The holiday season can be stressful for many reasons, but for Sammi Molloy and her husband, Nathan Bhateley, Christmas 2022 took the stress to ludicrous levels as they missed every party and family get-together in a frantic search for their best friend, Lady, a not quite full-grown Potcake pup.
Molloy said the couple, originally Kingstonians, had just made the treacherous drive from Ottawa, where they now reside, to Kingston for a holiday visit with friends and family on Christmas Day. Upon their arrival at a relative’s home, Lady got spooked.
“The second we walked through the door… she got out of her harness and ran,” said Molloy.
Potcake dogs are speedy and sneaky by nature, due to their origin as Caribbean street dogs, and the elusive Lady led the couple, family members, and friends on a wild chase around the LaSalle Park neighbourhood. Molloy said, “She went from Bicknell (Crescent) to McEwen (Drive) and then was seen on Days Road and Front Road. And then [someone reported having seen her] around 4 p.m. running in the field behind Metro. So, that field goes all the way to DuPont and to the [Collins Bay] prison. That’s a very, very, very large field.”
Making matters worse, the snowscape from the previous day’s blizzard presented some very rough terrain and, as darkness fell, visibility became nil. “It was cold and windy and snowing, and we didn’t make it to visit any family members,” Molloy said. “Didn’t make it for Christmas dinner. Nothing. We just stayed up all night looking for her.”
As dawn broke on December 26, the couple had a hunch Lady was still somewhere hiding in that massive field behind Collins Bay Institution. Social media posts about the missing pup had drawn in many other helpers, said Molloy. “There were so many people out looking for her. I’m so thankful to everyone… Our family members drove from Ottawa to come and help look for her. Everyone in Kingston was looking for her… Even the correctional officers were looking for her. They did patrols all through; they were looking in all their barns constantly… It was so nice.”
Despite the number of people searching, there were no sightings of Lady on Boxing Day, Molloy said. “So, the prison guards let us know that they did a huge sweep with their dogs and everything, and they didn’t find anything in the barns… We thought she was in the field, [but] we couldn’t see her because the fields are so massive. We had everyone stationed at every side of the field because that’s where we thought she was hiding out.”
Friends stayed out overnight to watch for Lady, while the couple tried to sleep. Suddenly, at 5:30 a.m.on December 27, someone reported seeing the dog running north across Bath Road from Collins Bay Institution to the Pioneer gas station. A woman at the Pioneer reported that Lady had, in fact, crossed the road, heading toward Ward’s Marine.
Molloy started driving slowly in that direction along Bath Road; then, she said, she actually spotted Lady in the Ward’s Marine parking lot. Unfortunately, “As soon as I slowed down, she ran off, because she’s terrified of cars.”
Many more sightings were reported that day, and the searchers were joined by Kimberlee Vastino of Thousand Islands Pet Search. Vastino did some tracking and found a good spot to set up a camera and food station for the dog in a small wooded area, explained Molloy. “Lady did a loop, and she actually made it back to the food station. So we got pictures of her on the camera, eating the food we had put out…” However, Molloy said, by this point there were so many people searching for her and calling her name that Lady was running scared and couldn’t be approached.
They saw that Lady kept returning back to that area, Molloy said, “so we knew… this is where [she felt] comfortable.”
Vastino placed a large live trap near the site with bait, but Lady was not going in there, said Molloy. “She wouldn’t go in the trap at all. [She] was just hanging out there, sniffing it. This went on for hours.”
The surrounding businesses were very helpful in directing traffic away from the area where the searchers needed quiet.
The trap seemed futile after some hours, so Vastino directed Molloy to sit in a snowbank a few metres from the food station, with her back turned, so she wouldn’t make eye contact with Lady. The hope was that Lady would smell Molloy nearby and recognize her.
“I had her leash trailed behind me and some food in my hand, and I just sat in the snowbank for, like, 20 minutes, and then slowly I started calling her name,” Molloy’s recounted, her voice, full of emotion, beginning to tremble. “And then I was just bawling my eyes out. Just bawling. And I was like, ‘Lady please come home.’”
A wet nose touched Molloy’s neck just then, “and she started licking me. And then from there she was just kissing me and hugging me. And everything was fine. I had no problem getting on her leash to bring her back home.”
Lady is less than a year old, and the couple adopted her from Turks and Caicos in April, where she was found living on a beach, explained Molloy.
“She’s honestly the sweetest little girl… I’m so proud of her for making it out. And she’s okay. When I finally picked her up, I could tell that she had been sleeping in the barns in the prison because she smelled like manure.”
The couple feels extremely honoured and thankful that so many kind people took time out of their own holiday season to help them find their pup. Molloy said, “It’s absolutely amazing. From everybody that was out looking for her, to all of these volunteers that came and just sat there for hours, all of our family and friends, even the people at the penitentiary — they went above and beyond.”