Satellite tracking, helicopter surveillance and dart guns failed. In the end, it was a ham dinner and a remote-controlled net that brought a golden retriever named Sam in from the cold after two years on the run.
Until this week, “he was winning 200 to 1,” said Steve Sprowl, one of the experts who took part in the hunt for the dog who earned the nickname “Golden Ghost.”
Raiding garbage cans and winning handouts from sympathetic neighbors, the dog survived two New England winters, deer hunting season and a blow from a car.
Peg and Dennis Sklarski got Sam in 2004, after he was rescued from a life inside a chain-link fence in Tennessee, where he was sporadically fed and otherwise ignored. They had him only three weeks when Sam got loose.
Over the months and years, neighbors repeatedly spotted Sam and called the Sklarskis, and Dennis said he spent many nights cruising the roads.
In January, experts arrived from Boston with infrared cameras and a remote-controlled net but had no luck. A friend provided his helicopter for searching. Sprowl, an investigator with the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, failed repeatedly to get the dog with a tranquilizer gun.
Finally, donations let the SPCA buy its own remote-controlled net, and a family that had been feeding Sam had the contraption set up on its wooded lot. Other neighbors agreed to stop leaving him food.
Waiting for Sam
After five weeks, police Officer Tona McCarthy, who had devoted hours of his own time to tracking the dog, spotted Sam in the area Wednesday and hid at the lot, watching for him on a video monitor. Soon, Sam appeared.
On the video, Sam’s caution was obvious. He sniffed the air and the ground and looked from side to side. He crept toward the food dish.
Normally, Sam grabs his food bowl with his teeth and drags it away to eat. This time, though, he gobbled a few mouthfuls of ham first, giving McCarthy just enough time to release the net. The far end just caught the dog as he fled with the bowl.
Sam is now at the SPCA animal shelter, being treated for a lip cut suffered while trying to escape. He will remain under observation for 10 days for any problems such as rabies. Then he can go home to the Sklarskis.
They are counting on the dog’s obvious intelligence to help him recognize that it’s not a bad deal to be a beloved pet.
“The first time that I saw Sam after he was rescued, I went to his cage and I got down on all fours and said, ‘Oh, Sammy boy’ and he looked up at me, and he wagged his tail and he reached his paw out to me,” Peg Sklarski said.