If you are on Facebook and live anywhere in the Hudson Valley, then for the past year your newsfeed may well have contained heart-wrenching home photos of children draped over a patient old terrier, golden Labradors racing across lawns or a vexed-looking striped cat with red-eye from camera flash waiting by the door to be let out. A variety of pets, all with one thing in common — they’re lost and their heartbroken families need to have them found.
Who is posting all these pics, and how did they get on your Facebook?
Cue Bentley Potter. The Town of Ulster man started the Facebook page Lost Pets of the Hudson Valley. He didn’t even have a lost pet. “I saw a missing dog poster on the way home from Woodstock and it immediately triggered this thought that there had to be a better way to get information out there about a missing pet,” said Potter. “Everyone is on Facebook, so why not try to use that as a tool to reach more people and reunite lost pets?” Most posts — the page has over 8,900 likes as of May 15 — will reach anywhere from 8,000-40,000 people, Potter has estimated. One post, on Marley, a golden retriever who went missing from his Beacon home in December and has still not turned up, reached 300,000 people.
Potter has been doing the page by himself the whole year, but is contemplating taking on an administrator since he works full-time, running the online sales for the well-established family business, Potter Brothers Ski Shop. Potter makes no money off the endeavor, but is selling “Lost Pets” merchandise through CafePress.com with sale proceeds going to pay for sponsoring posts.
Potter said he estimates that more than 75 percent of the lost-pet posts yield a return, though has absolutely no idea how many that has been so far. He said there are anywhere between 10-15 posts on the page per day. Where do these missing pets go, you wonder? Over the past year, Potter has been learning that some travel the surrounding woods or neighborhood. “Dogs are very scent-driven, so if they get a little free space, it doesn’t take much for them to just go and get caught up in the moment,” he said. “One dog actually let himself into a neighbor’s house and hung out on their couch.”
Potter works with Putnam Humane Society, Middletown Humane Society, Walden Humane Society and several area dog wardens. Brittney Schoonmaker of the Middletown Humane Society said she has been using Potter’s site regularly, with success. “I found [Lost Pets of the Hudson Valley] through a friend who shared a picture from the page, but that was before I started running the shelter page,” Schoonmaker said. “I check it at least twice a day and upload to it roughly every two or three days. … The success rate overall seems pretty high. As for our shelter’s rate, it’s decent. We’ve had some people recognize dogs we’ve taken in and notify the owners, and it’s also helped found animals find new homes.”
Jennifer Urrea of Putnam Valley was heartbroken when her sister’s beloved family member, 12 year-old rat-terrier Lili went missing during early last March’s snowy week, shortly after the family had just put down another beloved family member, Cali the dog. Urrea said her sister’s driveway borders Westchester and Putnam counties, adding to the difficulties of finding a tiny terrier in the winter. They called vets in both counties, shelters, dog wardens, SPCA in Dutchess and Westchester and even Channel 12 news, desperate to find Lili. “Lost Pets of Hudson Valley kept reposting Lili’s picture,” said Urrea. Days turned into weeks, her sister was becoming extremely worried and Urrea’s young niece was crying all the time. “Bentley was such a source of strength,” said Urrea. “I emailed him a few times to vent my worries so I can stay positive for my sister and my nieces. As the weeks passed it was taking a toll on them.”
After five weeks and another reposting, someone casually mentioned they saw a male dog which looked like Lili up for adoption, named “Cannoli.” Urrea looked at the picture and was skeptical it was the same dog. Her doubts remained — right up until they opened her kennel and Lili ran straight into Urrea’s arms. “I scooped her up and I just could not believe it,” said Urrea. “In the office I called my sister who was anxiously waiting. I said to her, ‘I got her, I got her!’ My sister was emotional, I was emotional. … My sister said she was crying the night before with the thunder because Lili’s afraid of thunder and my niece said to her, ‘I’m not giving up on her, Mommy.’”
I asked Potter for some tear-jerkers. Here’s two: “There was a dog named Cal, who was recently adopted by this family after coming from another state. He got loose after only two days in the new home. He was on the run for over two weeks. He was being spotted every few days and people were coming in from all over to try and help capture him,” said Potter. “Finally, someone came up with the idea of a ‘Have-a-Heart’ trap. They tried it by using food in the trap and the first night he came in, but didn’t set it off. They adjusted the settings and the next day they got him. He was really skinny and exhausted, but was fine. Everyone all came together to help and it worked,” said Potter.
“The other one is a really sad story that doesn’t have any closure, and that is Marley. Marley went missing in Beacon back in December. The family dropped her off at a grooming facility and she somehow got loose and ran off while being bathed outside by the groomer,” Potter said. “There are so many theories here. Many believe that someone took her in. The entire family is devastated and there are flyers all over the Beacon area. One of her posts was seen by over 300,000 unique people. … I had people from all over the country telling me that they were sharing her post. … People are constantly messaging me saying that they think they saw her here and there. It’s really sad how it all happened and the family did absolutely nothing wrong. So sad. She is still missing.”
Justina Stein of Stony Point was welling with awe and gratitude for the return of her beloved cockatiel, Cookie, who was missing for several weeks. Feeling devastated, Stein said she spent countless hours searching for her, posting fliers, putting fliers in mailboxes, placing ads in local newspapers and even posting in Craigslist, Parrot 911, and others. Around the second or third day someone e-mailed Stein, recommending Lost Pets of the Hudson Valley. “I received numerous comments that were so uplifting and kept me going day after day,” said Stein. “It’s one thing to lose a dog or cat but another to lose a bird, and try to find it in an area that is so dense with vegetation and wildlife. I posted my ads on my various Internet and social media sites with the hope that somewhere somehow Cookie would be returned back to me. Night after night I prayed for her and hoped that she was safe and still alive.”
Stein said she never gave up hope, but did not really ever expect her eight-ounce bird to turn up where she did — 25 miles away. A woman reached out to Stein, saying she saw a post of a found bird, in Beacon, and it looked like her birdie. Sure enough, 14 days later, Stein was reunited with Cookie. “If I was not a believer in the power of social media before, well, I am now a huge fan and am completely grateful for the efforts of everyone involved in this site in helping to bring my bird back to me.”
Potter said his goal was to have every single pet lover in the Hudson Valley be a part of his page. “And it still is my goal,” he said. “I would love for every lost pet to be found and returned home safely. While I know that may be difficult, I do try to help share tips on how to keep your pets safe, and what to do if they go missing. This community rallies together to help complete strangers; it’s incredible.”