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Into the woods with the pet detectives

Plus, 'You've got an enemy in Pennsylvania.'

May 20, 2022
Inside this edition: Pet finders, wild question, 'feathered nightmares,' enemy territory, carpetbagger quiz, what's going on, and easy money. 

Dear friends,

I'm having a blast bringing you all of the amazing, beautiful, and fun things Pennsylvania has to offer. We've created something special together, and isn't it nice to just have a break from all the noise and heavy news?

If you've enjoyed PA Local so far, I have a small ask: We're running our Spring Member Drive right now, and if we raise $35,000, we'll unlock a $35,000 matching gift. That means your gift will be DOUBLED.

We can't do this work without you. So what do you say? Will you join us and become a PA Local supporter? (We'll even give you a shout next week.)

Thanks for considering it.

— Colin D., PA Local editor

What is Pennsylvania's largest wild animal? 

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.)

» One thing to know: A bill has been introduced that would legalize Philly's many illicit backyard chickens, Philly Mag reports. We covered the broader backyard chicken movement in this newsletter last week.

» One thing to share: Redditor u/pghhuman is saying goodbye to the city of Pittsburgh, but not without first bidding farewell to its "feathered nightmares" — the ones with their own dedicated police force

» One thing to wear: "You've got an enemy in Pennsylvania," declares the must-have shirt of the summer, modeled here by Spotlight PA's own Stephen Caruso. (They're currently sold out.)

» One test to take: The Inquirer's "Prospective PA Politicians Pop Quiz," where you can test your own Pennsylvanian-ness™️ before maybe running for office yourself some day. Good luck! 

» One thing to see: Wilkes-Barre's stunning The Lady of the Valley mural by Evan Lovett. While we're on the subject: TikTok-er PA Junkie tries to settle an age-old debate about how the town is really pronounced.

A house cat spotted by a heat-sensing camera. (Photo via Lehigh Valley Pet Search)

Every once in a while my dogs, a normally docile duo, decide it's time to explore their options. It's happened twice — both in the wilds of north central Pennsylvania — and on both occasions they wandered off and I did what seemed perfectly logical at the time: I hollered and I chased.

"That's one of the worst things you can do," Tracey Morgan-Chopick, a Luzerne County-based professional pet detective, explained by phone. "They don't go towards stress. It's the people that make dogs run farther."

I haven't needed a pet sleuth, at least not yet. (The kids have always returned on their own, usually looking rather proud of themselves.) But lots of people do, and demand for services like Tracey's is surging on the heels of a pandemic pet-buying boom. 

Tracey, pictured at right, has been at it for at least a decade. She's tracked down dogs (one after four years), cats, pigs, and a turtle — the latter proving surprisingly agile. 

She said dogs will cover more ground than cats, sometimes using railroad tracks or power-line clearings like secret highways. They also tend to stick closer to water sources. (In her experience, Boxers are especially danger-prone and Shelties especially resourceful.)

Cats are normally found much closer to home; they’re just incredibly good at hiding. 

They're so good at it, in fact, that Ted Bachman, a detective with Lehigh Valley Pet Search, uses heat-sensing thermal imaging cameras (both handheld and drone-mounted) to suss them out. 

Bachman recalls watching through a thermal camera as the heat signal from a cat hunkered down in a treeline evaporated just as a human with a net moved in. They were all completely mystified until they found a burrow in the ground. With a strategically positioned trap, a little food, and a lot of patience, a family reunion soon followed. 

Neither Tracey nor Ted take any payment for their services. Both have day jobs and, it's safe to say, a soft spot for animals. Some of their cases start out as overextended excursions, the kind I'm familiar with, while others begin more seriously with house fires or car accidents. 

You might remember the case of Gingerbread, a 2 1/2-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback/hound mix who went missing after a car crash on the South Bridge in Harrisburg in April. 

Dog dad Quentin Bade and his partner were connected with a pet detective in Virginia soon after. The expert provided guidance via phone on how to make the most effective missing posters, where to put them, and what not to do when they finally found Gingerbread.

"She said: 'Don't approach her fast. In fact, don't approach her at all. When you see her and she sees you, run the other way and pretend to fall and just lie there,'" Quentin recalled. In the end it worked "perfectly" and Gingerbread was back after several anxious days for the family. 

Gingerbread was roughly two miles as the crow flies from the crash scene, having zigzagged extensively within that radius in the course of her weekend-long journey. Some sojourns last much longer. 

Melissa Kessler of Where’s Fido? in Clinton County once tracked a German shepherd lost in the mountains for 31 days — to say nothing of the domesticated fox she once helped locate.

Tracey Morgan-Chopick recalls one dog that traveled more than 30 miles from home. "Get them spayed or neutered," she added, "those hormones are a powerful thing. Sometimes they’re getting the scent of another dog and …" The line went slack. 

"Excuse me, you can probably hear mine barking upstairs right now."

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA 

My family has a growing stockpile of this play money that comes with Mallo Cups from Altoona's Boyer Candy. If anyone reading this has a similar cache and tips for using it, let me know. Have a fun photo to share? Send it by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» Mastriano wins GOP guv nod, will face Democrat Josh Shapiro

» Pa.'s richest person spent $18M on primary, mostly for one issue

» Pa. prisoners are highly vaccinated but COVID restrictions linger

» Public database significantly undercounts former Pa. drug labs

» Why Pa.'s health department is taking Spotlight PA to court
» Friday, May 20: Catch the Millvale Music Festival's return on Friday and Saturday with hundreds of musical acts across dozens of stages. It's free.

» Saturday, May 21: Join one of the first Pride festivals of the season at New Hope's annual parade and fair. It's free.

» Saturday, May 21: Celebrate "Athlete of the 20th Century" Jim Thorpe at a birthday celebration in his namesake Carbon County town. 

» Saturday, May 21: Take your bike to a free "movie under the stars" showing of the bike-friendly ET: The Extra-Terrestrial in State College. 

» Saturday, May 21: Sellers of jewelry, taxidermy, oddities, antiques, art, and vinyl are all coming out for the Eerie Bazaar in Erie. Entry is $2.

» August 5-7: Tickets go on sale today for the East Coast debut of the Adult Swim Festival in Philly with Run The Jewels, Dethklok, and more.

I have been in Pennsylvania,

In the Monongahela and Hocking Valleys.

In the blue Susquehanna

On a Saturday morning

I saw a mounted constabulary go by,

I saw boys playing marbles.

Spring and the hills laughed.

—An excerpt from Carl Sandburg's poem "Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's largest wild animal is the elk. They can weigh up to a burly 1,000 pounds and they almost disappeared from the state forever. 

Native elk were hunted to extinction by the mid 1860s, touching off an ambitious effort to replenish the state's population. 

In 1913, 50 elk were taken from Yellowstone National Park and shipped by rail across the country to Pennsylvania. When they arrived, they were chased off of the trains and into the woods, just like that.

The state's Game Commission says it's "amazing" they survived to form the basis of a herd that now numbers 1,400 large and supports a growing tourism industry that's concentrated in (where else?) Elk County.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret food recipes!
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