By Pat Foster-Turley
January 6, 2022
Here on Amelia Island we have a few types of wild canids (i.e. dog relatives). We have coyotes. We have foxes. And occasionally we have feral dogs, like Molly. Coyotes are quite common here, and many people have reported seeing them, but only rarely during the day. Coyotes seem to inhabit much of Amelia Island, but they mostly stay hidden in the few remaining patches of natural habitat left to them here. Pet owners need to stay vigilant and keep their cats inside and their dogs supervised on leashes. Pets have been lost here, but what’s a coyote to do when other natural food sources become scarce? Thank heavens for the high reproductive rate of our marsh rabbits, which usually suffice as prey. Red foxes which are much smaller than coyotes also share our island with us, but are not often seen either.
Another “wild dog” here right now is Molly, a mixed breed dog similar to a smallish St. Bernard, but more skittish than even the shyest coyote or fox. Molly has been on the run now for weeks and it’s a long story. Molly was one of a group of similar dogs adopted from a shelter in Callahan to various owners in Nassau County. Molly came to Fernandina Beach, but sadly escaped from this adopter and showed up at Rayonier, where the staff fed her but she was so wary, aloof and skittish that no one could get close to her. It took nearly eight weeks before she could be captured. After a brief pass through the humane Society six months ago she was adopted by another island family to join the two dogs already in the household. But five weeks ago she escaped from their backyard and has been on the run ever since. And now one of her owners, Paul Lore, is on the Foar From Home team rowing across the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness for veterans’ suicide and he can’t be here to help look for her.
But there is no lack of other people trying, that’s for sure. And lucky for this effort, we have a wild dog expert living among us: Mac McIntyre. As a former zookeeper and Fernandina Beach high school teacher with a continuing dedication to fieldwork, Mac has spent years dedicated to the study of New Guinea highland dogs. Mac has developed, found funding for and led teams twice to a field site in high altitude Western New Guinea, Indonesia where these mysterious dogs were photographed with trail cameras, two were captured and radio-colored and tufts of hair were taken for DNA analysis. And Mac is now using his equipment and skills to help catch Molly.
Despite intensive searching, signs posted, familiar clothes and food placed outside and other dedicated efforts, there was no trace of Molly for two weeks, until she was sighted in Pirate’s Bay development, not far from her origin. Mac and his team set up food stations and trail cameras and unset capture traps
at three locations and recorded six days of her visits while getting her acclimated to the traps. Finally, the videos indicated that she was ready to fully enter the trap and they set it to close her in. But they caught a different neighborhood dog! And Molly has not been seen in the three weeks since.
Where is she? What is she eating? Has she been able to hold her own against packs of coyotes? There are so many unanswered questions and everyone can help. A community of people are still working to find Molly and no one has given up. Keep your eyes open and is you see Molly please call or text Lynda
Dahl at 904-753-3380. But don’t try to catch Molly. Mac will go to work with trail cameras and traps any place where she has been seen, hopefully catching her this time. As Mac says, “Molly is a survivor. She is shy and skittish. She will not respond to being approached or called–will only flee. Please do not attempt to chase her.”
Who knew that Mac’s professional experience catching wild dogs on a mountaintop in Indonesia would come into play here? It takes a village.
Pat Foster-Turley, PhD is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and