On the same day Steve Dobbie was rewarded $1,000 for catching a prairie dog shooter, he also captured the elusive runaway dog Pepper who had been on the loose in Santa Fe for eight months.
The cash reward was paid by the People for Native Ecosystems, who offered it to anyone with information leading to the apprehension of the shooter. According to the PNE, 14 prairie dogs had been shot since mid-July at the corner where Dobbie witnessed Bruce Wienke targeting a prairie dog on Sunday.
Wienke, 71, was cited for cruelty to animals, a petty misdemeanor, by Santa Fe police.
Early Friday morning, Dobbie and his wife, Yvette, along with another friend sat in a Santa Fe backyard in quiet celebration of another job well-done: Pepper, 3-year-old shar-pei and shepherd mix, had been rescued.
To catch the dog, Dobbie bolstered and heightened the fences of a property in the Pueblo Alegre subdivision just south of Agua Fría Street. Dobbie knew that he had just one chance to get Pepper at this location, as Pepper had managed several escapes before.
“The more I got into trying to get Pepper,” Dobbie said, “the more elusive he became.”
Pepper had broken down part of a wooden fence to escape a Dobbie trap in the past.
The Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society originally found Pepper abandoned off N.M. 14 in 2011. After a few weeks of care, Pepper was ready to adopt. An elderly woman chose the brown-eyed pooch in December, but did not know what she was getting into. Pepper absconded four days later.
Santa Fe animal shelter spokesman Ben Swan called Dobbie in January to ask for help in finding the dog. Dobbie had just been successful in finding a lost dog named Zorro of Colorado who had bolted from his family during a visit to the Plaza. It took Dobbie one week to find Zorro, and Dobbie says it happened after he followed a dream in which Dobbie had turned into Zorro and was wandering the Santa Fe River arroyo.
“It dawned on me later that day that I was thinking like a dog,” Dobbie said Friday.
Dobbie, a retired architect and reserve sheriff from California, accepted the challenge of finding Pepper. Dobbie also has experience as a tracker of grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park several years ago. That experience, he found, didn’t prepare him for Pepper in the streets of Santa Fe.
“This dog is amazing,” Dobbie said. “You grow to love him as you’re looking for him.”
Dobbie had assembled a team of some 30 volunteers dedicated to locating this dog. A man from Albuquerque donated walkie-talkies to the team. The Los Angeles Times ran a story about the search party in June.
Some mornings, the team would spread out around Santa Fe, establishing a grid of Pepper’s favorite spots.
“Pepper has united so many people in an effort to try to get him home safe,” Swan said Friday.
Dobbie estimates that Pepper roamed an area from Frenchy’s Field to the corner of St. Michael’s Drive and St. Francis Drive. Pepper would eat trash behind Weck’s and find food put out for him at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Dobbie, who would spend seven days a week sometimes tracking Pepper, says the dog crossed Cerrillos Road about four times a day and St. Michael’s Drive and St. Francis Drive an estimated 12 times a day.
But whenever Dobbie got too close, Pepper would bolt.
“He knew my face, he knew my car,” Dobbie said. “I had to hide my face and mustache sometimes from him.”
Pepper did not want to be caught. Yvette Dobbie calls Pepper a “free spirit” but knew that the dog could not be allowed to roam Santa Fe for fear of being hit by a car or causing an accident.
“Every day I would say, I hope he’s OK,” Yvette Dobbie said. “There’s something about this dog that is magic.”
Steve Dobbie and the animal shelter posted signs about Pepper around town and used traps that only caught foxes and coyotes. Dobbie even had a net gun and a tranquilizer dart gun but never got close enough to safely use either of them.
But at 1 a.m. Friday, Pepper wandered into the yard of a house that he had frequented in recent months and Dobbie closed the gate behind him. Pepper made one attempt to push the gate open before retiring himself to a back corner of the yard.
“I think he was a little mad at us,” Steve Dobbie said.
Santa Fe Animal Control arrived at 7 a.m. and transported Pepper to the animal shelter. He was still wearing the blue harness that his previous owner had put on him, and he had hardly lost any weight.
Animal Control will maintain custody of Pepper for about a week before the shelter will put him up for adoption. However, Swan said that the ideal home for Pepper will be a sanctuary or farm where he is free to roam but safe from traffic and people.
The Dobbies did give thought to adopting the object of their obsession over the past seven months, but agreed that Pepper needs space to be free.
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nicoroesler.