Missing BC dog found after swimming 1 kilometer across Metro Vancouver River

Michelle Chretien thought she would never see her dog again.

But 10 days after her German shepherd rescue went missing in the Maple Ridge neighborhood of Hammond, the Port Moody resident received a call from someone on a nearby island. They found her dog running along the beach.

Mercy, nine, managed to swim a kilometer across the Fraser River from around the Golden Ears Bridge to the eastern tip of Barnston Island.

Chretien adopted Mercy from a rescue agency in Manitoba about two years ago. She had adopted dogs from the same agency before and was confident in her abilities to handle dogs with behavioral problems.

But with Mercy, nothing she did helped, and she hired a dog behaviorist who, after spending four months with the dog, diagnosed Mercy with post-traumatic stress disorder. It was a light bulb moment for the retired police officer who has friends with PTSD and was familiar with many of the symptoms.

Mercy was put on several different medications, but nothing seemed to work. However, she made a little progress and became a little less shy and less afraid.

“Obviously, all I know about her past is that whoever her first owner was, they abused her badly,” Chretien said.

Even going out for walks can trigger fear in Mercy, who will simply shut down completely, Chretien noted.

If there are too many people or too many dogs, Mercy will lay down on the road or sidewalk and just stay there.

“I can’t move her. I can’t go with her,” Chretien said.

To help Mercy become more social, Chretien hired a dog walker to walk Mercy once or twice a week, which has been successful for the past two years.

So when Chretien decided she wanted to take a few weeks off, she thought she’d ask her dog walker to take care of Mercy while she was gone. But just in case, she wanted to see how Mercy was doing at her walker’s house for a day.

“I just thought if she’s okay for the day there, I can go away for two weeks, she’s doing fine,” Chretien said.

She dropped her off on July 18th.

However, on the same day, Mercy broke right through one of the doors on the second floor and came out on the second floor balcony. She ran down the stairs and ran over the fence, almost two meters high.

Chretien put up a poster online about missing pets in BC that was shared widely and had search parties out every night – to no avail. Mercy appeared once in a while, Chretien noted, but no one could get close enough to grab her.

Then all was quiet. Suddenly there were no new sightings of Mercy, which Chretien found strange.

Finally at At 1 a.m. on July 28, Chretien received a call from a BC SPCA certified dog trainer who lives on Barnston Island that she first saw Mercy running along the beach. She thought that Mercy had either been dumped or that one of the island’s residents got a new dog.

Then she saw Chretien’s poster. Chretien and Mercy were reunited around 11:30 a.m. on July 28.

Chretien is surprised that Mercy could swim that far. She would learn that a group of people set off fireworks at the Hammond Dog Park about three days before Mercy was discovered on Barnston Island. Chretien figures Mercy was startled by the fireworks and ran straight into the river.

“That’s one of her triggers – fireworks and fire chips. She just runs. She will run into things to get away from them. Like she becomes completely petrified,” Chretien said.

“So she probably just took off running and ran into the river and I’m assuming she just kept going,” Chretien said.

When they were reunited, Mercy whimpered a bit, her tail wagging. It was good enough for Chretien as Mercy doesn’t usually show a lot of emotion as she mostly operates on fear.

Chretien said Mercy was exhausted when she got home.

But not tired enough to enjoy a piece of feta cheese – one of her favorite treats.

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