Some might describe Monica Good as a sort of human bloodhound and others might describe her as a dog-whisper due to her expertise and persistence in finding runaway pets.
Over the past 14 years, the 54-year-old Port Republic resident has found and returned to grieving pet owners more than 60 runaway dogs lost in six states and the District of Columbia.
“She is all about the pets,” said Jim Scamordella, president of Paws for Seniors in Bealeton, who worked with her to find a skittish Shih Tzu mix named Dewey who was missing for about two weeks.
“She will do anything to find a pet,” he said. “She is not for hire; she does it because she loves the animals.”
Good receives “six to 10” phone calls or internet inquiries a week, she said, but her selection criteria for helping requires sightings of the missing dog and the owner’s involvement.
“They ask me to help them,” she said, often dropping everything to travel to someone’s aid.
The American Humane Association estimates more than 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen annually and that 1 in 3 pets will become lost at some point during their lives.
They note most dogs are recovered within two miles of their homes but 7% never return home.
“Many dog owners treat their pets like family and when they become lost, they become emotional wrecks,” she said.
She has tracked down lost dogs in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia and throughout Virginia – especially along Interstate 81.
Good began working at her family-owned 340 Quick Stop convenience store on 14014 South East Side Highway after retiring several years ago after spending 21 years in the U.S. Army as a motor transporter.
She credits store staff for giving her the time to do her nonprofit volunteer searches.
“I have great employees,” she said, having gotten her rescuer motivation in her mid-30s, one week after being baptized. She was leaving church and saw a dog running along the highway.
“Normally, I would have said, ‘How sad,’ and kept driving but I stopped and picked her up, took her to the vet to be checked out and spayed, later finding her a home.”
“I took it as a sign that this was what God wanted me to do,” she said. “I catch for God.”
Her emphasis is on trapping family dogs that have gone missing – maybe through a break in a fence, a gate left open or escaped from a car wreck, frightened and in unknown territory.
“Our dog Winnie, a 5-year-old hound mix, escaped from a boarding situation in Leesburg,” said Jill St. Cyr, of Fairfax, and after four months of searching was still missing.
“We were desperate,” said St. Cyr.
Good saw a posting by St. Cyr on Facebook and said she would help find Winnie.
Good set up a Missy trap with an Arlo Go camera, which Good revised after seeing the dog enter and the trap didn’t close.
“After Monica revised the trap’s springboard, we had her home in 10 days,” said St. Cyr. “Monica was a godsend. The word needs to get out about the things she has done for the community.”
Missy traps are wire mesh cages Good can erect in 30 minutes using horse fence panels that can be triggered by various methods, like hanging bait, pressure plate or electromagnet release. They were created in 2013 specifically to capture runaway dogs.
“I use chicken wire so dogs can’t poke their noses through open spaces and get stuck or injured,” she said.
The Arlo Go camera, similar to ones touted for homeowners to view their front porch via cell phone or the Internet, are activated by the movement of the dog.
“I can look at a live video anytime night or day so I don’t have to go and visit the trap,” she said.
She has more than 2,000 friends on Facebook with 80% of them helping with rescue dogs – finding homes or looking for lost animals in their area.
“As soon as we spot a dog in the trap, we need someone there to get the dog, preferably the owner,” she said.
However, if the owner cannot arrive the same day, Good will put the dog in a crate and care for it until the owner arrives.
When dogs run away, “Some just give up,” said Good. “It depends in the long run what their demeanor was or is. If they are out on their own for awhile, some go into survival mode, almost turning feral.”
Good works with a friend to get leashes on the dog before removing it from the cage.
“Sometimes we have to throw a sheet on them and carry them to the crate,” she said.
There are certified animal trappers in Virginia who will capture dogs and nuisance animals for fees, which Good claims are “astronomical.”
“I trap only for families who have lost their pet, not to put the animal in a kill center,” she said. A kill center euthanizes a pet not claimed or adopted within a specified time.
Good has learned tricks, like bacon grease, stinky cat food and barbecue sauce used to create a scent trail as an olfactory lure to the cage or painting the cage entrance black because some dogs shy away from silver wire mesh.
An 86-year-old woman’s standard poodle had been missing four or five weeks when Vicky Cubbage, of Charlottesville, who also seeks lost dogs, contacted Good.
“Monica taught me a lot I didn’t know,” said Cubbage, and they caught the dog. “The owner was overjoyed. It is such a wonderful time when you can reunite a person with their dog, especially an older person.”
Dawn Meir, of Winchester, who also traps, had been searching for a wheaten terrier named Darcy who had evaded capture for more than two months.
“If Monica hadn’t shown up and helped me, I believe that dog would still be on the run,” said Meir.“The next time I need help, I’m not going to waste time. I am going to call Monica.”
“When a personal pet is lost, she just has a knack for finding them when no one else can,” said Scamordella, of Paws for Seniors. “She is an angel from God.”
“My mom thinks I am crazy,” Good laughed. “I just want to share my passion to make this world a better place. There is no better feeling than helping someone.”