As crispy fallen leaves on the ground marked September’s final days, Tracy Mildenberger was out running the same route Victoria area that she strides along every day.
While stopping to change her music, she looked up and saw what at first glance appeared to be animal hands or feet protruding from a pile of leaves.
Thinking it was a funny setup of Halloween decorations, she then resumed her run. But then she thought the arrangement being on the sidewalk was oddly public, so she decided to turn around as it dawned on her it could be an animal in need of help underneath the leaves.
Not wanting to get too close, she took a picture of the exposed extremities before going home and posting it on a Victoria Facebook page – asking the online members whether they thought it was a dead dog or a Halloween prank.
“I said look ‘I don’t know if this is funny or concerning,’ but could somebody else go check it out?” she said.
What ensued over the next couple of hours was an evolving discussion about what the feet belonged to, who should brave taking a closer look and the group literally and figuratively getting to the bottom of the leaf pile mystery.
“It just turned into this hilariously amusing online debate,” Mildenberger said.
The hundreds of comments began with people pondering whether the feet were real or fake, with some saying it was definitely a prank. Then Mildenberger had to fend off calls for her to be the one who should investigate, either by moving the leaves or using a stick to poke what lied beneath.
“They said ‘Why don’t you check it out’ and I said “Why don’t YOU check it out,’” she said.
Her curiosity was mixed with concern about a dog or child trudging through the leaves, so Mildenberger volunteered to drive people to the spot if they offered to wade into the pile’s unknown.
Even though it was the first animal that came to mind, she got a lot of flack from commenters for her hasty post asking if it might be a dog’s feet. Mildenberger herself was laughing at her own suggestion as she tried to stir the discussion back to the mystery at hand.
“When they saw the pictures, everybody was like, honey, those are not dog’s feet,” she said with a laugh.
Comments saying the feet belonged to a raccoon started pouring in as the friendly banter among strangers continued. There were demands for updates from those eagerly following the situation, with many others saying they were just there to take in the frantic and funny debates.
Mildenberger received multiple private messages during the five-hour discussion. One was from someone saying they couldn’t find the post and they wanted to sit down with a cup of tea and read through the entertaining comments.
Another was from the “hero” who wanted to help the animal and eventually bagged up what turned out to be a dead raccoon.
A third message was from a guy who offered to deal with the animal, but in doing so also proposed taking Mildenberger out on a date.
For the one who started the debate, its online attention was likely due to a mix of the public’s curiosity about the incident and concern for the animal.
“As it kind of progressed throughout the few hours I had it up, everybody was just laughing with me – and at me – and I was just loving it,” Mildenberger said. “I just had so much fun and I could tell everybody else had fun.”