Two seemingly well-intentioned tourists are believed to have left Tofino with a local dog and its owner is desperately pleading for it to be returned.
Shannon Boothman told the Westerly News she was setting up a tent near Tonquin Beach around 7 p.m. on Nov. 2 when her dog, Itska, ran off towards the beach.
“I should have been more proactive, but I thought he’d just ran down to the beach and I was going to finish setting up my tent and go grab him,” she said. “I just did not think in all of my life that he would get stolen.”
She said a police officer with the Tofino RCMP approached her shortly afterwards and informed her that he had found Itska with two tourists and would bring the dog to her.
She said she then left the area to search for Itska and did not see the police officer again that night. She said she was informed by the RCMP the next day that the dog had been left with the two tourists.
“I need to find these people because they apparently think that I don’t want my dog…He’s not hurt, he’s well taken care of, he’s well loved, he’s with me 24 hours a day,” she said. “He’s lived here all his life, he doesn’t deserve to get stolen and taken to a different city with somebody he doesn’t know.”
She said she was frustrated at the officer for not getting contact information from the couple before leaving the dog with them.
“I just want my dog back and the only way I can do that is to get his picture everywhere because I have no idea where he is because the police didn’t ask,” she said.
She said she’s confident Itska has been taken out of town because she’s lived in Tofino for 20 years and has owned Itska for four, yet no one she knows has seen him in the past week.
“I’m always walking my dog. Everybody knows me and my dog. So, if he’s in this town, they will find him, but I don’t think he’s in this town because police said [the couple] aren’t from this town,” she said.
“There’s so many locals sitting on the street and everybody knows who Itska is. Everybody is looking for him, but the more the days go by, the more I know he’s not in town…I just want his picture spread everywhere so that hopefully he can come back to me.”
Tofino RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Todd Pebernat told the Westerly that an officer was called to the Tonquin Beach area for an unrelated matter the night Itska went missing.
“The member tried to assist and located the dog with a couple who reported they found the animal and believed it to be in need of care,” Pebernat said. “The member, hoping to reunite the dog with the owner, returned to the female to advise that he may have located her dog but could not find her.”
He said the officer was then called to a “higher priority” situation and left the scene.
“The member did not take the dog from the owner or tell the couple they could keep the dog,” he said adding the officer attempted to contact the Coastal Animal Rescue and Education Network, but was unable to reach anyone that late at night.
“If police knew where the dog was, we would be happy to facilitate the return of the animal to the rightful owner.”
He said the investigation into Itska’s whereabouts is ongoing.
“My sense is that the couple may have turned the dog in to an SPCA out of concern for its welfare. If that turns out to be the case, I would not pursue it as a theft as the folks were likely acting in good faith out of concern for the dog. That said, the file is still open,” he said.
He suggested the situation highlights the importance of residents complying with Tofino’s bylaws, which mandate that all dogs must be leashed unless confined indoors or within a fenced property.
James Rodgers of the Coastal Animal Rescue and Education Network said situations where tourists decide to take a dog are more common than one might think.
“Some of our communities have free roaming populations of dogs, so when visitors are visiting different areas of the region, those dogs may join them for a walk or a hike for an hour or a day and perhaps in those situations, people think those dogs don’t have homes or somebody to care for them and perhaps, well-meaningly, decide to take the dog either home or to a shelter elsewhere,” he said. “Which, obviously, is very problematic as most of the dogs on the West Coast do have families that care for them…When these things happen, I think it is largely well-intended people, just perhaps not understanding how animals live out here, which in some cases can be a little less conventional than what they might be used to in the city.”
He said CARE has spoken to Boothman, but because the dog has been taken out of town, rather than gone missing, searching for Itska falls outside CARE’s regular search protocols.
He added that CARE has advised Boothman about various online groups to notify for help searching and advised her to contact SPCA facilities across Vancouver Island as well as the mainland.
“Really, it’s a tough situation because once they leave the coast, it’s hard to say where they go,” he said. “At this point, it’s just a very sad situation for Shannon.”