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North Hills Monthly

Reuniting Dogs with Families Uses Social Media, Searchers to Find Lost Pets

Dec 30, 2014 12:10PM ● By Vanessa Orr
It happens in an instant. You let your dog out, and he bolts through an open gate. A collar slips and suddenly, your pet is running free. Any pet owner who has ever lost a dog knows that horrible feeling. And the longer a dog is missing, the harder it is for both the animal and its owner.

Reuniting Dogs with Families is a Facebook group, made up completely of volunteers, that helps those in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas when a pet is lost. The group is dedicated to bringing all dogs home, even if that means driving miles to follow up on a sighting, or sitting outside all night near a trap to try to catch a frightened animal.

“There are many other lost dog groups that share and cross-post missing dog information, but we wanted to be more hands-on than that,” explained one of Reuniting’s founders, Dee Ryan. “We share and cross-post messages, but also get out there and physically search for lost dogs.” There is no cost to owners for any of these services.

Most people are at a loss when a pet first goes missing. But the more people who search for a lost dog, the better the chance that it can be found—and that’s where the community comes in.

“The community serves as our eyes; they contact us with sightings so that we can go out to the area with traps,” said Ryan. “It’s surprising how far some of these animals can go; we had a dog lost in Penn Hills that was found in Indiana County—nobody would have thought that the dog could go that far.”

The Reuniting team also provides support to families in numerous ways. “We have more than 2,300 members; some of whom cross-post messages and some who search,” said Ryan. “We have people scanning craigslist and other lost dog pages for information while others are making flyers—many of our members are previous lost dog owners who are now paying it forward.”

One such owner is Melanie Wedge of Westmoreland County, who lost her dog, Winnie, when someone left their gate open. “I posted that Winnie was lost on Facebook, and was contacted by Dina Perri, who works with Reuniting Dogs,” she explained. “Their volunteers made up 300 flyers that they posted everywhere, and then the sightings began to come in.”

Winnie, a Shibu Ina who was a puppy mill rescue, was missing for seven weeks, but the group never gave up. “Dawn Weichler set a trap where there had been sightings, and baited it two times a day with fresh, hot food,” said Wedge. “Finally someone called and said that Winnie was in her backyard; Dawn and Dina went to that house and coaxed her to stay there for hours; she wouldn’t come to them, but they stayed with her.”

It wasn’t until Wedge was able to arrive with her other dogs that Winnie realized that she could go home. “She was in an almost semi-feral state from trying to survive, but you could see it click—that’s my family,” said Wedge. “Reuniting Dogs was priceless to me in bringing her back. I had no idea where to start.” In gratitude, Wedge held a fundraiser for the group this summer that raised money to buy “tons” of trapping gear so that they could save even more lost dogs.

To date, Reuniting Dogs has had more than 1,600 lost dogs that were posted on their page reunited with families; something that Ryan never gets tired of seeing. “I just helped find a Vizsla that was missing from Moon Township; the smile on her owner’s face was worth every moment,” she said. “When the dog finally sees its owner, the yapping and barking and wagging is completely amazing. I can’t even describe it.”

Reuniting Dogs continues to offer support to families no matter how long it takes to bring a missing pup home. Shazeena Taherbhai and her parents have been looking for PJ, a Dachshund mix, since mid-September.

“I heard about Reuniting Dogs from the rescue group that gave us PJ—by the time I joined their page, they already had a post going with more than 500 comments,” said Taherbhai. “They’ve gone above and beyond; they posted hundreds of flyers and set up traps in the East Liberty/Highland Park area where he was lost.

“They came out to meet us and talked to my parents; they gave a huge pep talk to my father, and got him involved in the search,” she added. “These people are angels on earth; they are just amazing. Even though it’s been three months, they are still going strong.”

“I’ve lost my dog for six hours; I can completely understand the emotions that owners go through,” added Ryan. “We know how they feel, so we do everything we can to get their dogs back.”  

For more information, visit Reuniting Dogs with Families on Facebook.