Photo: Jack, a German shepherd, is back home with the Billeci family after escaping from his cage and through a locked door at a veterinary clinic in Medford last week.. Julia Moore
German shepherd ‘Jack,’ after a brief illness, escapes and then treks 7 miles in a search for his home sweet home
A canine Houdini who unlocked his kennel door at a local veterinarian’s office confounded police by repeatedly tripping the clinic’s burglar alarm last week before slipping away on a cross-country jaunt to the Talent hills.
Marsha Billeci feared Jack was at death’s door last week when she brought her 6-year-old German shepherd on Monday to Dr. Shannon Sierra, a veterinarian at Best Friends Animal Hospital on West Main Street in Medford.
“We got him as a puppy,” Billeci said. “He is like one of our 4-legged children.”
Jack, suffering from a strange flu-like illness, was also exhibiting symptoms of pneumonia. Lethargic and declining to eat, Jack was hooked up to intravenous antibiotics. By Wednesday, he was perking up a little. But on Thursday morning, Billeci got the shocking call that Jack was missing.
“I went hysterical when I got the call,” she said. “My concern was that he would lay down in a ditch and die.”
Sierra said he and his staff were dumbfounded to find the big dog missing from his kennel that morning. They searched the clinic and found clear evidence that Jack’s appetite was back. Four bags of food had been ripped open.
Sierra said he shut down the hospital and joined the full-scale search.
“Jack is a wonderful dog,” Sierra said. “But he was so sick he could barely walk. Then, 72 hours later, he’s on the lam.”
The clinic’s security company said police had been notified after motion detector alarms had been tripped at 10:30 p.m., 1:30 a.m. and again at 4:45 a.m., Billeci said.
Police had responded — at least to the first two alarms, she added.
“They saw a German shepherd running around inside the building. But they didn’t see anything else,” Billeci said.
But police didn’t have the advantage of knowing they were dealing with an extraordinarily canny canine, Billeci said. Jack is very smart, very stubborn and very tall. And he learned long ago how to open cupboard doors, drawers and other locked spaces at her home and find his doggy treats, she said.
“He knows where his treats are,” Billeci said. “He self-serves. He hooks his claw on the handle and pulls. He yanks super hard.”
Sometime between 1:30 and 4:45 a.m., Jack managed to trip the dead bolt on the clinic’s back door, pull down the lever handle, and push his way to freedom, Billeci said.
“You can see the claw marks,” she said. “He worked that door.”
Once Jack made his way out the door, the persistent pooch high-tailed it to the Talent hills, she said, in the general direction of Billeci’s home. But he ended up at a stranger’s house on Andrew Road, demanding entrance to the rural home located more than seven miles from the clinic, Billeci said.
“He tried to get in this woman’s house,” she said. “She called her son.”
The woman’s son tried to get Jack to “shoo,” she said. “But he wouldn’t leave.”
They called animal control. Luckily Billeci had also contacted the shelter just minutes before, and she was quickly reunited with her runaway invalid, she said, adding Jack is still taking medicine, but resting comfortably on her living-room sofa.
“Everybody was wonderful,” Billeci said. “He’s quite a handful. But we enjoy him.”
Sierra said Jack’s recovery is “impressive.” But added the wily woofer’s adventures have resulted in new policy at the animal hospital.
“We now have individual locks on each cage,” he said, adding the new measures should thwart the escape efforts of any critter without benefit of an opposable thumb.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.