It's 4:00 a.m. on a Friday morning, a day most of us celebrate the end of a long work-week. For Lost Paws Inc., the end of the week signals a different type of beginning, without rest or monetary reward. While social media feeds overflow with TGIF memes, LPI algorithms fill with photos of missing pets, sightings and directions to 'not call out.'
Another pet has gone astray, faced with honing their domesticated instincts against the perils that call local forests home. Volunteers, with careers in differing professions, will join in one mission - the business of tracking vanished pets.
The search commences with a frantic phone call, social post or referral. They will begin this journey as strangers, and swiftly become lifelines, bound by one commonality - a desire to bring this pet home. For Barb and Chris Hobden, founders of LPI, a passion project would quickly become a selfless second career.
Their experience tells them that fearful animals travel in shadows. Like the script of a Hollywood movie, they trade sleep for night vision equipment. Sightings send the family on an emotional thrill-ride, while LPI stays focused on logistics. Years of experience has taught them to think like an animal in fear. When this pet grows tired of running - driven by thirst, and hunger, LPI will anticipate their arrival, with sensory traps.
The organization was launched in October, 2016 "after witnessing firsthand, the impact that a lost pet can have on their owners and the frustration and confusion faced by their families during the search."
Alicia Fleet and boyfriend Alex Choiniere, witnessed the work of LPI when their dog Leo went missing from a Kingston kennel on New Year's Eve. After two weeks of searching, with hundreds of volunteers, they called LPI. The crew, who all work out of Waterloo Region, took their gear to Kingston and joined the search. They traced Leo to an abandoned barn, where they set up a trap. When Leo showed up, they called his owners. "They spent hours out there just walking around," said Alicia. "It's just, he wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for Lost Paws."
Their advice for those whose pets go missing? Never give up the search. "We see between one to five reports of missing pets every day," says co-founder Barb Hobden. "Engagement levels can vary. Sometimes our involvement is getting a poster setup and shared. We could be guiding and coaching via phone and social media to the family. Sometimes we are out for hours searching surrounding terrain."
So, how much does a search and rescue mission cost?
You can't put a monetary value on the services they provide, and LPI hasn't. Everything they do is free of charge. The team who searches "before work, after work, sometimes on their lunch breaks" are funded by donations.
The rescue organization consists of 4 directors, and 3 response and social media leads. "They do everything they can to ensure the safe return of pets," says Chrissy Bowles, President and Founder of Miss Dixie's Food and Supply Bank for Rescues - who has also worked alongside LPI.
A group of approximately 30 volunteers help in their dedicated area's - Kitchener/Waterloo, Cambridge, Stratford/St Marys/Mitchell and Woodstock. Barb says, "no matter if it is a lost/found or spotted pet our volunteers are spending time helping."
What should we do if our pet is lost?