Steamboat Springs dog’s social media page makes his return to owner possible
Steamboat Springs — Champ, the little Labrador retriever/boxer mix, is back in the arms of his owner, June Florence, this week thanks to a rugby player with a heart of gold, an armed bodyguard and the power of social media.
Champ, still an adolescent, may be one of only a handful of dogs in Steamboat Springs with his own Facebook page, and it’s his social media presence that saved his relationship with Florence. He was off-leash when he went missing on Aug. 27. And there is a possibility there is a sinister aspect to Champ’s temporary disappearance last week, according to Ken Feder of Colorado Bodyguard Services in Denver, who is a longtime private investigator and also a dog lover.
“Indirectly, I’m aware of people who are apparently coming up to mountain communities that have no leash laws (Steamboat has one) and going to high-end homes and residences,” taking dogs off the streets, “and listing them on Facebook or Craigslist as a recovery (of a stray or lost dog), as sort of a scam and (and it’s a horrible one at that) and asking ‘Is there a reward?’”
It should be said that the individual, who handed Champ back to Florence in the Federal Heights neighborhood of Denver over the weekend, never asked for a reward or a ransom. But it’s clearly due to the quick thinking of astute Facebook user Tina Kyprios that Florence and her friends were able to identify and quickly reach out to the people who had Champ.
“So many people helped look for Champ. The police were super nice, and animal control was very helpful,” Florence said. “Everyone was so good to me.”
Especially helpful was Steamboat resident Micah Bandfield, 30, who ultimately made the Facebook contact that put Florence in touch with the young man who provided Champ an unwanted lift to Denver. But Bandfield’s role didn’t end there.
On Saturday morning, he walked away from a hot breakfast and jumped in a car to accompany Florence on her mission to recover Champ from a man they knew only as “Josh” although they had never met before.
Champ, really just an adolescent, exhibits many of the traits of a puppy. He’s comfortable with strangers, doesn’t often bark and has previously shown no tendency to run off in search of doggy romance.
“Champ went missing on Aug. 27 at 11 a.m.,” Florence said. “We had just come in the back door (of her natural food business, Joose, on Downhill Drive) and I saw him scoot out the front door. Since I’ve had him for nine weeks, he just hangs out.” When I turned around, I went, ‘Where’s Champ?’”
Florence, who has been a member of ski patrol at Steamboat Ski Area for 35 years, said she was used to Champ visiting the guys next door at Advanced Copier Solutions. But no one there had seen him.
Friends rallied and searched the area including the nearby West Acres mobile home park, but there was no sign of the little black dog with a square jaw.
Champ gets a Facebook page
Kyprios was well acquainted with Champ.
“He comes over and plays with my dog,” Kyprios said. “He stole my affection. He’s just a sweet, sweet, boy.’
When the dog had not turned up by Friday, Kyprios created a Facebook event page called “Champ is Missing” and invited her Facebook friends to view it.
“I don’t have a lot of friends on Facebook, but I invited about 50 people, and by the end of Friday, there were over 600 people invited. I’m pretty excited by that and even more by how it demonstrates the power of the Internet,” Kyprios said.
Among the people learning of the missing dog on Facebook was Bandfield, who actually noticed Champ’s disappearance while viewing a friend’s Facebook post of the old-school posters seeking information about Champ displayed around West Steamboat.
Bandfield said Wednesday he is in the habit of sharing announcements of that nature.
“I shared it just like after every weekend, I share that people’s bikes go missing. We share it and eventually, we find it,” Bandfield said. “I grew up in a small community in the Santa Cruz Mountains a lot like Steamboat. That’s part of why I live here. It’s why we all live here, to help out one another.”
Lo and behold, Bandfield’s post on Facebook was picked up by a personal friend, who wrote that he recognized a man putting Champ into is car. Upon waking up Saturday morning, Bandfield contacted his friend and obtained a phone number for “Josh.”
“I called and made him realize he needs to give that dog back,” Bandfield said. “I made him feel like he was doing a good thing to take care of it, and to make that complete, he needed to give it back.”
Bandfield put Florence in touch with Josh, and thinking that was the end of it, headed out the door to go to breakfast with his girlfriend.
Florence said she called Josh and calmly asked him if he would send a picture of Champ and confirm that he was in good shape. They mutually agreed that Josh would meet her in front of an apartment building in Denver and return her dog.
“I think he realized that he used poor judgment,” she said.
In the meantime, Julian Bristow, a friend of Florence who just happens to be Bandfield’s Steamboat Rugby coach, called her to say he thought it would be a good idea to take a larger male friend along with her. Florence, and a close friend Tawnya Fabian were leaving for Denver when Bristow called Bandfield and suggested that because he had developed a rapport with Josh, he would be a good choice to travel with the two women.
Bandfield barely hesitated before agreeing his mentor’s recommendation.
“I told him, ‘If you think that’s the best way to go, I’ll go.’ Julian is a friend, a mentor, a coach, a boss and everything,” Bandfield said.
The trio was heading over Rabbit Ears Pass when another male friend called Florence and insisted on arranging for her to pick up Feder in Denver before heading for the meeting with Josh.
Feder described how everyone transferred to his Chevy Tahoe, which is fitted with an official-looking searchlight, to go to the meeting with Josh. He had declined to give them an apartment number but said he would meet them in the foyer.
As soon as they arrived at the apartment building, they spied the young man approaching the building with Champ on a leash. Micah, Tawnya and June all got out of the car to meet him while Ken remained behind.
And then, four more men and a woman began approaching the group.
Florence remembers only reuniting with her pet.
“I flung the door open and called his name and he lunged at me — he saw the door and dove in,” she said.
In the meantime, Bandfield said, one of the men in the second group approached him with an aggressive posture.
“I put my hand on his chest,” to keep him at a distanc,e Bandfield said.
That’s when Feder stepped out of the Tahoe wearing a shoulder holster with the butt of his handgun clearly visible.
“I said, ‘Excuse me Micah, we have a time frame, and we have to leave right now,’” he recalled.
The way Bandfield remembers it, the group of men needed only one glance at Feder before they backed down.
Asked about his handgun and the potential the situation held for violence, Feder said, “We are professional de-escalators. I’ve had a permit (as a) security and bodyguard for many years, and I was a Brinks investigator for 30 years.”
More than that, the lesson he wants people to take away from Champ’s misadventure is not to take the security of their pets for granted, even if they live in a resort town far from the city.
“Based on my experience as a forensic investigator for the better part of 40 years and based on what I saw with (Josh) and the people that came after he brought the dog, this is not just a passing incident or happenstance,” Feder said. “I think they are in the business.”
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