Faculty members help find lost dog belonging to family of retired CVM professor

Dr. Gibbs' grandaughter, Libby

Libby Banull, Dr. Paul Gibbs’s grandaughter, after being reunited with her dog, Wilson. (Courtesy of Dr. Paul Gibbs)

By Sarah Carey

Knowing that Dr. Paul Gibbs, a retired UF College of Veterinary Medicine professor, and his wife, Chris, were a bit dog-lonely after having lost their beloved Labrador retriever two years ago, their daughter, Katy, left her family’s newly adopted lab-mix with them on Aug. 13 as her family headed to Georgia for a brief vacation. Barely two hours later, the dog, named Wilson, had escaped from the Gibbses back yard onto the Haile Plantation golf course.

What followed was a nearly two-week saga that fortunately ended well, thanks to two current UFCVM faculty members, their friend and many area residents united in their cause to bring him home. But the story could easily have not had a happy ending; Wilson was found three miles from the Gibbs home, in the Kanapaha Oaks subdivision, having crossed busy Archer Road.

The people-shy pup’s adventures took some interesting twists and turns. Soon after Wilson went missing, Gibbs, a professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the college and a former associate dean for students and academic affairs, was on his bicycle, posting notices on lamp posts and trees in Haile. His daughter’s family returned from their vacation to help in the search, with no luck. Gibbs also posted about the missing dog on the NextDoor and Gainesville PetFinder social media apps, and various people chimed in with alleged “Wilson sightings.”

Soon after his initial posts on NextDoor, Gibbs received a text from Dr. Alex Gallagher, an assistant professor of small animal medicine and a former classmate of Gibbs’s daughter, Dr. Samantha Gibbs from the UFCVM Class of ’01. Gallagher and Dr. Allison O’Kell, also a clinical assistant professor of small animal medicine, offered to help, and arranged to have a friend of theirs, Alison Kennedy-Benson, an employee of the ASPCA veterinary forensics program, set up traps in back of the Gibbs home.

“I set the traps each night until we moved them to Kanapaha Oaks some 10 days later,” Gibbs said. “I caught and released three raccoons and two feral cats.”

But no Wilson.

The first week after Wilson’s escape, he was spotted on camera at various locations in Haile and eating residents’ outdoor cat food. Then his trail went cold. About a week later, a Kanapaha Oaks resident spotted a dog that looked like Wilson on camera, darting in and out of nearby woods. Another resident, who was unaware there was a lost pet dozens of people were looking for, shared with a neighbor that a dog had broken into their house, via a doggy door, surprising the family — and their dog — in the middle of the night and eating cat food.

The AAA rescue team

Dr. Allison O’Kell, Dr. Alex Gallagher and Alison Kennedy-Benson with Wilson on the evening of his capture after two weeks missing. (Courtesy of Dr. Paul Gibbs)

“When I was alerted on August 29th through NextDoor about the ‘break in’ at Kanapaha Oaks, I quickly followed up and drove across to meet with that family,” Gibbs said.

Before he set out, though, he contacted the group he refers to as “the three As” — Alex, Allison and Alison — to let them know about the latest development.

“They met me there shortly after I had confirmed that the intruder was almost certainly Wilson,” Gibbs said. “The four of us then confirmed with several neighbors that he had been seen for the last few days in the area. We made the decision to move the traps from our house to Kanapaha Oaks. I returned home and packed them up while the ‘three As’ chatted with neighbors and put up signs on the street corners.”

The traps were then baited with food. One was left at the house where a family had seen Wilson eating their cat’s food late in the evening through their Ring doorbell camera; the second was placed in the woods where Wilson was believed to be spending time during the day.

“Having set the traps, we all went home,” he said, adding that Kennedy-Benson said she would return before dark to watch the traps. But no sooner had Gibbs arrived back home than his phone rang with a neighbor reporting that he had just seen Wilson traveling toward Archer Road.

“Chris and I jumped in the car and spent 45 minutes unsuccessfully looking for him,” Gibbs said. “By this stage it was raining heavily and Alison had returned to watch the traps. We joked that this was a strange way to spend a Saturday night.”

The couple returned home and had just finished a late dinner when Kennedy-Benson called to say that Wilson was in the trap. By the time the couple returned to the scene of Wilson’s capture, “all three As” were there and Wilson was enjoying being with them, Gibbs said.

The next day, he drove with Wilson to Homosassa to meet his daughter’s family midway from their home in Clearwater to make the very special hand-off. A GPS collar for “wandering Wilson” was soon on order.

“In today’s society only web services can generate the network of concerned citizens needed to find a dog,” Gibbs said. “Because he was so shy of people, it still took two weeks to locate and trap him. Certainly, he had good identification on his collar and is microchipped, so over time he may have been found. But, who knows.”

Gibbs’s granddaughter, Libby, is thrilled to have her dog back, he said.

And the Gibbses won’t be dog-lonely too much longer; they are now the proud and happy owners of a new Goldendoodle puppy.

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