Finding Emma: The remarkable tale of a canine escape artist and her homecoming

Our story begins on a hot summer’s day in Cape Town. Batty, an eight-year-old pavement special, is sniffing around Alan and Marianne McLean’s home. His partner-in-crime, Emma, a beautiful German Shepherd is nowhere to be found. His puzzlement has a simple cause: Emma has been taken to the local vet to be spayed. She will be back later that day. Well, that was what the script said…

The great escape

Later that same morning, the family receives a call. In an odds-defying act of bewilderment, Emma has not only escaped the vet’s rooms, but also managed to scale the wall and jump over a live electric fence, shocking herself and falling three and a half metres on the other side before making a beeline past astonished peak-hour traffic motorists and disappearing towards the suburb of Observatory. And that’s the last anyone sees of Emma for a couple of days.

How does a dog simply disappear in the middle of a big city, one might be forgiven for asking. Surely, it will simply come to its owners if you just know where to look and call her name? Not so simple, in this case. Firstly, the live electric wire traumatised Emma to such a degree that she fled as far away from any perceived danger as possible. Secondly, Emma is a loving, but shy and skittish dog to begin with. Thirdly, along the suburb of Observatory runs the Liesbeek River with its surrounding marsh and grasslands — the perfect hiding place for a dog that feels the need to go undercover.


The search is on

After initial efforts to find Emma proves unsuccessful, posters are also put up at the Cape of Good Hope SPCA in Grassy Park and a Facebook group, ‘Finding Emma’, is set up. This has the desired effect, with several people coming forward with sightings of the shy German Shepherd in the area. After a couple of false alarms, Alan McLean is called at work on the 23rd of February— Emma has been spotted by workers cleaning the river. He races to the river and, along with the workers, manages to locate Emma in a bed of reeds. Unfortunately, Emma wants nothing to do with being found. She’s clearly still traumatised and goes on the run again. This game of hide and seek continues for several days.

At this point, Emma’s owners realise that a different tactic is needed. Emma clearly needs a little help to come to her senses. They hire a porcupine trap from the SPCA and start leaving chunks of KFC inside — to no avail. However, as days turn into weeks, the official search party grows. Marianne and Alan’s daughter, Helen, a veterinarian living in Robertson offers invaluable encouragement and advice on a daily basis. Her brother, Eddie, who lives near the river, joins the search, and family friend, Jason Mears, takes careful note of Emma’s tracks along the riverbed — recognisable by her lead dragging behind her. They also notice that the food being left out for her is disappearing — a good sign.


A snapshot of a porcupine and a clever cat

The McLeans decide to set up a night camera to try and figure out who is eating the food and to see if they can catch Emma on camera. It pays off. The first night’s footage shows images of a porcupine, but also of Emma, eating food from her bowl. After much research, a decision is made that a leopard trap is the way to go. On 21 March (now more than a month after Emma’s great escape), the camera is set up again. What it reveals, is that a big black homeless cat has been taking full advantage of the food left out for Emma every night — having a feast early evening before Emma’s appearance around midnight. After a reshuffling of the feeding routine, the time finally arrives for the leopard trap, donated by the Graham Beck Wildlife, to be set up.



Finally, on 27 March, everything is in place for the last final gambit. At 22h30 the leopard trap is set up. At 01h30 the family return to the trap and, lo and behold, there’s Emma in the cage, calm as a millpond — like she’s actually waiting for her owners to come get her! So, after a month and 7 days, Emma is finally reunited with her family! Apart from severe weight loss, Emma shows no signs of injury and seems to slide back into daily life with the McLeans, and her best friend, Batty, as if nothing happened. When the McLeans’ eighteen-month-old grandson, Michael John, comes to visit, she even recognizes him and spends the day getting grubby with him.


All in all, a truly remarkable story of one family’s determination to defy all odds and bring their beloved K9 back to the warmth of a loving, caring family. The kind of feel good story that we, at Jock, love to hear.



By Eckhard Cloete














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