Social media tools help find lost pets
by Staff Writer
The goal is a happy ending to an unhappy situation.
Social media often helps accomplish that in the case of lost pets.
It’s a fairly recent development that in many cases has reunited pet owners with their animals who’ve wandered off or been stolen. Social media’s effectiveness is its ability to reach a lot of people quickly.
Pet owners, for instance, can set up a Facebook page for a missing pet, or launch messages on Twitter immediately. The advantages are being able to give detailed descriptions about the animal, including multiple photos, and provide updates to where the pet may have been spotted.
Conversely, animal shelters often establish Facebook pages with photos of lost pets they’ve taken in.
“It’s gotten very popular, and a lot of shelters are moving toward putting things on Facebook,” said Cornelius Animal Control Officer Trey Nodine. He said the Cornelius Animal Shelter doesn’t use those methods, but occasionally posts flyers from owners of lost pets on its website.
Dog thefts rose by 32 percent nationwide in 2011, compared to the previous year, according to the American Kennel Club. The main reason for theft was financial gain.
Facebook pages have been established in many cities and states as an exchange for information on lost pets – descriptions and photos of lost pets, updates on where a pet may have been sighted and success stories of when a pet has been found.
There’s a Facebook page for North Carolina pets – www.facebook.com/LostFoundDogs.NC – with hundreds of missing pets listed.
In a 12-hour period on Sept. 20, for example, there were listings of dogs missing in Fayetteville, Gastonia, Greenville, Raeford, Shallotte, and Lee, Rutherford, Scotland and Vance counties.
Animal experts agree that the immediacy of social media is helpful when a pet goes missing, just as is with humans. Facebook posts can be updated continually. A tweet can be re-tweeted by those who receive it, creating thousands of viewers in a matter of minutes.
Also, in many cases with a lost pet, social media can be directed to neighbors and friends nearby. Often, a dog or cat isn’t far from home and might be huddled somewhere in fear. Social media can specifically mention where a pet went missing, and alert people living in that area. It’s much faster and less expensive than printing and posting fliers. Michael Heinen of the Lake Norman Animal Hospital in Mooresville said the use of social media and websites were helpful in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the flooding in eastern North Carolina.
If you lose a pet, Heinen suggested checking immediately with neighbors, posting signs at stop signs on the nearest road (with photo, if possible) and area veterinary hospitals.
Social media has helped in spreading word about recalls affecting pets, too, Heinen said. Many people used social media to learn about a recent recall concerning pet food from China that was toxic.
He said the best method to retrieve a lost pet is microchipping, in which a microchip (about the size of a grain of rice) is implanted in the pet. It’s a permanent form of identification that can’t be removed by dognappers.
“It’s unalterable,” he said. “Social media is a help, but it’s not a one-and-only thing.
Having a microchip installed costs about $50, which includes entry into a national database.
Years ago, during natural disasters, specifically, the chances of finding a lost pet were slim to none. But Heinen sums up the social media effect this way:
“Facebook, Twitter and other social media are one more tool that can help.”