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Neighborhoods Unite Over ‘Lost and Found Pets’

First, an apology: For pussyfooting through your sculpted bushes, catcalling on your sidewalks, and sniffing around the streets while you’re stuck behind me in traffic. When Limestone Post asked me to write about Bloomington neighborhoods, they were hoping to tap into my real estate background to learn more about what’s hot in housing. Instead I stumbled onto a scene where all neighborhoods converge and where creating community transcends local identities. You can, too, but it requires a sleuthy disposition and at least a lukewarm heart to be a part of Bloomington Indiana Lost and Found Pets, a bustling Facebook group with 2,000 sleepless members and counting.

Deanna Caven started the group about two years ago while she was cat sitting for a friend. You can probably guess: That job didn’t go well for her. The cat escaped through a hole in her screen door. It was found — days after the Facebook group launched — in a higher-end neighborhood on the doorstep of Nunn other than a well-known accident attorney.

Today the Facebook group continues to grow. “We get approximately five to fifteen requests to join per day,” Caven says. At first, there was some backlash from those who wanted it to be a statewide effort. “I kept it local so that posts wouldn’t get buried so easily, hoping for a quicker retrieval of the pet if it stayed in a more condensed area. It’s worked so far!”

Salem is a 7-year-old indoor cat. She has been missing since late August on Bloomington's south side. | Courtesy photo

Salem is a 7-year-old indoor cat. She has been missing since late August on Bloomington’s south side. | Courtesy photo

Surrounding counties also participate, which makes sense given the number of pets who are lost or spotted along highways heading in and out of town. Accurate success stats are difficult to determine, but Caven estimates she sees a couple reunions per month that are directly attributable to the Facebook group. Many additional happy endings have had help from the group, and even tragic consequences can be easier to handle with the support of social media.

My own membership started innocently enough. I’d been reading Facebook’s Bloomington Indiana Online Yard Sale to catch up on the latest brawl about whose corporate boss was the worst employer. Or maybe it was the fight about the guy with the Confederate-flag profile pic looking for a cheap pregnancy test? No matter. There among the classic non sequiturs was a post about a dog found in an alley behind someone’s house. It was suggested, naturally, that this post was off-topic and should be moved to Bloomington Indiana Lost and Found Pets.

One visit and I was hooked. To watch successes unfold on the Facebook group — sometimes in just minutes — is the non-athletic equivalent to watching the World Cup at a crowded bar. Suspense is high as complete strangers root for the underdog. Victory requires precise talents. When a Labrador went missing near Lake Monroe, group members tapped into their Memory card-game skills, dug through older posts about found Labradors, and posted them in the comments until there was a match. Score! When someone found a Highland Village Chihuahua, two people instantly identified her as belonging to the neighbor around the corner who had just moved in. Commenters from all around town told the distraught owner of an Ellettsville German shepherd that they would drive around looking for him; no need this time, as someone else quickly posted a photo of a look-alike dog on the street, and the owner exclaimed, “That’s him!”

There are predictable upticks in lost and runaway incidents: Fourth of July, when fireworks frighten just about everyone and animals’ flight instincts kick in for survival; summer move-ins and move-outs, when spooked pets are unfamiliar with their new homes; holidays, when they escape the care of pet sitters while owners are on vacation.

Fear is a common thread, and even the friendliest of pets may not be approachable when frantically looking for home. For several weeks, members posted about a golden retriever skinny dipping in the drainage ditch by East Buick Cadillac Boulevard near College Mall. He’d lumber through the adjoining parking lots, snacking on burger crumbs, until people approached him — and then he would run. Group members collectively warned one another not to scare him into traffic, and they periodically posted his latest whereabouts. Staff members from the City of Bloomington Animal Care and Control, who watch and participate in the Facebook group, were finally able to catch him by setting a humane trap in the area.

For an online community, the group seems to compel people to get out and interact with the world in new ways. Hundreds of hearts broke this past summer when Jack Jack, a senior Pomeranian-pit bull, was hit by a car days after he was reportedly seen near campus. The owners weren’t the only ones combing the streets, hoping to find him before he was hurt. One group member spent an hour trying to find him after he ran past her through an intersection; others updated the group and owner’s Facebook pages with sightings.

Teamwork is the rule. “My favorite story,” Caven says, “was when a [group member’s] husband had found a stray cat that had been hit by a car, and he took it to the vet. The community pooled together to pay for its surgeries and posted/shared in an attempt to find the owner. The poor kitty still passed away, but it was touching to see everyone contribute.”

Not since the opening of Lucky’s grocery have I seen such a demographic mix of Bloomingtonians in one space. Neighbors and co-workers discover new things about each other. Who would have guessed that my real estate colleague had such a soft heart, rescuing a kitty cat near the stadium just moments after coldly delivering a counter offer to my inbox.

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This photo of Timmy, a golden retriever, was taken by the City of Bloomington Animal Care and Control staff just after they humanely caught him near the College Mall. Animal Control Outreach Coordinator Emily Herr says he "is in foster care and is doing very well! He loves other dogs and is coming out of his shell more and more every day." | Photo courtesy of the City of Bloomington Animal Care and Control

This photo of Timmy, a golden retriever, was taken by the City of Bloomington Animal Care and Control staff just after they humanely caught him near the College Mall. Animal Control Outreach Coordinator Emily Herr says he “is in foster care and is doing very well! He loves other dogs and is coming out of his shell more and more every day.” | Photo courtesy of the City of Bloomington Animal Care and Control

Upon joining the group, your behavior may change. One realization that our landscape is dotted with tiny, terrified creatures, and you might never speed-and-text through town again.

You may find the urge to help irresistible: detouring through a strip mall in hopes of glimpsing the runaway Rottweiler; taking new paths along your walking route just in case Tiger the tabby emerges from the brush. Clerks at Petco may look at you suspiciously when you request “one of those nets to capture a dog that isn’t yours.”

Of course, you shouldn’t always try to catch an animal yourself if you find one. It’s best to call Animal Control at (812) 349-3492 for a sick, injured, or aggressive animal, or one that is in danger and refuses your advances. The number offers a prompt to the after-hours dispatch number as well. Otherwise, says Animal Control Outreach Coordinator Emily Herr, please house the animal until you can bring it to the shelter to be scanned for a microchip and documented as a found pet.

“We give people the option of leaving the animal with us or the option of holding onto the animal themselves,” she says. “We do encourage people to use social media, as well, since it has quite a bit of success in reuniting pets with their guardians.”

The action on Bloomington Indiana Lost and Found Pets changes daily. In the last 24 hours, a cat and two dogs have been lost and already found; Ray, a black cat, is now lost near West 8th Street; and there’s a discussion about funding an effort to trap and neuter ferals. But I have to go: Luna, a brown pit bull, has been roaming for several weeks near Olcott Park, and her owners want people to call them with sightings. I may just find an excuse to cruise down Sare Road today.

[Editor’s note: The Facebook group reports that Luna has finally been found!]

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Contributors
Zak Szymanski
Zak Szymanski was a full-time journalist in New York and San Francisco for several years. He freelances for various publications and occasionally teaches writing at Indiana University. He makes his living as a real estate agent as a broker associate at RE/MAX Realty Professionals in Bloomington. 
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