
Avon resident David Farzinad — owner of Avon Vacuums, LLC and K21 Kid Strong Foundation next to Avon Congregational Church and Canton-based martial arts school International Kyokushinskai Union — found Bosco and Iris Sunday afternoon. After he notified Avon-Canton Animal Control Officer Beverly LaPlume on Tuesday, they were returned to their owners, the Percivals, that day.
Deborah Percival's husband Dan went outside March 10 with the family's black labs while doing some quick work in the yard. He went to get something and before he came back, Bosco, 11, and Iris, 3, neither wearing collars, had taken off from their Hickory Hill Road home off Waterville Road (Route 10). The Percivals have had Bosco, a rescue, for six years and got Iris from a Simsbury dog breeder two years ago.
Bosco and Iris have been off-leash in their yard often and they had run off a couple times before, but this time was different. They didn't come back that day.
“We were just sure that they would find their way back," Deborah Percival said, later presuming the dogs caught the scent of a dead deer by Route 10 and followed it.
After looking for the dogs with no luck, she called the police to notify Avon-Canton Animal Control and also called animal control officers in West Hartford, Farmington, Simsbury and Bloomfield.
Percival emailed lists of people in dog walking groups she had formed to let them know Bosco and Iris were missing. An announcement was posted on Patch about the missing dogs. She also paid to use www.findtoto.com, a service that transmits phone alerts to neighbors of owners who submit information about missing pets. Some of her neighbors reached out to help as a result.
Her sister-in-law in Granby rallied friends who planned to look for the dogs near Rails to Trails in their town while Percival searched with her friends and network. A friend's neighbor drove around Avon dangling a steak out of his car window, whistling and calling for them.
It wasn't long before strangers began sending Percival messages, including a group of people who used Facebook to organize a search for Sassy, a rescued black lab who ran away from her new Farmington foster family in late February.
“I’m still in awe of what a great community of people, and it’s not just local people," Percival said. “It’s just mind blowing. The people are so generous. You talk about the kindness of strangers and the kindness of my good friends.”
The group of dog lovers that looked for Sassy made a Facebook page for Bosco and Iris like the ones created for the Sassy and Ellie searches. The Find Bosco and Iris in Avon Facebook group page garnered 77 members, about 15 of whom came to Avon to help look for the dogs. Many didn't know each other and one came from as far as Rocky Hill. They helped hang up missing dog posters, including in the Avon and Farmington Starbucks, also "sloshing through mud" on searches in the woods.
“I said to my husband at one point, no matter what the outcome is, we are truly blessed," Percival said.
While the group of friends and strangers searched, Farzinzad, a Waterville Road resident, had taken Bosco and Iris in to care for them. They ran into his yard on Sunday afternoon while he was trimming tree branches. Since the dogs weren't wearing collars, Farzinzad assumed they had been dumped, which LaPlume said is unfortunately a common occurrence on Route 10. He didn't know they had identification chips implanted in them.
"They were beautiful dogs," said Farzinzad, an animal lover who once took in a parrot at his vacuum store for a customer who didn't want it. "I really loved those dogs."
He fed them and gave them water and took them on car rides. Farzinzad said that he wanted them to feel loved in a home rather than staying in the town's dog pound.
Before advertising the missing dogs, he contacted LaPlume on Tuesday and she told him they were looking for two black labs. He wanted to know they were going back to a good family before he returned them. LaPlume picked the dogs up from Farzinzad's vacuum shop.
"I'm very, very happy," Farzinzad said.
Avon's Animal General checked on the dogs, both registered to Percival, reporting they looked healthy, and LaPlume released the dogs to their owners.
Percival wrote to Patch that she is grateful for what Farzinzad did.
"If that gentleman had turned them away, they very likely would have been hit on Waterville Road," she said.
Now that Bosco and Iris are found, Percival said she might have interest in a new calling. She plans on joining the Sassy search group, which is in the process of selecting a formal name, to help find other missing dogs in the future. When she asked one of the organizers why she decided to help strangers find their dogs, the woman told her that her cat ran away once and no one helped her look for it.
“Someday I expect I’ll be out looking for a stranger’s dog because it was wonderful to have people be that kind," Percival said.