Five years ago today, the unthinkable happened to us, a dog family. It was the start of an insane nightmare.
Before I tell the story, let me start with the end…
If you are in business, you will screw up. You will make mistakes. You will upset customers.
Winners own those mistakes.
Losers lie and blame others.
Now, the story.
Like everyone with pets, we faced the daunting task of figuring out who would take care of our pets while we went on a Disneyland vacation.
We selected a local boarding facility, dropped off our dogs, and off we went.
On August 5th, 2015, as we were walking into Disneyland, aka, “The Happiest Place On Earth”, the phone rang. It was the boarding facility.
They lost our boy, Digger.
The boarding facility, who we’ll call “Baxter & Beasley” (because that’s their name) in Palatine, Illinois, claimed that our 45-pound German Shepherd / Beagle mix dog went crazy; he bit staff, then climbed over an 8’ fence. According to that initial story, he then landed without injury on the other side of the fence, and took off, never to be seen again.
Digger, we often joked, was our favorite. Docile, would never even put his paws on the couch much less jump on it, and with our small children, he was their protector. Always looking over them, letting the kids pull his tail, ride him, all with a lick of joy.
So, when we heard the claim from the boarding facility, we were surprised but didn’t question it - thinking that maybe he was out of his element and went a little crazy. But, our attention was focused on how to help facilitate a search from 2,000 miles away. We were in California. Digger was running the streets of Palatine (just outside of Chicago).
We counted on the boarding facility to own/coordinate the search. However, they very quickly stopped - even telling us just two-hours in “we’re gonna stop searching now, as Digger is probably tired and hiding.” All we could think about is that our family member was running through streets scared, and needed to get back to safety.
At the time, we entered Disneyland and took a picture with one of the princesses (a picture in which the kids were crying). Upon realizing we couldn’t count on the boarding facility, I went into CMO mode, and my wife turned our hotel room into a battle center.
Within just a few hours, again from 2,000 miles away, my wife had chartered a helicopter to go search, talking our next-door-neighbor into going on the chopper ride. Yes, I’m serious.
The helicopter was essentially crop-dusting the city, which had social media buzzing “What is going on? There’s a helicopter buzzing town!” I kept replying, “They’re looking for our boy, Digger! #FindDigger” with a picture.
The rest of our trip was obviously ruined. While there were many claiming to have spotted him, he hadn’t been found. We arrived home two days later, anxious to hit the streets ourselves.
At this point, we had literally hundreds helping out, in some cases people we didn't even know staying out all night looking. Even the media was abuzz about the crazy story and anxious to help. WGN-TV at our house, also covered by CBS, ABC-Chicago, WLS AM radio, local newspapers and radio - all talking about our dog - lost by the boarding facility trusted to watch him while we were on vacation.
Then the story from the boarding facility started to change. The Daily Herald, one of Chicago’s newspapers, quoted the facility telling a different story. He didn't climb an 8' fence - and as a matter of fact, nobody from the facility saw what happened.
After a few more weeks without success finding Digger, things got even worse. Someone was stealing the “lost dog” signs our volunteers were putting up. They weren’t cheap - waterproof signs add up. But they’d disappear within 24 hours of going up. At the same time, our page was pulled from Facebook due to a complaint most-likely filed by the boarding facility.
So, we did three things:
1) We set up trail cams to catch the perpetrators.
2) My wife pulled what I still believe to be one of the most bad-ass moves of all time - a billboard along a major Chicago expressway
3) I posted about it the page & the disappearing signs, and the billboard - a Facebook post which was shared over 2,500 times.
Soon after, hundreds of people looking became thousands. One of those thousands caught one of the owners of the facility taking them down - on video. (transcript in the description: https://youtu.be/vMTIVI1dv00)
So, the police were now directly involved. In one of the more interesting hours of my life, I was interrogated by the Palatine Police by two detectives - which are really good at getting to the true story! The good news is, they also interrogated the boarding facility’s owner, who now was telling another version of the story.
For the three months following that August 5th incident, we received almost 600 false sightings - between 5-10 per day. Some from as far away as California, Canada, the Carolinas, Texas, pretty much anywhere you can think of. We even had psychics calling us from as far away as Australia & Europe. The outpouring from dog lovers around the world was incredible.
Sadly, now five years later, we’re still missing our boy Digger. We believe we know what really happened, which was nothing like the story they originally told. He didn’t go crazy. He didn’t bite anyone. He didn't scale an 8' fence, and like a ninja land safely on the other side and disappear. It turns out they weren’t watching him at the time, and he figured out a way to get out, likely trying to find his way back to us - his parents and our/his kids.
We still pray with our kids for his safe return nightly. Most of the articles and TV coverage has been archived from the media sites. There are still almost 4,000 followers to the FindDigger page on Facebook. We still receive messages from people around the Midwest with pictures of found dogs. We still miss our boy.
But the moral of the story is this - owning your mistakes endears your customers to you. And, due to the proliferation of social media, feedback and reviews, you can no longer hide the truth and expect to get away with it.
If the truth had been told from the beginning, owning the issue and making every effort to make it right, the permanent, irreparable damage to their business exacerbated by the media explosion, police involvement, and all of the other craziness associated with this story would have never happened.
The truth wins. Always.
For more information on Digger, read the "Afterword" in my book, The Transparency Sale. Or, check out more of the story, the sightings, the means used to find him, and some of the remaining press at www.finddigger.com