THE WASHINGTON POST – After Molly McFadden landed at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in early October, she experienced every traveling pet owner’s worst nightmare: Her cat Milo’s carrier, she found, had broken during her Lufthansa flight from Germany to Washington, and the three-year-old tabby was nowhere to be found.
“Milo went missing while being transported from the tarmac to international arrivals baggage claim,” McFadden wrote in a Facebook post on October 7.
“Despite best efforts, including extensive searching in the area, flyers, tracking dogs and humane traps, Milo has yet to be located, and he has now been missing for five days.”
For weeks thereafter, McFadden documented airport rescue attempts via a Facebook page she created called “Milo Is Missing”. She enlisted the help of Dulles crew, professional trackers and community members who kept their eyes peeled.
Milo, though, proved evasive, dodging capture and trapping locations for months.
USDA Wildlife Services were called in hours after Milo’s escape and conducted daily searches of the airfield, but there were no sightings in October, according to Ryan Stewart, a wildlife biologist at Dulles. Then, in early November, hope arrived.
“I got a call from the USDA that four of their workers saw Milo on Dulles property, about 800m from the runway in a little patch of woods,” McFadden posted on November 8. A thermal imaging device picked up Milo wandering the airfield grounds, but after McFadden and the search team came within 30 feet of him, he slipped off into the woods, Stewart said.
Rescuers then focussed on a 1,000-acre area near where Milo first disappeared, Stewart said, and after a few one-off sightings, the search paid off: Milo was cornered in a culvert underneath an intersection, and a sardine-baited humane trap facilitated his capture.
“I have been waiting so long to make this post and couldn’t be more excited about it – guess who’s home for the holidays!!!” McFadden was finally able to write in a Facebook post on Friday. “And thanks to everyone who followed for their support and well wishes. The little guy is so lucky to be loved by so many people.”
McFadden said the whole experience was “horrible,” but she’s elated to have found Milo. She acknowledged early on that the odds were low for recovering a lost pet given the circumstances. She credits the support she received from professional animal trackers who worked with the airport team.
Having moved back home from being stationed overseas, it was difficult for her to know where to start. “I didn’t have the resources and the community to deal with it in the ways I would have liked had he gone missing in my own neighbourhood,” she said in an email.
Though McFadden feels relieved now, she recounts feeling anger, hopelessness and frustration at points during the process, and admitted to not feeling optimistic in the moments before she learned he had been found.
“It was the best and most unexpected surprise,” she said. “My main takeaway from the experience is that persistence is key, and that it’s important to start building a support network right away when you lose a pet, especially when the animal in question is lost at an airport or other facility with restricted access.