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How midstate's 'Find Toby' helps find thousands of lost pets

Written by Joel Shannon/York Daily Record | Mar 1, 2017 1:28 PM
find_toby.jpg

In 2012, the "Find Toby in Pa." Facebook page helped find Toby, pictured, a dog separated from his owner in Mechanicsburg, Pa. (Photo: Submitted photo)

(Undated) -- Find Toby "made it possible to feel hope" when she was searching for her lost dog, wrote Elizabeth Geib.

That kind of Facebook review is normal for "Find Toby in Pa.": A central Pa.-based Facebook page that helps connect lost pets and owners. The page has nearly 40k followers. With over 150 reviews, they average a rating of 4.9 out of five.

York Spring's Glenda Rupert - who calls herself the "elder spokesperson" of the page - says that it all started with Toby, a dog lost in the Mechanicsburg area in 2012.

After 16 days of networking efforts - including starting the "Find Toby" Facebook page - Toby was reunited with his owner, nearly 15 miles away from where he was lost.

The page was so successful that followers clamored to keep it active. Five years later, thanks to the efforts of a team of volunteers, the page has posted thousands of photos of reunited cats, dogs and other formerly lost animals.

Some of the page's efforts have resulted in high-profile pet hunts. That happened a few weeks ago, when two York County dogs were reportedly stolen: Their photo on Find Toby shared 11k timesthe case was covered by local media and the dogs were returned to their owners.

Running the page is a labor of love for Rupert, who works more than 40 hours a week on Find Toby in her retirement.

A self-described "dog lady," she knows how much pets mean to their owners ... And owners mean to their pets.

One particular case sticks out in her memory: A nine-month project to return Bella, a labrador, to her owner. Rupert doesn't know why Bella resisted being caught for so long -- she blames survival instinct.

But in Rupert's years of volunteering, Bella's reaction to being reunited with her owners was "the most emotional thing": She whimpered, "she crumbled and melted like a little puppy."

For owners who are separated from their pets, Rupert describes how Find Toby can help.

Education

There are several specific tips the Find Toby team recommends for owners looking for a lost pet that are detailed in the page's notes section.

Some simple steps can greatly help improve chances of a pet returning. Rupert says owners should leave a comfortable space out, since many dogs circle back to their home in a matter of hours. And when encountering a running dog, owners should resist the temptation to chase -- sitting or laying better attracts the attention of the dog and discourages them from running away.

Location and teamwork

With a mailing address in Cumberland County, Find Toby has a deep network of volunteers across Central Pennsylvania and into Maryland.

Their team closely monitors the Facebook page 98 hours a week, quickly responding to messages asking for help.

"If your dog is lost, an hour is a lifetime," Rupert said. She coordinates the team of about 15 who monitor the page.

When a pet goes missing in central Pa., Rupert says that page admins know who to tag in social media posts to alert locals in that area.

Skills and financial support

While the social success of the page has built a virtual network, there's often no substitute for on-the-ground efforts.

Depending on the needs of the owner, the Find Toby is equipped to print fliers, set up traps, raise funds or connect owners to professional experts. The page is connected with the non-for-profit SMART 4 PAWS, which has more resources for owners seeking lost pets.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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