YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Ryan Bulson spends his nights and weekends helping pet owners find their lost dogs, and he does it for no other reason than kindness.
There's certainly a method to Bulson’s madness. He can catch a dog in as little as a few days, but for one couple who lost their pet in York County, Pennsylvania, it felt like years before they had their dog back.
It's been a month since Beth Ibanez and her husband decided on their new West Manheim Township home, but moving in came to an abrupt halt when their beloved 5-year-old pug Mia went missing.
"Everything was stopped,” Beth said. “We have boxes in our basement still that aren't even undone because our whole life was on hold.”
Their time should have been spent cleaning, unpacking, decorating. Instead it was spent worrying, crying, and searching.
Mia escaped just a few days after they moved in. The backyard fence was a little too high off of the ground.
“We were definitely lost," said Beth's husband, Orlando. "I mean we didn't know where else to go. Beth was upset every night. She couldn't sleep."
"I cried every night,” Beth said. “The kids cried. We were just devastated. I mean we've had her since she was like 6 months old. She is our world."
Days turned into weeks. The family eventually turned to the Facebook group, "Find Toby,” a lost dog networking page with 60 thousand followers.
And out of nowhere came Ryan Bulson.
"I picked up the phone and called her,” Bulson said. "That initial phone call of a total stranger calling and telling you, 'let me help you catch your dog.’”
"She's like, ‘yeah I don't know who this number is,’” Orlando said after Beth missed a call from Bulson. “And I was like, 'alright I'll give him a call,’ and I said, 'hey whose this?' he's like, 'yeah this is Ryan, I just heard about what was going on so I wanted to try and reach out and help you guys.'"
"He's like, 'I'm not one of those strange people out there trying to take your dog or anything like that. I'm trying to help you,’” Orlando recalled.
For the last eight years, Bulson has been catching lost dogs.
“All your local rescues all have my number,” Bulson said. “And I've caught several dogs for them."
He works with Find Toby, but it's all of his own accord and his own time. He says he usually devotes his evenings and weekends to tracking down missing, beloved pups.
“The feeling you get when you return that dog to that owner. Or you call that owner and say, 'I have your dog,’” Bulson said. “It’s a feeling you'll never forget."
He's felt it more than 30 times. In April, WPMT reported on Simba, the German shepherd who escaped from a Hanover Petco while being groomed.
"He told me the groomer had gone to the bathroom and Simba was in a kennel at the time,” Simba’s owner, Melissa Gray, said. “And somehow he jostled his way out of this kennel.”
Fast forward about a week, Simba is back home, and so is Mia. Both thanks to Bulson.
“It's one of those scenarios that people don't know what to do,” Bulson said. “They don't know what to do if their dog goes missing. First thing they do is panic. And ya know, if nobody is out there giving them guidance on what to do, nothing gets done.”
It's more than what you see in cartoons with food as bait and a stick holding up a cage.
"You've got to do a lot of legwork,” Bulson said. “You’ve got to know that dog's pattern, you've gotta know more history on the dog, to know what style of capture you can make."
He has a full game plan and he sticks to it.
"You would set your bait trail out the front, your main food source goes in the very back,” Bulson said. “Dog walks in, steps on this trip plate, door comes down.”
Simba, the dog who got loose from Petco, was caught in a standard-size crate.
“You put a food trail from the inside, leading outside,” Bulson said. “There again, keeping that dog's nose on the ground.”
But Mia doesn't like crates.
"Standard trap is not going to work,” Bulson said. “She won't go in. So we had to go to the dog-pen trap."
It's a 4-feet-wide, 8-feet long, and 6-feet-tall pen equipped with a mechanism Ryan designed to remotely shut the door. Before he gets to that point, he builds a profile of the dog, starting with sightings. From there he creates a food schedule, figuring out patterns, and setting up cameras to start tracking.
"There are times where I sit here and I'll stare at Google Earth,” Bulson said. “And I plot all of the sightings on Google Earth. You've gotta put yourself in the mindset of a dog. ‘What am I looking for? I'm looking for food, I'm looking for shelter, I'm looking for water.' I could tell you where that dog was going to be and when she was going to be there.”
And sure enough, Mia was captured just 10 days after Bulson got involved.
“I saw Ryan's name on the cellphone,” Orlando remembered. “And I was like, 'this is it.' He said, 'come get her,’ and I was like, ‘Beth get the kids, let's go!’ I mean we were out the door. The knowledge he knows, and what to do to rescue dogs it's just amazing.”
Turns out she had been hanging around a field just a few minutes away from Beth and Orlando's home the entire time, just like Bulson said.
"If it was one of my dogs, that was missing, I'd be the same way,” Bulson said. It's a family member, no matter how you look at it, a pet is a family member."
"He's just a very smart guy,” Beth said. “Him and Sandy are an amazing team. It's unreal. How fast they got her back. You're in shock mode. It's back to normal. We’re complete again."
As for that pesky fence they fixed that was a little too high off the ground ...
“It's like Fort Knox,” Beth laughed. “She's not getting out.”
Bulson said if a person tries to pay him he asks that they make a donation in his name to a charity of his choice.
If you ever end up finding yourself in the same position, Bulson said it's important to note dogs usually stay between 2-3 miles of their home.