By Kelly Youngblood
On a freezing cold January night, a very beloved Labradoodle named Bacon got out of his fenced yard after the wind had blown open the gate.
With the snow blowing and the wind chill falling well below zero, it was a dangerous situation for any pet or human to be outside.
“All I could think of was the freezing wind and snow on the ground to keep me searching,” said Amy Irle, Bacon’s owner. “I knew he was near, I just had to find him myself so he would come to me.”
In an effort to help locate the lost dog, a friend of Irle’s immediately shared Bacon’s photo and information to a community Facebook page called Lost Dogs Champaign/urbana, which had recently gotten underway.
Irle said the response she got after that was “overwhelming and positive.”
“So many people posted updates on seeing my dog in their neighborhood or running down a sidewalk, or crossing a street that it gave me a great idea of where to find him in real time,” Irle said.
After more than four hours of searching with continual updates from complete strangers, Irle finally tracked down Bacon near Prospect Avenue in Champaign.
“Without the help of the site, I felt certain we would not have found my dog so quickly,” Irle said. “There could have been a much more tragic ending without so many caring people helping us.”
The Lost Dogs Champaign/Urbana Facebook page has been helping to give happy endings like this one to dogs and their owners since it began in January 2015.
Jennifer Zang, a bonafide animal-lover, created the site because she believes the best way to help a lost dog is to get the word out quickly and to as many people as possible.
“In an age where technology is in constant use, the reach of pages like Lost Dogs of Champaign/urbana is limitless,” Zang said.
Zang said social networking sites like Facebook have replaced the practice of putting up “Lost Dog” flyers on telephone poles.
“It gets a virtual Lost Dog flyer into the home of thousands almost instantly,” Zang said. “The sooner people start looking, the less distance the dog can cover, and the less danger the dog can get into.”
Irle said she was grateful for the quick responses the Lost Dogs page offered during her search. “There was no waiting around for responses from an ad like in past times,” she said.
Since its inception, Lost Dogs Champaign/urbana has gained more than 900 members and generally receives more than 10,000 views per week. That amount of traffic has the potential to help a lot of lost dogs find their families.
“I was quite surprised that there wasn’t already one in C-U, so I remedied that,” she said.
Anyone can share a photo and description of a missing dog to the Lost Dogs Champaign/urbana page, which will appear in the “Posts to Page” section. A group of administrators who help with the site watch for new posts to come in and then, typically within minutes, share that information on their newsfeed.
“Once they have been shared by the page, our members can share the posts to their own personal pages, other groups, or anywhere they think would be helpful,” Zang said. “People who see or think they have seen the dog can post last known locations.”
Zang said oftentimes people will go out looking for the dogs themselves, especially if there are updates about current sightings.
Zang said it’s hard to say how many dogs have been reunited with their families as a direct result of the site but, in addition to Bacon, she can recall a number of success stories.
For pet owners like Irle who personally experienced the impact the site has, Lost Dogs Champaign/Urbana is an invaluable resource in the community that she’s committed to supporting.
“I will continue to watch the Lost Dogs site myself,” Irle said, “as I hope to be able to give back some of the help I received that cold, cold evening!”