Web site offers new hope for finding lost pets

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Michele Roberts
For The Lancaster News
May is National Pet Month, a time to celebrate the furry, four-legged companions that can be more like family members than just mere pets. For most pet owners, the worst possible scenario would to be to lose that valued member of the family. But there are several resources that can increase the chances of reuniting with a lost dog or cat.
One resource is the website www.thecenterforlostpets.org, a national database for missing or found animals. The website is a completely free service that offers a one stop resource center for those who have found or lost a pet. Founder Liz Blackman said her company uses its 17 years of experience in emergency situations concerning lost and found animals to the fullest extent on the site.
“There are lots of sites like this that charge people money for services like this, but we feel it is important not to do that,” Blackman said. “Losing a pet, or even finding one, can be an extremely stressful situation, and we feel that we don’t need to add to that anxiety by asking for a credit card number before we will help you.”
The site is designed so that when someone enters information on a lost or found pet, the database goes to work compiling a list of possible matches. A checklist is also available to more effectively find lost pets that is tailored specifically for either a dog or cat. The site also provides avenues to find a lost pet, and provides advice particular to the case from pet detectives and others who specialize in finding lost pets.
“Let’s say you are a pet detective in Kentucky who has a proven technique for finding cats in that area,” she said. “We want you to post that information on the site because someone may be in need of that particular thing. Or, let’s say you are an animal control officer in California who finds a dog who is terrified of thunder. The expert advice we have posted on this site can help that officer calm the dog while his owner is located.
“There are many ways a lost or found pet situation can become complicated, and we welcome advice to be posted on that address even the worst of cases,” Blackman added.
An example of a complicated case would be to lose a pet while traveling in another state. Blackman said that since it is impossible to put life at home on hold until the pet is found, the Internet and the website make it possible to return home and still be reunited with a missing pet.
“Situations like that can be tough, but because of the comprehensive nature of our site, you are almost guaranteed to find one another if someone in that other state has found your pet,” she said. “This site has some serious information on it, and no, our name isn’t cute or particularly catchy. But it isn’t supposed to be. The only thing we do is this (find missing pets.)
“Our title sponsor is the Humane Society of the United States, and they do a wonderful job of getting the word out about this site, which is what we strive to do because of what it can accomplish,” she added.
Locally, the number of dogs and cats picked up each year in Lancaster County is in the thousands, said Joel Hinson at the Lancaster County Animal Shelter. Last fiscal year (July 2010 through June 2011), about 4,500 animals passed through the shelter’s doors. Of the 2,114 dogs, just 210 were reclaimed by their owners, and only 32 of the 2,219 cats found their way back to their homes. Hinson said 735 dogs and cats were either adopted or taken in by rescue groups, and 3,679 dogs and cats were euthanized during that time frame.
“We know that some of those dogs and cats belonged to somebody,” Hinson said. “We cannot stress enough that when a pet goes missing, call us first before checking anywhere else. We have a Facebook page, and people can come in the office and post fliers, because chances are the dog or cat is going to wind up here.”
Hinson said it is also important that people understand state and county laws that require dogs and cats to wear identifying tags on their collars.
“Some people say they have forgotten to put the collar back on after giving the animal a bath, and they went missing before it was put back on,” he said. “But state law says they must have their rabies tag on their collar, and we can locate the owner that way. County law says there must also be an owner ID tag on the collar as well, which would definitely make things much easier in returning a pet to their owner. They need to have an ID on that collar at all times.”
ID tags are available at local stores and veterinarian offices. Installing microchips in pets is another way to help find missing pets. The animal shelter is capable of reading the chips.
Joan Burris, community outreach coordinator for the Humane Society of Lancaster County, said the organization will do everything it can to help a pet owner in need.
“We also have a Facebook page, and so does the Friends of Shelter Animals group,” Burris said. “We cross-post pictures and just blast the photos everywhere when we get them. Pets have been found this way. We also have many contacts with area rescue groups, so there are many ways of finding a pet locally.”
Blackman said with all the resources and information at our fingertips, all is not necessarily lost when a pet goes missing.
“One of the things we wanted to do with this site is give people hope,” Blackman said. “Many times, when a person loses a pet, well-meaning friends or family members encourage the person to move on. But a lost pet is not a lost cause.
“The kindness of strangers is astonishing, especially when it comes to pets. Helping reunite someone with a lost pet can really bring out the best in people, so we don’t want anyone to give up. Remarkable reunions have happened,” she added.