Facebook group finds, posts and searches for lost animals

Facebook group in Campbell River is utilizing the speed of the internet, the connectivity of social media and the power of word of mouth to make the community safe for lost dogs and other animals.

“It took a little while to catch on but once it did…” said Nikki Watts, one of the administrators of Lost And Found Animals of Campbell River.

It started back in 2012 when Megan Bereskin saw a “quite thin and straggly” dog wandering around the airport for quite a few weeks.

“I love animals and would do anything for them, they are my passion,” Bereskin says on the Facebook site.

She decided she needed a little bit of help to find this dog’s owners or at least get it some help. So she started the Facebook page and the word got out. Her idea was to begin a page that could share the dog’s picture and hopefully get the dog some help.

“She posted it and everybody was just ‘Oh, let’s find the dog,'” Watts said.

Many people hopped right on board and the dog was eventually caught by two women from the SPCA. It testified to the usefulness of social media in helping these animals out.

“That is how it all began,” Watts said. “From April until the following January of 2013, approximately 40 animals were returned to owners via being posted to the page as either lost or found.”

Bereskin ran the group for a while but it “got kinda big,” Watts said, and so she asked Watts to come on board and help.

The membership of the group has grown to 2,375 members. It is a closed group that requires the administrator to approve each person, which protects the integrity of the group and keeps out the spam as much as possible, Watts said.

The group serves as eyes and ears on the streets of the community. If an animal is spotted wandering around the street, people will alert the group and the posting will be reposted until an owner is found.

If no owner is found, members of the group will go out looking for the animal.

“The members are a variety of wonderful people, many who do not even own pets but volunteer their time by driving to look for animals,” Watts said. “Some help coordinate posts between those that are out looking and the online sightings and always cheer when an animal is found.”

It is not a standalone entity but a culmination of other pages in the community which includes Lost Pets CR and others including Comox Valley lost and found and Vancouver Island Pet Database. Many of the participants don’t even live in Campbell River but assist by cross-posting and checking other Facebook pages or online venues like Craigslist and CR Buy, Sell and Trade.

When the whisperings of a new animal control contract in Campbell River began in January 2013 and the resulting announcement followed in March by the SPCA that they were leaving, the group’s purpose was truly realized, Watts said. To date, there are more than 513 animals that have found their way home.

“Megan and I both believe that the LFACR is not a means to keep animals away from the proper authorities but rather a way to keep wandering and stray animals safe and also for owners to get their animals home safe and, in most situations, faster,” Watts said.

People are always urged to check with the proper authorities, whether it is Coast Animal Care (which got the animal control contract from the city) or the SPCA (which found a way to stay in the community as an educational and animal advocate group). They are often called for advice. The SPCA even posts their strays and founds to their webpage which can be shared with the community on the other pages in case someone does not see the SPCA post.

The group is more of a cooperative than anything.

“Nobody’s really in charge. Everybody just works together,” said Bonnie Fulton, a volunteer with the group. “Everything comes down to what’s good for the animals.”

As an example, consider a lost dog. On many occasions, the lost or found animal is posted to the page, details are given, one or more people will search and, in most cases, the animal is found.

“Sometimes it can be six or eight people (involved in the search),” Fulton said.lost-dog-pic

The group has evolved to include cats, small animals, dogs and even farm animals.

The success stories include kittens found in the engine of a car from Merritt. There was SPCA manager Stephanie Arkwright getting her cat Thomas back after it had been missing for two years.

Another woman’s dog had been lost in the woods for a week before it was found by campers.

“The whole idea stemmed from one person and has become a community project,” Watts said.

Watts gets involved in the searches because her work schedule involves one week on, one week off. She can also do her job from her car, so she’s usually mobile, driving around town.

There are ideas and plans in mind to improve the process. Walkie talkies would be useful during a search when not everyone has internet access.

The Facebook page has a lot of information available to help with searches or what to do when you have found an animal.

Fulton and Watts have a lot of experience themselves with finding animals. They say they always carry treats and one of their top tips when you try to recover a dog is to not chase it. Instead, walk or run away from it. The animal’s curiosity will compel it to follow you but if you chase after it to try and grab its collar, it will run away.

An example of a successful search is this story posted on the Facebook page: “Mimi is back and is resting! She has been bathed, dewormed, vaccinated, fed and cuddled and is now resting! Stressful day for her. A huge thanks again to the people that found her and the ones that spend their time searching and rescuing cats. Thanks to everyone that kept an eye out for Mimi for the last five months. Mimi and her sister will be kept indoors for their safety.”

The “found our way home” folder on the Facebook page boasts 490 photos (with 10 still waiting to move) and more than 23 in the new folder.

The group has proven to be a runaway success but they can always use more eyes and people willing to make sure Campbell River’s animals are safe.