MADISON — Lulu, a missing Jack Russell terrier believed to have somehow escaped from a dog-proof holding cage, has acquired a new name -- "Houdini dog."
"I've never seen anything like it in my five years of doing this," said Mike Reeter, the city animal control officer in Madison.
"It's like something out of Houdini," he said referring to the renowned 19th Century magician who regularly managed to get out of jail cells within minutes even when left nearly naked and bound in a strait jacket and chains.
The 2-year old dog, the family pet of city resident Gidget Erickson and her two children, was picked up by Reeter on Saturday after another resident complained that the small animal nipped her.
Reeter explained that state law required him to seize the pet and turn it over to the Madison County Animal Shelter for quarantine until it could be proven that it was not rabid.
Reeter said he told Erickson that she could have quarantined Lulu at home if she could have provided proof of an updated rabies shot for the animal.
"But she didn't have it. I had no choice," he said.
Because it was a weekend and Monday was Memorial Day, county animal control couldn't come and get Lulu until Tuesday. During this time, Reeter said he came each morning and walked the dog, cleaned its holding cage in the rear of the city's animal control truck, and replenished the dog's feeding dish. He said a fan was blowing on the animal at all times.
Friday morning, a city official accompanied by Mayor John Hamm showed a reporter a police surveillance tape of the parking lot of the public works department showing Reeter walking Lulu about 6 a.m. Tuesday. He is then seen walking off with the animal control truck in the background.
He said Lulu was in one of the truck's holding cages awaiting the county animal control officer. The vehicle's outer steel door was left open for ventilation but the barred, inside cage door was latched shut, he said.
Then the time on the tape jumps to about 9 a.m. The truck is still in the background but Lulu is briefly seen outside walking.
Reeter said he first became aware that Lulu was missing when the county people called him about 9 a.m. and asked, "Where's the dog?" He said he replied that like usual, "it was in the truck." But Lulu wasn't there and the tape seemed to prove she had somehow escaped.
The steel cage door, which can only be shut tight when the latch is engaged, was found partially open," he said.
"This is what we can't figure out," Hamm said. "How could a dog have opened it?"
A close examination of the cage's latch showed it could only be operated from the outside. If someone else opened the cage, it would have shown on the videotape, city officials said.
Erickson said she thought the dog was left unattended in the back of a hot truck and died and the city is covering it up.
"I've been on a bike for hours over two days. I'm completely beside myself. I'm trying to figure out what's going on," she said. She said she doesn't believe the animal escaped.
Her Facebook page accused the city of negligence, an accusation Hamm staunchly denied.
"I don't like what she's done," he said. "The tape shows the dog was taken care of properly."
The surveillance tape doesn't show Lulu actually exiting the cage in the truck because the vehicle was parked too far away and the camera is motion activated, Reeter said. But when the videotape shows glimpses of the creature, it is in the foreground and much closer to the camera and probably set off the device's motion feature.
Hamm said patrolling police officers have been given a description of the dog and are on the lookout for it.
"We're doing the best we can," he said.
If anyone sees the dog, tcall Hamm at 618-781-7100 or the police department at 618-876-4300.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at email@example.com or 618-239-2625.