Regi Polk never realized how often pets go missing until she started a Facebook page a couple of years ago to help lost furry friends find their way home.
For years she shared pictures of people's lost pets on her personal Facebook page, then she decided to start a page specifically for that purpose, called Lost Pets in Houston County, Georgia. Now, it's pretty much a full-time job with no pay for the retired Navy veteran.
Her laptop stays on all day, and she is regularly checking it, as well as her phone, for messages from people who have either lost a pet or found one. She averages about 10 requests a week to make a post.
Through her page hundreds of pets — mostly dogs — have returned to their homes, although she doesn't take the credit. She said that belongs to a wide network of animal lovers who share her posts and spread the word. She doesn't personally find pets but through her page she is able to match finders with seekers.
"I enjoy making sure that the pets have a chance of getting back home," she said. "People are really upset and worried when their dog is lost, but when their dog is found, you get really happy."
People send her the information on pets that are either lost or found, and she then makes a digital poster and puts it on the page, sharing it also with animal control shelters and other lost pet pages. Each post will typically then get shared many times.
She will also check businesses in an area where a dog was lost or found and send it to their Facebook pages to share. She makes a map showing approximately where a pet was last seen or was found. She then follows up on every case to see if there has been a resolution, because not everyone lets her know, and she will post an update if there is one. She also does a video each month at the top of the page, set to music, that shows dogs that remain missing.
Until now she has been a one-woman operation, but she is seeking volunteers to help her. She has one person who just started helping, but she is looking for a few more. That's because her husband is retiring soon, and he would like to actually go on a trip without Polk constantly checking her phone. Anyone interested in helping can contact her through her Facebook page.
For all the time she spends on her mission, you might think she has a sad story of a pet of her own that was lost, but that isn't the case. She has three dogs, but none of them have ever been lost, at least not from her.
It's just that she knows one of them could get lost some day.
"My worry about losing my dogs is really what keeps me going," she said as she sat with her trio in her back yard.
One of her dogs actually is a lost dog. He was found and ended up at the Houston County Humane Society. Polk adopted him after his owner could not be located.
Nicole Pruitt came to know Polk's page when she found a dog. Polk posted it, and that led to finding the owner. Shortly before Christmas, Pruitt turned to Polk again when Pruitt's French bulldog puppy, Troy, escaped through a hole in the fence. A month later Troy was still missing, and Pruitt had about given up hope.
Then late one night, Pruitt got a call from a woman in Macon who had seen Polk's page and thought she had Troy. Pruitt went there, and it turned out to be him. Pruitt learned Troy had been picked up by a construction worker on a job in her neighborhood, then he later gave it to the woman who contacted her. The woman suspected someone was looking for it and began searching.
"It was amazing," Pruitt said. "It was just very overwhelming."
Tips for keeping your dog at home
Polk said the most common way dogs vanish is by escaping through a hole in a fence or a gate left open, or by climbing over a fence or digging under it. Sometimes people without a fence will let dogs out for a short time, and maybe the dog doesn't typically run away, but then it might see something to chase and will be gone.
She says dogs should never be left out unsupervised without a fence, and if a dog is prone to escaping, it shouldn't be left out alone at all.
But the biggest thing she encourages pet owners to do is to get a microchip, a device about the size of a grain of rice with identifying information that is injected into the animal. Found dogs can be scanned for a chip. Pets should also have a collar with identifying information, although she says two of her dogs can't have collars due to medical reasons. She does have all of her dogs microchipped. A microchip costs $25-$50 at a vet, but Warner Robins Animal Control will put one in for $5.
More than half the time when a lost dog is posted on her page, which has over 6,000 followers, it will be found. The rate on found dogs posted is much lower, probably because many of those are actually abandoned.
Although she posts a lot of lost cats, she can't claim to have found a single cat through her page.
"Cats come home, or they don’t come home," she said. "The cat is in charge of their reuniting."