CASPER, Wyo. — After an eight-day-long effort to trap and rescue Nola, a Shar Pei that broke out of a cabin on Casper Mountain and embarked on a solo adventure, the owners and trapping organizers are now seeking ways to ensure there are more resources for dog rescues in the future.
The day Nola escaped the Littrell’s cabin on Casper Mountain was the first time she had been there. She and her family came from their home in Denver to spend some time as a family, and after a full day of hiking and family fun, her owners needed to run to town for supplies. The Littrells left a few windows cracked so Nola and their other dog had some fresh air, and they made their way to town.
Unbeknownst to Kelly Littrell, Nola’s owner, a window 4–5 feet off the ground provided an avenue of escape for the stressed-out dog.
“When we went into the cabin and looked, one dog was there and she was nowhere to be found. She had moved a chair — she scooted it across the room — and behind the chair was an old antique radio and on top of the radio was my son’s laptop,” Littrell said. “So she had kind of created her own stair pathway to that window. She jumped out of it. We were shocked. We thought for sure she was injured.”
And so began the chase to rescue Nola. Littrell admitted that she and her family had no idea what to do in that situation, and it being a Saturday evening on Casper Mountain, resources were limited. Reaching out for help on Facebook was her only choice.
“I just started posting on the Facebook page more and more, and people were reaching out, people started coming out and hiking the land — hiking the area,” Littrell said.
Eventually, Littrell started asking about traps. This is how she came in contact with Shannan Morris.
“I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never trapped a dog; I’ve never even seen a trap in my life,” Littrell said. “I had called and asked to see if anyone could lend a trap and that time is when I met this really nice gal on Facebook named Shannan — she was following our post and apparently she does trapping.”
Shannan Morris has been recreationally trapping dogs for a number of years and started offering the Littrells advice on Facebook before going out and helping in person.
Morris said the first and most common mistake people make in trying to get their dogs back is trying to chase and call out for their dogs. If they escaped, they’re likely under a lot of stress, and being yelled out and chased compounds that stress further. Especially for a very skittish dog like Nola, it would take a lot more than calling out her name and hoping she’ll crawl into a box trap.
A missy trap, an open-ground trap made commonly from kennels and activated by a pressure plate or pulley, would be the best bet for Nola. Morris had to organize with Jen Baxter, a trapper from Gillette who had just made one, to bring it down to Casper.
“Within 10 to 15 minutes of the missy trap being up, she started exploring it immediately, which is huge,” Morris said.
But to actually trap Nola, Morris had to rely on what only the Littrells could know about the dog.
“Nola is the only dog I’ve ever known that would not eat steak. She didn’t care about steak, she didn’t even smell the steak. But thankfully, her family knew that she loved cheese,” Morris said, “so we modified the trap to have almost like a pressure plate versus a pull string. And with the pressure plate, they mashed cheese into it. And it worked! She went into it and she tried to get the cheese on that tray and it activated the magnet which slammed the door shut.”
After eight days of trial-and-error trap setting, camera work, idea tossing, and back-and-forth trips between Denver and Casper, the Littrells got Nola back. Without the help of the people of Casper, Littrell said she doesn’t think Nola would be home.
“The people of Casper are a lot different than most people are. Most people would not dedicate so much time and come out. I mean, there were dozens and dozens that took the time to come out and hike, or grab supplies or come up and leave food and water for her in case she came to their deck,” Littrell said. “It just gives you faith — there are good people out there. And Casper has a community I have never seen.”
And after such a harrowing experience, Littrell and Morris have taken inventory of what the Casper trapping community needs to make sure future incidents in which a dog goes missing are less stressful and more quickly solved.
Efforts to organize
Morris insisted that she isn’t an expert, but rather a person with a lot of dog trapping experience. She said that that’s part of the problem: There are no experts here. She can offer as much advice as possible, but organizing a complete system of dog trapping will take a lot of volunteers, resources and help from dog owners.
“I think just getting information out there on dos and don’ts will help a ton,” Morris said. “Every single dog is different, every single case is different, and every single dog that I’ve trapped or tried to trap is different; no two are the same.”
Cameras, box traps and food are necessary resources that made rescuing Nola possible, but Littrell said the Shar Pei wouldn’t be here without Baxter’s missy trap and that Casper needs one.
“Casper can’t rely on one person coming three hours one way to set up a trap; it needs its own missy trap and it needs its own volunteers to help trap. It can’t just be done with one volunteer, which is Shannan. There needs to be a community of people committed,” Littrell said.
With or without the missy trap, Morris said that having dedicated and trained volunteers would make it so that, if one person is unavailable to help trap, others can pick up the slack. In the middle of trying to trap Nola, Morris was also in the process of preparing for her wedding and sacrificed a lot of time to help reunite Nola with her owners. She also admitted that she isn’t an expert, but pulling in experts from out of town to educate through training sessions or webinars would also improve the focus of lessons.
“The Casper community would heavily benefit from having more trained people, like a group of us who would, when a dog like Nola comes up, the first person to see it adds it to our group and says, ‘Alright, here’s the dog, here are the details,’ and we can work out a game plan,” Morris said. “We’d have someone who’s a point of contact for the family if there is a family.”
She also cited the need to regularly check cameras, check traps and restock food as the reason why having more volunteers is critical. In Nola’s case, the Littrells were nearby and could get to the trap in time to make sure she didn’t hurt herself while trying to escape. When they had to return to Denver for a day, the trap couldn’t be activated because no one could stay close by to watch and a day was wasted. Having at least one volunteer at a time to monitor traps could have saved that day.
Littrell said that getting a company to donate or crowdfunding cameras alongside having volunteers and the missy trap would change the trapping game completely in the Casper area. She also said these resources are especially important for the Casper Mountain community, where most resources are 30 minutes or more away and the presence of wildlife puts lost pets at risk.
Finally, dedication from the owner has to go hand in hand with help from volunteers and acquired resources.
“The owner can’t just say, ‘Hey, set the missy trap up and I’m gonna hang out and watch TV.’ They have to actively be trying different things too. Nola was different than almost any other dog they trapped and they were still successful in trapping her,” Littrell said. “What does that show you? It shows you that commitment, dedication, and then the trappers, Jen and Shannan, being willing to say, ‘Hey, let’s try this,’ and working together. It’s all about working together.”
And together, with the combined efforts of volunteers, owners and donors, Casper may be entering a more hopeful era for pet owners.
Morris and Littrell do not currently have a dedicated Facebook page or nonprofit set up, but are planning to have a dedicated page for organizing in the near future. For more information on Nola’s story, see the post on the Casper Mountain Landowners Association Facebook page.