Updated: Jul 12
It was New Year’s Eve as we made our way across the desert to Santa Monica from Las Vegas, Nevada. Jonathon and I wanted to get out of the desert and enjoy feeling the humidity, hearing the waves while massaging our toes in the sand. Our Korean Jindo rescue Mochi joined in the back seat as with every adventure. He hated the fireworks that spread across the valley for hours last New Year’s Eve so we decided to get out of town. We wonder if the fireworks remind him of the Bok Nal festival in Korea where over a million dogs are consumed in the form of ‘bosintang’ soup each year.
On December 31, 2017 our beloved Mochi ran away in the desert. At a rest stop in Primm, Nevada, we came back to our car and found Mochi had disappeared. Why had he jumped out of the half opened windows when he had never tried to escape with the windows fully open in the past? We would never know.
We rode our skateboards to search the parking lots of the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas. There was a security guard in the Primm Valley Lotto Store parking lot who said he had seen a white dog in a harness with a leash trailing behind running south into the California desert earlier. At this first sighting, our hearts sunk as we realized that we would be tasked with finding a dog in the California / Nevada Mojave Desert that night. Little did we know, finding Mochi would take us on a long adventure over the next two weeks!
Heartbroken, Jonathon and I started searching the desert adjacent to the Lotto Store and parking lots hiking miles into the dry brush. The further we strayed from the parking lots, the more we realized how desolate it was out there. It happened to be a full moon which made for a powerful start to the new year. We were devastated and stayed the night in Primm hoping to have better luck the next day.
After more calling for Mochi while walking miles through the desert in the morning, we decided to go home and make lost dog signs. Using the vast network of the internet was the best way to try and find him if someone had picked him up or dognapped him. If that were the case, he could be anywhere from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and beyond with how much traffic there is between the two states on New Year’s Eve. It felt like it would be more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack, but I knew we couldn’t stop until we had found him dead or alive.
We returned to Primm on the January 1st, 2018 to post signs, talk to the locals, and leave clothing items, food, water to draw him back in. Apparently many dogs get lost and even purposefully left behind out there. There were many available resources in the vicinity of the mall and rest areas that made us feel like Mochi could survive. So many people claimed he didn’t have a chance against the coyotes in the area but we knew him as a strong survivor who could handle suffering, especially considering his past from Korea.
The area of Primm wasn’t even a town. Attractions at Primm include The Lotto Store, The Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, Whiskey Pete’s Casino & Hotel, Buffalo Bill’s Resort & Casino, Primm Valley Casino Resorts with fast food restaurants and gas stations scattered between. The only living quarters there are an apartment complex owned by the casino to house employees. Of course we alerted all of the security teams throughout the hotels and posted signs everywhere, tried talking to as many locals as possible while learning the lay of the land.
One of the security guards told us there was a woman in the area also searching for a lost dog. It happened to be a local lost dog whisperer named Vickie. She was immensely helpful in showing us spots to look and where she had found dogs in the past. We decided to stay in touch on Facebook, as Vickie is very active in the Las Vegas pet search and rescue community. Who knew there are so many Facebook groups dedicated to reuniting lost animals with their owners in Las Vegas! Without Vickie’s help we wouldn’t have had a chance at finding Mochi, you’ll find out why soon…
After having to return from Primm for a second time without Mochi, we tried a digital approach. Since we had lost him on the state line border between Nevada and California, I posted on both state’s Craigslist, Facebook, and lost dog web networks like PawBoost and Lost My Doggie. Creating and updating lost dog postings became a nightly ritual. It was incredible how motivated the community was in reaching out to help! So many people sent leads of dogs that looked like Mochi who had showed up in the pound or found roaming the streets all the way from Vegas to LA. There were many false leads but each one fed our remaining sliver of hope.
Another very real possibility we had to face was the idea that someone could have taken him with them either to Vegas, LA or beyond. As a Korean dog meat farm rescue, we knew Mochi to be very skittish around strangers. We also couldn’t deny someone could have grabbed him by the leash and pulled him into their vehicle. There were a few obstacles we had to overcome before feeling confident he would return to us if this had happened. We had to register his microchip under my name and update our contact information. This ended up being a long, intensive process because the organization responsible for coordinating his rescue had the physical microchip paperwork and needed time to dig it up.
Another hold up was that my phone number registered to Mochi’s dog tag was to a personal line that no longer had a physical phone. Luckily, we got the information updated, transferred the microchip under my name, and bought a new phone to attach to the outdated phone line on Mochi’s dog tag. I learned to avoid potential disaster, always be prepared for the unexpected by keeping any contact information connecting you to your pet up to date. You never know what may happen!
One day after our 9AM-5PM jobs, we spread physical fliers up and down Highway 15 at rest stops, veterinary clinics, feed stores, and animal shelters from Las Vegas to Victorville. Someone might have seen him or decide to turn him in for our $500 dollar reward. We were hoping for any sign of him.
After a week of searching the area, we had to get creative. Our friend Tony recommended using a drone to get an aerial view. He happened to know a guy (typical Tony) who is a local professional drone camera operator. Ben and his Ellingson Productions crew aerially searched the perimeter from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the road where Mochi was last seen running. The equipment he and his team used was incredibly precise. There were several moments where we all held our breath as Ben zoomed in on a large white rocks or pieces of trash. Ultimately, no news was good news. Not finding any remains at least gave us hope that he may still be alive.
The next day was a Sunday so we headed out again to search with our friend Josh (Josh Williams Photography) who also had drones to contribute. The weather was much better and wind wasn’t an issue so we made a day of it yet again.
Between driving, hiking, and drone exploration we thoroughly covered a search radius of 10 miles from where Mochi had last been seen. Adjacent to the outlet mall lies a solar plant and golf course that we did our best to scour as well.
I remember the second week being much harder than the first as we started to realize we may have to settle with the idea that Mochi was gone for good. There was one day in particular, when we had a hot lead that didn’t pan out, that I took it especially hard. I am an incredibly determined soul, but there comes a point in time where you have to realize you’ve done all you can. After nonstop posting on social media, Craigslist, and lost dog subscription marketing services we were losing hope.
One Saturday morning, two weeks after Mochi was lost, I received a phone call from an unknown number that restored our faith! It was about 10AM and Beth, an active participant in our online search, alerted us to a Facebook post that might lead us in the right direction. A family off roading in the desert saw a white dog with a leash running scared by the noise of their side by side utility vehicles.