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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 1, 2009
Gracie and Clyde
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Leslie Evans loves her dog.
She is an artist who has a production studio near Boston named after her first dog, a Labrador mix named Morgan the Sea Dog whom she describes as her muse.
“One of the reasons I got a Lab is they are so graphic looking,” said Evans. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, she has been an illustrator for more than a quarter of a century. She prints posters and cards on an old-fashioned letterpress.
Evans read a book by Edward Gorey, The Sopping Thursday, that had Labrador retrievers with umbrellas and she was sold on the breed. She has designed an alphabet made of black Labs and features the dogs in many of her prints.
After Morgan died in 2007 at the age of 16, Evans adopted another Lab mix, who came to New York City from Puerto Rico. “He looked a lot like my old dog,” she said. Evans describes him as a Cholabsky a chocolate Lab husky.
She named him Clyde Scrounger Evans; he was 5 when she got him in August 2007.
“He doesn’t swim; he doesn’t fetch,” she said matter-of-factly, referring to typical skills of Labrador retrievers. “But,” she went on brightly, “he has a very sweet disposition.”
The two are inseparable. So, when Evans decided to drive to Michigan in September to visit her father and do some book-signings in her home state, Clyde went with her. On Sept. 3, as she drove west on Interstate 90, Clyde was asleep in the back seat.
Suddenly, Evans recalls, a car moved into her lane, the passing lane; apparently, the driver who has since been arrested did not see her. Evans swerved to the left and then, trying to recover, swerved back to the right and lost control. Her car rolled over twice and landed right side up in a roadside ditch.
“I could feel it happening,” she said. “As I landed back on the tires, I looked to the left and there he was going.”
Clyde had bolted from the smashed car.
“I saw him running along a fence,” Evans recalled. It was the fence surrounding the Rapp Road landfill. Evans, who had suffered only some bruises from her seat belt, had just one thought: “I wanted to look for Clyde,” she said.
The State Police who had arrived on the scene let her look along the fence line where there was a break. Clyde did not answer her calls.
“They said I had to go to the garage,” she said; her car was totaled. And police insisted that a medic check her. “I signed off on the medical stuff,” said Evans.
The quest for Clyde
The search was on.
Evans’s sister from New Haven joined her to help her look for Clyde. They camped out near where Clyde had disappeared.
Evans printed “Missing Dog” flyers with pictures of Clyde and posted them throughout the area. She also visited veterinarians and dog shelters and police stations.
Dog lovers got involved and started forming search parties. One of them is Andris Simsons. He and his wife, Carole, do “rescue transports” on weekends, frequently traveling to the South or Midwest.
“We get dogs out of high-kill municipal shelters,” he said. “When you cross the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s almost as if you’re on another planet. They don’t spay or neuter them, they don’t treat them for heartworm. If a dog is surrendered or found running loose, they are taken to a shelter where they’re killed after a week.”
Such dogs are transported to the Northeast through a network of volunteers that Simsons likened to the Underground Railroad, with each volunteer making a piece of the journey. Most of the rescue groups don’t have facilities to house the dogs, he said, so they are fostered out until homes are found.
Simsons has posted at his Civil Service workplace pictures of a dozen dogs he and his wife have rescued. “This is what I do from 8 to 4,” he said of his Civil Service job, “so I can do this on weekends.”
So when Simsons got an e-mail about Clyde he used a list of about two dozen contacts he calls ARF Animal Rescue Friends. “I sent the e-mail out about Clyde,” he recalled, “A bunch of people said they wanted to search for him.” On Sept. 12, a group met at the Pine Bush Discovery Center to search for Clyde.
“All kinds of people were involved people who don’t know each other but all love dogs,” said Jeanne Plauth. “We’d e-mail updates. It was heartwarming.”
She describes posting one of the “Dog Missing” flyers at the Stewart’s at the intersection of routes 20 and 146 in Guilderland. “All these people kids eating ice cream and their families came up and asked, ‘Has Clyde been found?’ Hundreds of people were worried about this dog.”
Meanwhile, Evans was growing frustrated. “I plastered posters everywhere,” she said. “I got sort of a red herring...A woman in Niskayuna thought she saw the dog. I shifted my focus.”
Then, a kid thought he saw Clyde in Schenectady’s Central Park. “A guy at a hardware store said he saw a black Lab with a limp,” said Evans. “I was getting discouraged.”
At this point, Evans posted an entry in an online journal about dogs, The Daily Tail, writing, “The only upside to this disaster is the astonishing generosity of the local people, friends and the Internet community in finding the boy. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
On Sept. 12, Clyde was spotted in the backyard of the McClearnens’ house on Old State Road. The family owns a female Lab mix named Gracie.
“In his desperation,” said Simsons, “Clyde found a girlfriend.”
The idea may not be so far-fetched. Anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas in her groundbreaking 1993 book, The Hidden Life of Dogs, rejects the notion that only humans have emotions and thoughts, offering evidence that dogs possess consciousness. She followed a 2-year-old Siberian husky, Misha, as he roamed through Cambridge, Mass., charting his behavior and that of his mate, Maria.
Thomas believes that Misha and Maria felt a devotion beyond functional mating that she termed “romantic love.” Dogs, she writes, “want each other,” and “human beings are merely a cynomorphic substitute.”
“On Saturday morning,” said Nancy McClearnen, “my son knew there was a strange dog on our deck. We thought it was the neighbor’s dog.” The strange dog took off, though, at the first sign of a person.
Talking to the neighbor later, the McClearnens learned it wasn’t their black Lab puppy but the dog on the flyers posted in their neighborhood Clyde.
“It’s lucky I put posters on that road,” said Evans.
Clyde also left a calling card his blue and white bandana.
The McClearnens called Evans’s phone number on the poster. They would see the dog at night, they said, but anytime someone got close to Clyde, he would run away.
Clyde was attracted to their 5-year-old Labrador-border collie mix, Gracie. “They kind of hung out together,” said McClearnen. “It was her first suitor.”
“He ended up hanging out with this dog named Gracie who looked a lot like him,” said Evans.
Evans slept on a cot in the McClearnens’ garage on Sunday night. But Clyde wouldn’t come to her. “I was trying to leave my scent, and put my scent on Gracie,” she said.
Evans turned to Rich Savage, Guilderland’s director of animal services. He was aided by animal control officer Bob Meyers.
Savage keeps a large Have A Heart trap, which he has used to capture run-away and spooked dogs so they could be returned to their owners. Savage said the technique has never failed him. Thirteen-year-old Allen McClearnen helped with the trap, his mother said, and enjoyed the excitement.
“I was getting worried Clyde would move on,” said Evans. “Bob kept saying, ‘He’ll go in the trap.’”
“If it wasn’t for Gracie, we may not have gotten him,” said Meyers.
On Monday, Sept. 14, the trap was set out at night in the McClearnens’ yard. “I didn’t want to set it in the woods who knows what you’d get,” Savage said. “We know the dog would go there with the romance plus the food…
“We knew we probably wouldn’t get anything the first day; it’s foreign,” Savage said of the trap. “The second night, we caught him; it was that simple.”
“Early the next morning, we had Clyde,” said Nancy McClearnen. “He was whimpering. Gracie hung around. We called Leslie first thing.”
Evans, who had returned to her home in Watertown, Mass. Made one last trek to the Capital Region on Sept. 16.
Meanwhile, Savage took Clyde to the Guilderland Animal Hospital, which, he said, has a fund for such emergency services. Clyde had a dozen ticks and a few scratches but was otherwise fine, Savage said.
And what about Gracie? “Gracie seems a little bit depressed,” said Nancy McClearnen this week. “She was missing Clyde.”
Everyone who saw Clyde reunited with Evans says they will never forget it.
“We all met at the shelter in Rich’s office. I still haven’t wiped the smile off my face,” Simsons said this week. “I don’t think anything will touch it.”
“Clyde was hiding under Rich’s desk,” said Simsons. “That was the lair of the moment. As soon as he heard Leslie’s voice, he came to her.”
“It was one of the greatest reunions ever,” agreed Savage. “She fell to her knees on the floor. He fell right on top of her. There were hugs and kisses. It was a love fest,” he said.
The volunteers who were there to witness the reunion were hugging, too, he said, and were “teary-eyed.”
Evans recalls, “He does this little dance every time I come home.” Clyde did the dance at the shelter when he saw her.
“Then he went back under Rich’s desk and lay down; he was just exhausted,” said Evans.
Savage was a little worried that Clyde might not want to get in Evans’s rental car for the trip back to Massachusetts his first car ride since the Sept. 3 accident. “He jumped right in and looked happy,” Savage said.
“He slept all the way home,” said Evans.
Back home in Massachusetts this week, Evans said that, at first, she hesitated to let Clyde off his leash for their walks along the Charles River. “I was a little hurt that he wouldn’t come when I kept calling him,” she said of her difficult two weeks of searching.
“I thought, ‘I’m not letting him off the leash any time soon,’” said Evans. But then she relented. “He’s in his comfort zone and basically back to his old routine,” she said.
“The accident was terrible,” Evans concluded. “I’m thrilled we both survived it. And the help we got was heart-warming.”