Harriett Lemer has never met a person who wasn't drawn to the kind, gentle nature of her dog Taj, which she describes as smart, cuddly and a source of great comfort.
"He has my heart," Lemer said, choking up.
Taj is a seven-year-old silken windhound. It's a rare breed of medium-sized dog with long, flowing fur originally descended from Russian wolf hounds. They're playful, affectionate and, in Taj's case, a bit shy.
Silken windhounds are bred to run, fast, which is part of the reason why, more than three months after Taj first went missing, he continues to elude capture by a team of about 20 volunteers and a pet detective searching for him in South Vancouver and Richmond, B.C.
Dogs go missing all the time. In Vancouver alone, Animal Services took in 533 stray and lost dogs last year, 521 of which were reunited with their owners. That same year, animal services found 16 dead dogs.
What makes Taj's situation unique isn't just his rare breed. It's the goodwill and support he has drummed up from so many people determined to find him.
A group of "Team Taj" volunteers have put up flyers, called veterinary offices and even brought Lemer and her husband food. Some are friends, some are aficionados of the breed. Others have never even met Taj.
"[His loss] is such a gruesome experience on the heart, and yet it's such an uplifting experience that these people have not given up," Lemer said. "It is a phenomenon of kind-hearted, supportive behaviour."
Missing since July
Taj first went missing on July 2 on the path along the Fraser River near Southeast Marine Drive and Boundary Road in Vancouver.
He was at the off-leash park there with a dog walker when he was spooked by a falling tree. He bolted, and has been roaming around ever since.
Strangers have spotted Taj as far north as Everett Crowley Park in Vancouver and as far south as Terra Nova Park in Richmond.
At one point, an off-duty police officer followed Taj from the Knight Street Bridge onto Mitchell Island. One woman called Lemer to say he was across the street from her.
Lemer thinks he may have been spotted at John Oliver High School on East 41st Street in Vancouver about a week ago, but the sighting wasn't confirmed and it could have been another white dog that has been missing in the area.
The sightings have stoked hope for Lemer and her husband.
"We keep our back gate open every single night with the light on," she said.
'He could still be out there'
About six weeks ago, Lemer hired pet searcher Al McLellan to add a professional resource to the mix.
McLellan says he has found dogs months after they have gone missing. He thinks some people give up too soon on finding them.
"I tell people never to give up," McLellan said. "He could still be out there."
Stray dogs can survive a long time by eating grass, garbage and other dogs' feces, McLellan says. Their main obstacles for survival are predators like coyotes. Sometimes, they get stolen.
McLellan says all it takes is one good sighting for him to set up traps and cameras in the right place to catch a lost dog.
Because Taj is shy, and at this stage probably a bit feral, anyone who sees him shouldn't try to approach him. Instead, they should take a picture and call 604-818-5740.
Lemer's greatest hope is that Taj returns home, of course. She suffers from various chronic illnesses, and Taj has been a great source of comfort and joy for her over the years — especially during the pandemic.
She hopes more people will call to say they've spotted Taj once more.
"This is the strangest time in the world I've ever lived through," Lemer said. "It's the kindness of strangers that keeps us going."