In the old days, if your dog got loose you might just post flyers. These days you have many more options, you might even get a message like this on your answering machine when a neighbor’s pooch goes missing.
“This is a lost pet alert for your neighbor Janine. Her dog, Sweetie, went missing on Golf Club Drive,” was a message left by the service Find Toto. When Natalie Abbot’s dog Lola escaped from her pet sitters house while she was on a business trip, she hired a similar service, which set her back about $1,200.
“It was funny because some elderly people got the call and it really confused them,” she said. They they would call me like ‘Why are you calling my house? Don’t call my house!’ And I’m like ‘I’m sorry!'”
When she got home, Abbot contacted the Philly animal shelter, started Facebook and Twitter accounts, and printed 6,000 flyers. Her friends translated the flyer into Spanish and Vietnamese to get the attention of all of her South Philly neighbors.
“I went the other day and put them up all around the Vietnamese markets,” she said. And of course people started coming up to me and talking in Vietnamese and I’m like ‘I don’t know Vietnamese I’m sorry.’ But then I panicked and thought well have they seen my dog and I don’t know what they’re saying. But they switched to English and were saying ‘I hope you find your dog.'”
It’s all about ID
Finding you canine buddy starts with correct identification.
Jennifer Berwick, assistant director of operations for Philly’s Animal Care and Control Center, says Natalie has done everything right, including having a vet insert a microchip into Lola so she can be identified even without her dog license. Most vets and many shelters have the scanner needed to read the microchip. It provides an ID number and then a call to the microchip service can provide the phone number of the dog’s owner.
“I love microchips,” said Berwick. “They’re great, as long as you keep the information accurate. A lot of times we run into dead ends on these microchips and that is frustrating because you know it’s someone’s baby but we just can’t track them down,” she said. She said owners often forget to update the phone number on record when they move or switch numbers.
If your dog is found with a microchip, it will be held at the shelter for 48 hours. If it has it’s city license, it will be held for five days and they will send a certified letter. “We really recommend, and it’s the law, keeping a dog license on,” said Berwick. “The other benefit is that you don’t need a scanner to identify a dog. There’s a special hotline number on the back. And if you call we instantly know who that dog is.”
Social media to the rescue
The shelter’s Facebook page Lost and Found Pets of Philly has successfully reunited dogs such as Destiny and Buttons with their owners. The two dogs were found sitting on a sidewalk and when ACCT’s officers arrived on the scene, it was obvious the two animals were bonded.
“Once we got Buttons up and moving, then right away, Destiny jumped right up and followed Buttons,” said Berwick. “So we thought my goodness, they must be somebody’s pets. We put up a Facebook post with their pictures and we had so many people interested. And by the very next morning, the owner was here.”
Finding Rover is a free app that applies dog facial recognition software. It is starting to partner with shelters to create a live online feed of strays for identification. CEO John Palameno says it makes sense for people who don’t feel comfortable around animals.
“Let’s say you’re in the park on a Sunday afternoon and you see a big dog. How many people would actually get near that animal, put it in their car and know where to take it?,” asked Palameno. “So with this technology anybody with a phone and the app can take a picture of the dog and identify it, if it’s been reported lost, instantly,” he said.
Still, Berwick of the shelter says that even after a few weeks on the run, a dog can look completely different, and only an owner can see through all that dirt. She remembers a time when owners sent a picture of their missing dog, which was in the shelter, but that wasn’t enough. The staff couldn’t connect the actual dog with the photo. Only once the owners showed up did they make the happy discovery.
A long wait eased with help from new friends.
Doing everything she can to find Lola doesn’t make waiting any easier for Natalie Abbot in South Philly. She appreciates the people who have supported her search.
“There are a lot of people who are really moved by an animal in distress,” said Abbot. “People who are total strangers to me have come from out of the city or people who live in North Philly take the bus down to walk around and hand out flyers and look for her. Everybody keeps telling me it takes one flyer in front of the right person. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
She’s still waiting for that happy reunion.