After Disasters, Social Media Helps Find Lost Pets

This April 3, 2012 photo provided by Trent Welch was posted on various social media sites after Welch and his family members found brindle boxer Oscar following a tornado in Forney, TX. Juan Ventura held out little hope he would ever see Oscar who had been in the backyard when the devastating twister swept through April 3, leaving no sign of the dog or his dog house. Photo courtesy Trent Welch/ AP.

After the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, when thousands of animals had to be abandoned in storm-ravaged New Orleans, many people – including several government officials and first responders – vowed never to let that happen again.  Here’s proof that people are determined to save their pets like they’d save their kids.  Last week’s series of tornadoes in Northeast Texas destroyed hundreds of homes and scattered countless numbers of pets.  Among them was a boxer named Oscar who belonged to Juan Ventura of hard-hit Forney, just east of Dallas.  Ventura returned to find his home devastated and Oscar gone.  But, days later Ventura was scouring through a Facebook page for lost pets in the area when he saw a picture of Oscar.  A family had found the frightened dog a mile away from his home that same day of the tornado and snapped a picture of him.  Ventura and Oscar reunited shortly afterwards.

“I think this type of thing is really starting to pick up speed,” said Heather Mathewson, who operates several Facebook pages and a web site dedicated to finding lost pets in Texas.  “Social media can really function as such an effective means after this kind of disaster.”

Mathewson got involved in pet rescue after a series of deadly wildfires ripped through central Texas last year, destroying more than 1,600 homes.  Information about lost pets will get posted on one site and spread to others.  Some animal shelters will post pictures of lost pets, while searchers will keep in contact with veterinarians who may have received some pets.

When the tornado hit Juan Ventura’s subdivision, Trent Welch was spending the evening at his parents’ house about a mile away when he and other family members spotted Oscar behind the house.

“He was just so shaken up and so scared,” said Welch, who added that once they got a hold of Oscar, he was calm.  “He didn’t want to come to us.  It took about an hour and a half.”

Then they started posting pictures online.

“I just started posting on Facebook, any chance I got I posted on Facebook,” said Welch’s fiancé, Mandy Hernandez.  “I posted on every website you can think of, every link somebody told me, I posted.  I had many, many friends share my picture.”

Thanks to the observant web-surfing Good Samaritan, Welch reunited Ventura and Oscar less than two days after the tornado hit.

“As soon as he saw Juan’s truck he started wagging his little tail,” Welch said.

Lost & Found Pets America” is one such Facebook page that endeavors to help people find lost pets after a disaster.  Even with power knocked out, for instance, people can still access the Internet through their cell phones.  Animal lovers don’t want a repeat of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.  People are just too attached to their pets.  Fortunately, technology is helping them stay together.


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