Living in a rural area it is common to see posters pinned to power poles for various reasons. Such is the case
on May 28, 2017 when I stopped to get my mail at the community mailbox and noticed a piece of paper
flopping around in the wind on a power pole.
I walked over to give it a look and saw a picture of a German Shepherd named "Paco" that had gone missing
in our area. As I drove off to run some errands, I also noticed many other power poles papered with the "Paco
Posters". Clearly the dog's owner cared enough to exert some effort in alerting people to the fact the dog is
missing and figured Paco would soon be found.
Thus began my five week journey to help find Paco.
WHAT HAPPENED TO PACO
Initially I made some casual drives around the neighborhood thinking Paco would be easy to see on the south
side of Highway 46 East in rural Paso Robles, California. There are enough homes around that surely
someone here would have seen Paco. By my estimates, he went missing on Friday May 26, 2017, which
means he had already been missing for two days.
I spoke to a couple of people at the vineyards next to my home and drove around the roads south of Highway
46E multiple times, yet nothing had been seen or heard of Paco.
Then on May 29 I saw a posting on Facebook from a relative of Paco's owner. I asked a few questions of him
online, trying to narrow down the last place Paco had been seen and under what circumstances he went
missing. Unfortunately some of the initial information he was given was incorrect which led to further confusion
for anyone looking for Paco. I had later learned that Paco was with his owner who was caused to stop his car
on Highway 46E while traveling west towards Paso Robles. At some point when they were stopped, Paco
bolted from the car and took off to the north - an area of huge vineyards and ranches out of view from public
I telephoned the number on the Paco Poster to get more information and was put in touch with the brother of
the man that owns Paco. Soon I had learned that there had been three initial Paco sightings.
INITIAL PACO SIGHTINGS
The first sighting was from a woman that has a ranch on Estrella Road north of Highway 46E. She said that
she saw Paco going up a hill west towards the local landfill. She and a friend went looking around the landfill
but Paco was nowhere in sight.
The second sighting was from a ranch owner from a little road named Martingale Circle which is connected to
Estrella Road, but miles away from the landfill.
The third sighting came from a man doing some work on Meridian property which is quite close to where
Paco originally went missing. I was told that Paco's owner and his brother were going to this location to look
for Paco "today". I asked if they could use an extra set of eyes, and so I was welcomed to join the search.
MEETING AT MERIDIAN PROPERTY
When I arrived at the Meridian property, I met Paco's owner and his brother. They told me that a day earlier
they were searching the property and left briefly to get some gas for their car. Upon their return, a worker told
them he had seen Paco in an open field while they were away. Paco was seen running up a ravine away from
We searched for hours that day. I walked north quite some distance and discovered a private air strip on the
Bonel Ranch. The ranch is huge and includes an extraordinary private residence, large pond and many other
amenities that Paco would certainly appreciate (fresh water, green grass, peaceful surroundings). The owner
of the ranch had died earlier in the year when a WW1 style aircraft he was piloting had failed and crashed on
On my way back from the Bonel Ranch, I connected with Paco's owner who had been looking around the
same area. He had been calling out loud for Paco to the point his voice was going hoarse and was obviously
very disappointed by not finding Paco that day.
With easy access and a confirmed sighting, I made many trips back to the Meridian property searching for
Paco. I would see all other forms of wildlife, but Paco was being elusive and keeping out of view. For a few
nights I put a game camera where Paco tracks were observed but the only night the food was completely
consumed the camera had failed so I was left wondering.
THE ESTRELLA LOOP
With the report of Paco being seen on Martingale Circle, I drove to the location and looked around. Martingale
has an elevated view of the area which gave me pause (no pun intended) for the vast distances Paco had
traveled. When arriving at the top of Martingale, the first thing I saw was a dog - but it wasn't a German
Shepherd. A man in a pickup truck raced over to where I was stopped and angrily asked if it was my dog? I
explained why I was there to which he said he had seen Paco (and was the one that earlier reported his
sighting). Seems the man has very expensive horses and closely monitors for anything that could potentially
injure his prized horses, thus the anger.
My wife became accustomed to me making a regular drive from our house, to the Meridian property, out
along Estrella Road and looping around Martingale Circle and back home. Thus it became known as the
"Estrella Loop". When I'd arrive home she would ask if I had seen anything, but I think she knew the answer
before she asked. It was about this point I realized my affinity for finding Paco was not going to change until I
either saw him in person or knew of his fate otherwise.
Sometimes while driving the Estrella loop I'd connect with people that are also keeping an eye out for him or
have more info. For example, I met the woman who first spotted Paco shortly after he went missing and was
seen running up the hill towards the landfill. Weeks later I spoke to a man that lives across the street from the
Bonel main residence gate on Estrella who told a very credible story about seeing Paco at the residence a
One day while driving back home on Highway 46E, I observed a couple of dogs running up a hill just south of
the highway near the Tobin James winery. As I got close, I could see one of the dogs was a German
Shepherd which caused me to speed up a bit. As I took a few twisted dirt roads to the open field - there was a
tall German Shepherd that looked like Paco....or at least I wanted him to. I was able to coax the dogs to me
using dog treats and patience. They eventually laid down in the shade of my car so I took a picture and sent it
to Paco's owners brother to confirm the identity. I was naturally disappointed to learn it was not Paco.
NOT GIVING UP
It was about June 5 and the Facebook dialogue about Paco had stopped and it seems his owner and
relatives had ceased looking because no new sightings had been received. I continued with my Estrella loop
drive and around June 10 I was beginning to really wonder about Paco's fate so I started another thread on
Facebook in an effort to reignite the interest in finding him.
As it happens, much new interest was shown online which generated sharing of the fact Paco was still
missing. Everyone I spoke with during my drives was already aware of the search for Paco, some even
established a plan of what to do if he was seen. Social media was working.
Around June 10 things got quiet. No sightings reported, not much activity on the Facebook thread and
Meridian had installed a new gate preventing me (unintentionally) from the easy access to look for Paco in
that area. Still I felt he was out there, in the vast area of private land that cannot be seen from public roadways.
I began to do more walking during my Estrella loop drives and parked more often to just watch from various
vantage points. But still, nothing.
Time passed, three weeks to be exact.
Then at 8:31 PM on Saturday July 1st, I got a private message via Facebook from a woman I do not know -
but who obviously was following the new thread about Paco. She wrote " My husband may have info on the
German Shepherd lost around the Bonel Ranch in rural Paso Robles. My husband works out at the dump and
is usually the first one in and has seen this dog at the site."
Wow, what a gift from a wonderful woman. I provided my phone number and moments later I was speaking to
the woman's husband on the phone. He was very kind and offered to show me around the "site" when the
landfill opens for business on Monday. After meeting the man and the landfill manager, they generously
allowed me to look around the entire 50 acres for clues. Apparently Paco was observed on one of the roads
within the landfill one morning and another employee told me he sat and watched Paco in the distance laying
in a field with some cattle. Go figure.
There was no source of fresh drinking water at the landfill, so I figured Paco was looking for food, or at least
smelled food there. Unfortunately for Paco, they do a really excellent job at the end of each day of covering up
any rubbish with dirt and a huge cloth gets placed over anything not covered with dirt (funny how a landfill is
kept so clean?).
Only a small portion of the property contains the "landfill" for the purpose of disposing of trash. Most of it is
open land used for various purposes. As I looked around, I could visualize Paco making his trip through the
landfill, stopping to look for food, then moving on to the Bonel Ranch or back down to the ranch on Estrella for
water and a comfortable place to sleep.
Having done some hiking, I've noticed most animals will take the path of least resistance to get from point A
to point B. I would apply this same concept to Paco's travels. Rather than go under or over a fence, he would
more likely go around the fence. Rather than traverse a field full of tall grass, he would rather follow a road or
deer path, and so forth. Using this logic I looked for Paco' tracks, which showed up pretty quick in multiple
locations. The first and most obvious set of tracks was on a dirt road that leads north from the landfill area
(where trash is dumped). The other location was far removed from the first, at the north-west boundary of the
property where there is a deer path under an old barbed wire fence that crosses over a dry creek - ample
room for an animal to go under. As the first tracks found near the dump area had easier access (for me and
Paco), I decided to place a game camera at that location.
GAME CAMERA SETUP
I placed a bowl of kibble, a gallon of water, and put a can of fresh tuna out on a plate to allure Paco to the
location. The next morning I drove to the site to get the game camera, which I needed to bring home to check
the photos. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the empty food dish, no tuna, and almost all of the
water was gone. There was no question it was Paco. If there was any question though, the pictures on the
game camera would have the answer. Sure enough, Paco made his first appearance at 6:46PM and stayed
around for a half hour. He then returned about eight times thru the night, last seen around 5AM. It was now
time to place a trap to capture Paco.
I was really saddened to see that Paco still had a leash attached to his neck collar. The guy had dragged
around a leash for nearly six weeks, in the dirt, around many fences, and who knows all the other hazards in
the wild. It is truly amazing that leash did not get stuck on something, in which case this would be an entirely
BUILDING A TRAP
Unfortunately I didn't have a trap, at least not one big enough for Paco to get into - let alone willingly enter for
So the next morning I was down at the local Lowes buying materials to build a trap. Thankfully my wonderful
wife helped, which sped things along as I needed to get back to the landfill by 3PM to set it up. Consequently,
I had very little time to test the trap for all conditions but it got set up that day anyway.
The concept of the trap is that Paco would enter from an opening on one end and attempt to get the "bait"
(chicken in this case) on the opposite end. The bait is connected to a rope so that when it is pulled, the door
would drop closed behind Paco.
SETTING THE TRAP
I built the trap as large as I could and still have it fit in my Nissan Xterra. And it just barely fit. I gathered my
game camera, dog food and a bucket of water for Paco, and some water and supplies for myself and
headed to the landfill to set the trap where the game camera had been located. It was a hot day, over 100f.
After setting the trap I went up a hill about 100 yards away as a vantage point to wait and watch for Paco. I
was hidden by brush and kept very quiet sitting in the dirt alongside an old trash dumpster believing that
Paco's senses were probably at maximum and would not enter the area until he was sure no one was around.
Unfortunately there was a little breeze which would trip the door on the trap about every 20 minutes, making
noise as I ran down to reset it. After four or five times I jury rigged a fix to prevent the wind from tripping the
And then I waited for Paco to appear. After three hours or so I had not seen anything of Paco. It had gotten
dark, so dark I could not see the trap. I was prepared to stay the night if needed, and it seemed that would be
Then at about 9:15PM I heard a gentle "clunk" and a faint yelp in the distance. It was so faint, I didn't think it
was the trap but I picked up my backpack of supplies and hustled down to check the trap.
When I got about twenty feet from the trap I switched on my flashlight and was astonished to see Paco for the
first time! He was also astonished, or more accurately scared, and started barking at me right away.
It occurred to me that Paco was not trying to get out of the trap, like a cat or wild animal would do. Instead he
almost seemed content, somehow secure. For the next thirty minutes or so I did my best to put Paco at ease.
Many stray dogs will revert to a more feral behavior when they're away from home so long, having to fend for
themselves. Never having seen Paco before, I didn't know just how this might apply to him - but he did calm
down considerably in thirty minutes and was certainly interested in the bag of kibble I had. I was able to slip a
couple of handfuls at a time into his dish. This went on for a while, where he obviously was less upset at my
presence. Still, I did not feel comfortable trying to open the trap to get him out for fear of losing him and
maybe taking a couple of bites out of me in the process.
It was getting late, but I chose to call the brother of Paco's owner, largely because he lives in Paso Robles and
Paco's owner lives an hour or more away. It was clear from the tone of his voice that there was a bit of
disbelief that I was with Paco, who had been trapped at the landfill . I had not shared the events of the past
few days, not wanting to botch the one good opportunity to capture Paco.
Paco's owner agreed to make the drive to Paso Robles, then ride over to the landfill with his brother. It was
about two hours from the time I made the call until their arrival. I enjoyed every minute of that time getting to
know the dog I had been searching for during the past thirty nine days. With his belly full and curled up in the
trap, Paco snoozed off for a while - actually snoring out loud. I had to imagine he was looking forward to a
good sleep without worrying about the many packs of coyotes and other threats that exist in the wild and
remote places he had traveled.
Suddenly I could hear Paco's owner and his brother arriving. I wondered if Paco would recognize his family
right away or if it would take time. That issue was soon resolved, as his owner got within a few feet of the trap
Paco jumped up wagging his tail and was crying to get to his "dad". What a wonderful sight to see after all this
We strategically got Paco out of the trap, to make darn sure he wouldn't run off, which included taking off the
old and haggard leash for a new robust leash. When he exited the trap, Paco kept leaping onto his owner with
much joy. It was clear Paco was not leaving his side. On his new and sturdy leash, the four of us walked to
where we had parked our cars.
We took a few snapshots of each other and then Paco got into the car with his family and headed home for
what was sure to be a very comfy night after his big adventure.
Paco's owner took him to the vet a day later to have an exam done. Thankfully there were no major issues or
injuries, just a lot of wear of Paco's paws. Such an amazing dog to have survived on his own for so long.
Welcome back Paco.
P.S. Thanks to the very many people online and in the community that helped with the return of Paco, it
could not have been done without your caring, kindness and actions.