Missing dog Evie found after huge community response to search appeal

More than one hundred people volunteered to join the round-the-clock hunt for the rescue dog.
More than one hundred people volunteered to join the round-the-clock hunt for the rescue dog. More than one hundred people volunteered to join the round-the-clock hunt for the rescue dog.

A dog walker has hailed an “amazing” community response that saw more than one hundred people take part in a round-the-clock three-day search to find a missing cocker spaniel.

Andy Cash, 31, said he was “blown away” as strangers from across Belfast volunteered to hunt through the night for four-year-old Evie after she ran off in the Dundonald area on Wednesday.

A thermal drone was deployed by charity Lost Paws NI in the extensive search for the elusive rescue dog as the community in Dundonald and beyond mobilised in the days that followed.

Marty Bannon (left) and Norman Carlisle are reunited with Evie as a relieved Andy Cash looks to the skies (Andy Cash/PA)

Mr Cash runs dog walking company The Pack and has been taking Evie and her eight-year-old doggy pal Rita for daily walks for three years.

“Evie has always been my little shadow and never leaves my side, so when she got spooked and bolted on Wednesday it was just such a shock,” he said.

The experienced dog handler said he then had to make the difficult call to Evie and Rita’s owners, Norman Carlisle and Marty Bannon, to tell them their beloved pet was missing.

Mr Cash said the response that followed was amazing after a social media appeal saw scores of people come forward to help in the search.

The owners of pet grooming saloon The Groomer in Dundonald coordinated the efforts, mapping out the area and deploying volunteers to specific areas.

Longstone Special School in Ballybeen and east Belfast company Media Design and Print helped produce hundreds of fliers that were distributed across the area.

Searchers were even given an audio clip of Evie’s owners calling her name to help coax her out.

On the first night, Mr Cash said he clocked 50,000 steps on his watch as the search continued past 3am.

The efforts resumed again at first light on Thursday.

“We had people ringing in to work to say ‘can I have the morning off because I want to help this person I don’t know find a dog’, so that was really touching,” he said.

“Everyone who came in the morning was still here at night and people just kept on showing up through the day. We set up a WhatsApp group and there were over 50 members in that but there were definitely many more involved beyond the group. In total it was well over one hundred.”

Evie (left) and Rita (Andy Cash/PA)

In the early hours of Friday, Mr Cash got a call from a girl who had spotted Evie on their doorbell camera. She bolted when the house’s own dog started barking.

“I put a message into the WhatsApp group when she called at 3am and people were replying at 3.30am, 4am, 5am and showing up,” he said.

“The girl whose doorbell went off was out with her family at 3am looking as well.

“People were coming out with hot flasks of tea and saying they would come and help with the search – it was amazing.”

All the efforts finally paid off around 9.30am on Friday when Gemma Tracey, who runs dog garments company Hiker Hounds NI, spotted Evie close to where she originally went missing.

“She quickly called me and everyone rushed over to the original spot and we were able to run up and call her and get her,” said Mr Cash.

“I was past myself. I don’t think I have cried in about four or five years, I’m not a crier and I just bust into tears. I was just overjoyed.

“I have been blown away by the amount of people who are complete strangers to me who reached out to me and were willing to get up at crazy hours to walk in fields to find a dog they didn’t even know.”

Evie’s owners said they are so relieved to be reunited.

Mr Carlisle runs the canine boutique Barkley and Waggins in Belfast’s Trade Market and he had to close the business so he could take part in the search.

Evie back on the couch in her east Belfast home on Friday (Marty Bannon/PA)

Mr Bannon, who also took time off work during the marathon hunt, expressed their thanks to all those who helped.

“It was just such a huge wave of relief to get her,” he said.

“With the weather being so cold, one of our main concerns was would she be able to survive.

“We are completely and utterly bowled over by the response. There were people there at all silly hours of the day and night and I only knew a handful of them. So these, for the most part, were strangers and they just answered our call.”

After a free-of-charge check-up at Ashwood vets in Dundonald, Evie was back at home in east Belfast on Friday oblivious to all the fuss she had caused.

“I think it will be a very quiet night tonight,” said Mr Bannon.

“Norman and I might have a beer or two just to decompress.”