RACINE COUNTY — Posse, informal definition: a group of people who have a common characteristic, occupation, or purpose.
In the case of Billy’s Posse, that purpose is to help you find your missing dog.
Billy’s Posse is a group of about a dozen volunteers headed by three ringleaders: Kristen Wilson and Kaitlyn Dustman of Caledonia, and Pam Avery of Racine.
The first words on the the group’s website are: “When your beloved pet goes missing, do you know what to do?
“Many do not, so we are here to help. … Our primary focus is getting dogs back home safely.”
Amanda Harmann recently witnessed Billy’s Posse’s dedication with her brother Don Sheckles’ German shorthaired pointer, Crash. Crash ran away on Nov. 1, in the Horlick High School neighborhood, when Harmann’s nephew opened the door to go trick or treating.
The family tried looking for Crash without success.
Then someone told them about Billy’s Posse.
“These wonderful people have helped for the last 15 days, day and night, looking for my brother’s dog,” Harmann wrote in mid-November. “Tracking tracks, putting up a live trap, handing out flyers, driving around for hours on end.”
“They never knew our family before this,” she continued. “They didn’t have to do this. They could have called it quits after the first couple days.
“But today, after 15 days, they tracked him, found him, and captured him. And they would do the same for any lost dog.”
The tale of how the volunteers eventually cornered and collared Crash is a long one, but it ends with a heroic effort by Avery’s 14-year-old granddaughter Natalie in an abandoned Downtown industrial lot full of old tires on Huron Street.
Crash had picked a lousy time to get away, because early November’s weather was harsh. His ideal weight would be about 60 pounds; he weighed 37 when captured.
But he was home.
Wilson founded what became Billy’s Posse in spring 2017. “Basically, it started with me seeing that a lost dog named Billy was going up into Cliffside Park … He got away from a dog-sitter,” she said. “He was afraid of men; he bolted from this dog-sitter who was a guy.”
“And I just started posting on Facebook: ‘Hey, can anybody help me?’ … People were posting on Facebook a lot about this dog.”
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Wilson, a homemaker, tracked the Australian shepherd in the snow, found him sleeping and tried to lure him with food. He nearly took it, she said —then ran away. Some friends started trying to help Wilson help Billy’s owner.
It took an entire month to capture Billy, who kept himself in calories by eating duck food and buns that a property owner was putting out for the deer.
Wilson and company eventually caught Billy in a live trap called a Missy Trap.
“So, that’s how (Billy’s Posse) started,” she said, “and it was just me and some friends that I met from the search party that I organized for him in Cliffside.
“Some of us, when dogs went missing, we’d go out driving and trying to help sight the dogs and, if they were approachable, try catching them. And things just kind of grew.”
Today, Billy’s Posse is comprised of about a dozen people who will try to help find missing dogs anywhere in Racine County.
“We’re looking for volunteers,” Wilson said.
“Definitely, we need people who can drive,” Avery said.
“We especially need people out west,” Wilson added.
The Billy’s Posse website is highly instructive about how people can increase their chances of finding their dogs. For example, its home page states, “We get our best leads from flyers. The best flyers come from your filing a lost dog report on Helping Lost Pets/Lost Dogs of Wisconsin.”
The website also gives tips about how to and how not to approach a dog that’s been on the run. Some of that knowledge has come from watching Jodie Hoffman-Ruffalo, executive director of Woofgang Rescue, who does dog training, Wilson said. She said she will also reach out to trainers and breeders, who are always willing to help. And they learned about the Missy Trap from a Minnesota dog-recovery group called The Retrievers.
Avery estimated Billy’s Posse has been alerted to close to 30 missing dogs in all.
“There’s some that, (the owners) get a call, and it’s always the best-case scenario if the owner can get there to get them, because that’s who they trust the most,” Wilson said. “That’s usually the objective unless the owner is unavailable.”
In one case, Avery said, she was able to recover an owner’s 4-month-old German shepherd that had been stolen from its backyard and then sold to a girl at Gateway Technical College.
The latest development for Billy’s Posse was getting official nonprofit status last week.
Avery and Wilson believe they provide a service that falls through the cracks between other organizations.
For more information visit billysposse.com online or on Facebook.