The lost pet flyer, circulated on social media, eventually led to the recovery of Scooby, a chocolate Lab mix who wandered away from his Lewiston home. Photo submitted

It was a bitter cold February night and Scooby was on the run. 

A shy chocolate Lab mix, the family dog had scampered away from its Louise Avenue home and his owners were frantic with worry. 

“We have driven all the streets and logical grids from Sabattus Street all the way down to the Androscoggin River,” Jay Brenchick wrote at about 10 p.m. that frigid Sunday night. “We rode the highway to see if somehow he got up there. I’ve also driven all over the place illogically. It’s getting late and cold but I’m confident he will turn up.” 

Alas, another hour ticked by and still no sign of the 7-year-old Scooby. With the temperatures dropping even lower, the matter became more desperate for Jay and his family. 

By that point, at least five people were out physically searching for the wayward dog in spite of the hour and the cold. Yet just as important, word was spreading fast on social media and more or more eyes were turned on the problem. 

Why so much attention for this one runaway pooch? It’s not so surprising, really. Because Brenchick had made the exceedingly wise decision to seek help finding his dog anywhere he could find it. 

“If you type ‘Maine Lost’ in the search field in Facebook,” Jay told me, “you will see all of the lost pet pages that we used.” 

Run the search yourself, and you’ll see what Jay means. These days, lost pet services are everywhere on Facebook: Maine Lost Dog Recovery. Maine Lost Cat Recovery. Maine Lost Pets, Furry Friends Rescue, the list goes on and on. 

Jay and his family had particularly good luck with Maine Lost Dog Recovery, a group that has been around close to a decade and which has brought well over a thousand dogs home safely. 

The men and women who man the Lost Dog Recovery page do not fool around. Of their 35 volunteers, 20 of them are page administrators who monitor their page in two-hour shifts so nothing gets missed. 

“We are sure to answer people as soon as possible who contact us about their lost dog, providing our form to be completed so a detailed flyer can be made,” says volunteer Lauren Chen. 

Ah, yes. The flyers. These days, those lost pet posters are ubiquitous on social media — although the pros suggest, and strongly, placing them out in the physical world, as well, particularly in the neighborhood where the dog or cat went missing.

“Getting those flyers printed and posted in your area is really key,” says Joanne Greenlaw, a founding member of the Maine Lost Pets group and now a volunteer with Maine Lost Cat Recovery. “Because the family’s audience is anyone who is walking, driving or biking through the area. These are the people who are going to see your cat.”

Greenlaw repeats this several times for emphasis. By her estimation, success in finding a lost pet is 20 times more likely to be due to a printed poster hanging on a pole than it is one posted on social media.

“We work very hard to dispel the myth that it’s only about social media,” Greenlaw says.

Outdoors or on a computer screen, nearly everybody knows at a glance what those posters mean. Bright red and yellow with large print announcing the details of the missing pet in question, the flyers catch the eye and stir complete strangers to action. 

If Jay didn’t know this before, he knows it now. He had posted Scooby’s flyer in several spots and copies ultimately wound up in all the right places. It appeared on the popular Lewiston Rocks and Lewiston Police Facebook pages, for instance, and from there it was shared dozens of times before midnight had even rolled around.

COME HOME SCOOBY, COME HOME 

As Sunday night gave way to Monday morning, it seemed like every other person on Facebook was keeping an eye out for Scooby, who remained among the missing. When dawn came, it brought more of the frigid temperatures sure to weaken even the most robust of dogs. 

Fortunately for the Brenchick family — and for ol’ Scoob’ himself — that distinct yellow and red flyer had now been seen by hundreds of local people who, when it comes to missing pets, tend to pay attention. 

“My fiancee and I were at home and we saw this dog walking around our house outside,” says Jared Smith, who lives on Crowley Road, near the Sabattus line. “I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it was a neighbor’s dog or something. But then my fiancee, she was just scrolling through Facebook and she came across a lost dog post — one of those official yellow posters that stand right out. And she asked me, ‘Does that look like the dog we saw walk around outside?’ And I was like, ‘You know? I think it is.'” 

Jared called the phone number posted on the flyer and he got Jay at once. 

“I told him the dog tracks went out through my backyard and into the woods and it hadn’t been more than 45 minutes since we’d seen him,” Jared recalls. “I told him he was welcome to come park in my driveway and follow the tracks out into the woods.” 

Tired from a night of searching, Jay Brenchick went out into the wilds of outer Lewiston, stomping through the snow and huffing in the cold in search of his truant dog. 

“I had to track him for about an hour through the woods,” Brenchick said later.

By then, he was joined by his wife and in-laws. They followed the dog’s track up a hill, through the snow and ultimately to some stranger’s yard, but soon after, the tracks disappeared and still there was no sign of Scooby. What had seemed like a promising lead had led only to more disappointment, and all seemed lost.

“My wife and I were scared and heartbroken that the trail had gone dead,” Jay says. “We hadn’t given up on him, but we figured we were in for a long night as we walked back up Crowley (Road) to our car. After a few minutes of walking, I caught something out of the corner of my eye across the road. It was Scooby, whimpering and limping, but wagging his tail so fast and hard that his entire back end was wagging too.”

And that was that. Whatever Scooby had experienced during his long bout of freedom, he seemed perfectly happy to be done with it. A day after Scooby hit the road, he was back at home, tired but otherwise well.

“Scooby is in recovery mode,” Brenchick said a day later. “Has been sleeping all night and day.” 

The chocolate Lab mix Scooby recovers at home after a long night of wandering in the cold. Photo submitted

As quickly as word had spread on social media when Scooby went missing, word spread again when he was found. As is always the case with missing pets, the masses — just about all of them complete strangers to Jay and Scooby — were unified in their relief. 

“Thank God!’ offered one woman. 

“Great news!” declared another. 

‘THAT DOG IS MY LIFE’ 

But just as celebrations over the return of Scooby were still ringing out, another missing dog report rolled in through Maine Lost Dog Recovery. 

This time, the dog was a friendly faced pitbull mix named Rosie and her owner, Ryan Rairdon, of Litchfield, was frantic to find her. 

“That dog is literally my life,” Rairdon said, “and anyone that knows me knows that.” 

The search was on, in the real world and in the cyber world. Hundreds of people weighed on Rairdon’s Facebook posts, including the volunteers from Maine Lost Dog Recovery, who offered to create one of their iconic posters for Rosie. 

Rairdon himself spent hours on his four-wheeler and snow sled, trawling the woods around his home in search of his missing friend. His co-workers at Central Maine Powersports in Lewiston put together a genuine search party and the hunt for Rosie broadened even further. 

Once again, the viral nature of a Facebook post resulted in dozens and dozens of locals actively looking out for Rairdon’s missing dog. And once again, it got results. 

Four days after Rosie vanished, she was spotted on a porch, but by the time Rairdon arrived, she was gone again. 

Rosie, a pitbull mix, was lost and then found in Litchfield. Submitted photo

“I walked every camp road I could find, calling her,” Rairdon says. “She ended up on this couples’ property, who fortunately had seen one of the Facebook posts that were shared. I got there ASAP and as soon as Rosie heard my voice, she let the loudest whine out of her I have ever heard.” 

Rosie is back home now, skinnier and suffering frostbite in a few places, but Rairdon isn’t complaining. As much as he pounded the pavement and the snow-covered camp roads of Litchfield, ultimately it was the willingness of strangers to help through social media that brought his dog home. 

“I also put flyers up all around town but the Facebook groups are definitely what saved her,” Rairdon says. “I only found my dog because so many people were willing to help.” 

In missing pet circles, that’s an ongoing theme. The ardor with which people will jump in to help in a missing pet case is a bona fide phenomenon. Almost all missing pet posts on Facebook go viral to some degree. Who can forget the story of Godzilla the tortoise, who went missing in Turner last spring? That story — and its missing pet posters — generated so much attention on social media that dozens of strangers turned up in Turner to help with the hands-on part of the search. 

There are plenty of people on Facebook who do very little else but share missing pet flyers in hopes of helping a wayward animal find its way home. 

“We have a lot of dedicated page followers who are helpful with sharing our postings, providing possible leads, or leaving comments with some advice or encouragement,” says Chen. “We find most people are eager to report a loose or found dog to see if it might be one on our page, and if not we help them get in touch with their local animal control officer and share the dog to our page.” 

Some people ardently follow missing pet dramas because they have been there themselves. Lisa Manning of Lewiston recalls all the help she got from dozens of strangers when her boyfriend’s doberman pinscher Duke went missing a year ago — and all the celebrating that commenced once a tip led to recovery of the dog. 

“I posted Duke’s picture and info on the Lewiston Rocks Facebook page and so many people were so helpful,” Manning says. “They all kept an eye out for him. When I posted that he was found, more people responded just to say they were happy that Duke was home safe. It’s nice to have people around here looking out for other people’s pets.” 

Duke, the doberman, went missing but was found with a little help from social media. Submitted photo

For many pet owners who have experienced the anxiety of a missing dog or cat, getting recovery efforts coordinated has proven fruitful. 

Ten years ago, a group of volunteers started Maine Lost Pet Recovery after a rather unorganized attempt to find a missing Chihuahua mix in the Pownal area. The demand for lost pet services became so immense that it’s had to split into two groups: Maine Lost Cat Recovery and Maine Lost Dog Recovery. Between them, they help hundreds of pet owners throughout Maine each month. 

Chen, one of the Maine Lost Dog volunteers constantly monitoring Facebook for new reports of missing dogs, was once a beneficiary of the service. 

“My dog Riley ran away in January 2020,” Chen says. “I called my local animal control officer and the first thing she suggested was to message the Maine Lost Dog Recovery page on Facebook.  I sent them a message and soon after they made a flyer for her and posted it to their page. The next morning we got a call from a man who lived three miles away who saw Riley on his security camera, so my husband went to his neighborhood and found her.   

“A few months later it was quarantine,” Chen says, “and I found myself unemployed, so I decided to contact the page about being a volunteer.  Now that I am back to work full time, I still admin for the page on my days off. The expectation for our volunteers is to work two two-hour shifts a week.” 

The latest statistics for the Facebook page are not available, but stats from 2019 tell the story. By the end of that year, Maine Lost Dog Recovery had created 1,367 flyers and 1,194 dogs were brought home safe. Though it’s impossible to know if every recovery was due to those flyers and social media spread, that’s still an 87 percent success rate, in case you’re keeping track. 

According to Chen, it’s not just the eye-grabbing flyers their service provides. Of the group’s three dozen volunteers, 15 are field workers. 

“Their job is to follow up with the family with an especially difficult dog who may be elderly, handicapped, newly rescued, puppy, etc. to give further advise on how to help recover that dog,” Chen explains. “Often they advise families on how to set up a proper feeding station, set up a field camera and rig a humane trap when the dog is known to be frequenting and eating at the feeding station.” 

The group also sends the owner of a missing pet the phone numbers to area animal shelters along with a tip sheet on how best to proceed with a search.  

According to Greenlaw, the decision was made to divide the missing pets group into one for dogs and one for cats because the strategies in searching for a dog are considerably different than searching for a cat. A cat is likely to be found near the owner’s property — trapped inside a neighbor’s garage, for instance — while a dog tends to wander.

‘MY FUR BABY IS HOME. DON’T GIVE UP!’

One thing dog and cat owners DO have in common, however, is the passion they feel for their pets. When a pet goes missing, their owners can become overwrought, panicked and even depressed. Because of that, part of what the Maine Lost Dog/Lost Cat Recovery programs offer is emotional support along with the step-by-step search guidance.

“Some people get discouraged too easily, we find,” says Greenlaw. “So, when we call up to do the counseling, we work hard not just to share the nuts and bolts of the search, but to stay positive.”

The crowd-sourcing help that the missing pet posters inspire also provides a kind of group comfort, while also increasing the odds that Snoopy or Fluffy will be found. With hundreds or even thousands of eyes looking out for a missing pet, its tough for even a wily cat or freedom-loving dog to remain on the loose for long. 

Although at times, it does take a while. 

“My indoor cat Baxter snuck out the evening of October 13th,” says Michelle Sanborn of Rumford. “I didn’t realize he had gone out until he didn’t come into bed for nighttime snuggles. I spent weeks walking up and down the streets yelling his name, Havahart traps with cat treats and going door to door with flyers. The afternoon of December 9 my niece shared a Facebook post and sure enough, he had been found! My fur baby is home. Don’t give up!” 

Sherry Spencer Wilbur of Mechanic Falls had her cat Charlie go missing, only to reappear two weeks later without explanation. Submitted photo

Sherry Spencer Wilbur of Mechanic Falls says her indoor/outdoor cat Charlie went missing for two weeks the day before Thanksgiving a few years ago. “It was brutally cold and he was never one to miss a meal, so I knew something was wrong when he didn’t come in that night for supper. I contacted Maine Lost Cat Recovery, contacted all my neighbors, went door to door looking for him and put up posters in the area. No one had seen him,” she says.

But all was not lost, she says. “After two weeks, he just showed up at the door. I think he had gotten trapped in someone’s shed or garage. He was pretty thin but had no injuries. He has been grounded ever since. He is now a hefty 18 pounds. He wouldn’t say where he had been.”

For Bruce Grant of Auburn and his dog Blue, it was 13 days of worrying, working it and waiting. “I had about giving up hope when he showed up at my cousins house about 3/4 of a mile from my place. He’d been hit by a truck and had a broken back and a messed up tail, but is doing excellent today.”

Bruce Grant’s dog Blue vanished for 13 days and then came home with a broken back. Submitted photo

The good ending to Grant’s story had an unexpectedly nice twist. “I had posters all over the three surrounding towns and two or three lost dog sites. I met the young man who hit him when I was pulling down the posters. He asked what vet I’d used. When I went to pay the bill, half had been paid. I was amazed.”

The beauty of social media is that a person doesn’t have to be in the immediate vicinity to help with the effort to retrieve a lost pet. There’s at least one example of a person chipping in from another continent.

“My uncle’s dog took off one day,” says Sally Theriault of Rumford. “He was found by local animal control but we didn’t know it. My nephew was going to school in Ireland at the time, saw the pup’s picture that was posted to the animal control’s Facebook page, sent me a private message, and I went to collect the wayward beast. Gotta love Facebook!” 

As emotionally draining as it can be to have a beloved pet go missing, there is something to be said for the satisfaction and relief that comes with getting them back — not just for the pet owner alone, but for the people who chipped in to help,

Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

“We were so happy to help them out,” says Jared Smith, who, along with his fiancee Carrie Frost, provided the crucial clue in Scooby’s runaway caper. “When they came back and told us they had found him, it was just great. My fiancee was holding back tears. It was just so awesome.”

Rosie, a pitbull mix who was lost and then found in Litchfield. Submitted photo


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