Dog ‘bounty hunter’ spends free time tracking lost dogs for pet owners

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YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Ryan Bulson spends his nights and weekends helping pet owners find their lost dogs, and he does it for no other reason than kindness.

He can catch a dog in as little as a few days, but for one couple who lost their pet in York County, Penn., it felt like years before they had their dog back. When Beth and Orlando Ibanez moved into a new West Manheim Township home, their beloved 5-year-old pug Mia went missing.

"Everything was stopped,” Beth Ibanez said. “We have boxes in our basement still that aren't even undone because our whole life was on hold.”

Mia escaped just a few days after the move. The backyard fence was a little too high off of the ground.

“We were definitely lost," Orlando Ibanez said. "I mean, we didn't know where else to go. Beth was upset every night. She couldn't sleep."

"I cried every night,” Beth Ibanez said. “The kids cried. We were just devastated. I mean, we've had her since she was, like, 6 months old. She is our world."

Days turned into weeks. The family eventually turned to the Facebook group, "Find Toby,” a lost dog networking page with 60,000 followers.

That's where Ryan Bulson came in.

For the last eight years, Bulson has been catching lost dogs. He works with Find Toby, but it's all of his own accord and his own time. He said he usually devotes his evenings and weekends to tracking down missing pups.

“The feeling you get when you return that dog to that owner. Or you call that owner and say, 'I have your dog,’” Bulson said. “It’s a feeling you'll never forget."

He's felt it more than 30 times. In April, WPMT reported on Simba, a German shepherd who escaped from a Hanover Petco while being groomed.

"He told me the groomer had gone to the bathroom and Simba was in a kennel at the time,” Simba’s owner, Melissa Gray, said. “And somehow he jostled his way out of this kennel.”

Fast forward about a week, Simba was back home, and so is Mia. Both thanks to Bulson.

“It's one of those scenarios that people don't know what to do,” Bulson said. “They don't know what to do if their dog goes missing. First thing they do is panic. And ya know, if nobody is out there giving them guidance on what to do, nothing gets done.”

Bulson makes a game plan and sticks to it: "You've got to do a lot of legwork. You’ve got to know that dog's pattern, you've got to know more history on the dog, to know what style of capture you can make."

Simba, the dog who got loose from Petco, was caught in a standard-size crate.

“You put a food trail from the inside, leading outside ... keeping that dog's nose on the ground.”

But Mia doesn't like crates.

"Standard trap is not going to work,” Bulson said. “She won't go in. So we had to go to the dog-pen trap."

It's a 4-feet-wide, 8-feet long, and 6-feet-tall pen equipped with a mechanism Bulson designed to remotely shut the door. Before he gets to that point, he builds a profile of the dog, starting with sightings. From there, he creates a food schedule — figuring out patterns and setting up cameras to start tracking.

"There are times where I sit here and I'll stare at Google Earth,” Bulson said. “And I plot all of the sightings on Google Earth. You've gotta put yourself in the mindset of a dog. ‘What am I looking for? I'm looking for food, I'm looking for shelter, I'm looking for water.' I could tell you where that dog was going to be and when she was going to be there.”

And sure enough, Mia was captured just 10 days after Bulson got involved.

“I saw Ryan's name on the cellphone,” Orlando Ibanez remembered. “And I was like, 'This is it.' He said, 'Come get her,’ and I was like, ‘Beth, get the kids, let's go!’ I mean, we were out the door. The knowledge he knows and what to do to rescue dogs — it's just amazing.”

Mia had been hanging around a field just a few minutes away from the Ibanez home the entire time.

"If it was one of my dogs that was missing, I'd be the same way,” Bulson said. "It's a family member. No matter how you look at it: A pet is a family member."

When people try to pay Bulson, he asks that they make a donation in his name to charity.

If you ever end up finding yourself in the same position, Bulson said it's important to note dogs usually stay between 2 to 3 miles of their home.

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