This is Corbin and this is our story
When I first learned that my nephew’s dog Corbin was missing in January of 2014, I was not involved with the pet community. I was the mother, step-mother and surrogate mother of 5 children and was expecting my first grand-child. If you'd told me back then that I would be running Lost Dogs Georgia, a popular lost and found site for pets and working to bring a nationwide database and real change to the lost and found pet process, I would have never believed it. I was perfectly content with my life and helping owners find their lost pets wasn't even on my radar. But sometimes love and fate lead you in a direction and to a cause in ways you never expected.
But let's go back to where it all began.
Corbin was my nephew’s dog. My nephew and his brother came to live with me shortly before my father passed away in 2007. They were just 10 and 13 years old at the time and had already been through so much in their short lives. They were dealt a bad hand and had watched as person after person let them down or walked out on them and then they lost my father, suddenly and unexpectedly. This left a huge scar on both of them emotionally. Before my father passed away, he had stepped up to raise them and vowed to give them a home and a real chance at life. He loved them dearly and fought so very hard for them. Sadly, just two years after they came to live with him, my father suffered a massive stroke. My heart was shattered in a million pieces. I hurt for my father and I hurt for my nephews who were alone once again. I promised my father before he passed away that I would finish what he started. I would give them a home and a family and make them whole.
Once they were here, we struggled. My youngest nephew took the death of my father very hard and the scars from his past were deep. At times, I thought they were almost too deep to overcome. He had been hurt by so many people and trusted no one. But we refused to give up on him and we fought to help him through. And it seemed that through all of his heartache and pain, he gravitated to animals and more importantly to our family pets, both dogs. I think sometimes when someone's hurting, they find the most comfort in someone or something who loves and comforts unconditionally such as a pet. As the years went on, we stood by them and worked to help them overcome the poor hand they were dealt. We vowed that no matter what, we would never leave them and together, as a family, we worked to heal their wounds. By the time they both graduated, they were both happy, healthy and loving young men. I was and continue to be proud of them both.
After my youngest nephew graduated, he did what most young people do. He moved out, got a place with a friend, got a girlfriend and they got their first pet together, a young black lab named Corbin. Corbin was smart and playful and full of energy. My nephew was a proud parent and brought him over to show him off and to show me how had trained him to sit and shake. I was happy that he had a four-legged companion in his life, knowing his deep love for animals and how they helped him when he was young.
That’s why when I got the frantic call from my daughter in January of 2014 that Corbin was missing, my heart sank. My nephew had already been through so much loss in his life and now his first pet was missing. We had to find Corbin! I had no idea what to do or where to start. He was lost just 10 minutes from my house, so my first instinct was to jump in the car and help search the area. I drove for hours that first day, in and out of subdivisions, on back roads and anywhere I thought he might travel, but sadly, there were no signs of Corbin. For the next few days, I drove more, putting up flyers and stopping along the way to talk to neighbors. Many reported seeing a small, playful black lab wandering the area. He would often stop to play with the neighborhood children and other dogs before hurrying on his way. I mapped the sightings and tried to guess the direction he was headed, but no matter how hard I tried, this little black lab always seemed to be one step ahead of me. Then one day, the trail went cold. There would be no more sightings of Corbin.
It was winter and it was turning cold. Georgia was about to be hit with two back to back winter storms. My daughter and I printed flyers, covered them in plastic and went out in the snow and ice and placed those flyers all over the area. We prayed that Corbin had been picked up by a good Samaritan and was inside somewhere safe and warm. Feeling helpless, we went home to ride out the storms and we turned our efforts to social media. Corbin had already been posted to one or two social media sites, but as I got deeper and deeper in my search, I learned that there were dozens and dozens of sites in my area alone where people post lost and found pets. And the more I searched, the more sites I found. There were lost and found sites, vet clinic sites, rescue group sites, HOA sites, shelter sites, groomer sites, craigslist, other lost and found services and the list goes on and on and there were new sites popping up every day. I also learned that pets can travel a good distance in a short time and may cross county lines and may end up in a shelter or on a page in a bordering county. And to make matters worse, sometimes pets are picked up by a good Samaritan and taken to far away counties or another state only to be lost again. When found, they may turn up in a shelter or posted to a site so far away that you would never think to look there. It seemed the more I searched, the more I learned and the more places I added to my list to post and check. Night after night, I searched and posted to various sites and sifted through lost and found listings. I was completely overwhelmed and frustrated and exhausted. Searching for Corbin was like searching for a needle in a haystack and the sad truth was that his found post may already be out there on a site I never thought to check.
When the storms let up, my daughter and I continued our search. We printed more flyers and took them to our local veterinary clinics. As we went in and out of their offices, we noticed that none of the clinics in our area had the same listings and most of the lost and found books were not up to date with the most recent lost and found post. How was this possible? How would pets ever get home with the current system or lack thereof? As we left the last clinic, I looked at my daughter and shook my head and asked her why searching for a lost pet was so hard. Why, in this day and age, with the technology that we have was there not one central database to list lost and found pets. It was a no-brainer to me. If everyone knew one place to connect, so many more pets would get back home.
Over the course of the next few days, I came up with a plan to create a central location for my area. One public place that everyone could access to pull listings together. Pet owners could search for their missing pet and match-makers could help make matches. It seemed like a solution to some degree, but in looking back, if that was all I had done, it would have been just one more place for people to search. But still, I had to try. So many pets were not getting back home to their families and many were being rehomed, adopted and euthanized at our local shelters. I had to do something! I started out by creating a local page called Lost and found pets of Walton, Newton and Rockdale County and went to work setting it up and looking for listings to post. One day, while I was working on the site, I went out in search for resources to offer to my local community. I ran across a site offering very nice, professional flyers for lost and found pets. I thought flyers would be a great tool to offer to my community, so I reached out to them and told them about my community page and asked if I could send some traffic their way. It was that one message and the phone call that followed that would forever change the course of my search for Corbin and lead me to a cause far greater than I ever imagined.
You see, this was not just a site offering free flyers. This was a site working to solve the problem once and for all and establish a FREE nationwide database for every lost and found pet to be listed. The name of the site was www.HelpingLostPets.com and once the framework was laid out to me, I knew that this was the answer we had all been looking for! Helping Lost Pets or HeLP as we like to call it, was created by someone who had been in the field rescue for many years. He witnessed first-hand the problems shelters face in finding a pet’s owners and the problems pet owners face in finding their missing pets. He saw pets coming in to shelters that were freshly groomed, their toe nails had just been painted, and some of them had on nice new collars or had a dead end microchip. He knew that many of these dogs and cats must have owners out there, so why was no one coming for them? He watched as shelter workers and volunteer groups frantically worked in a race against time to try to locate a pet's owner and when that search proved futile, he watched as these pets were sent off to a rescue, adopted by a new family or worse, euthanized. In an attempt to help, he often went online to help search for a pet's owner. In his search, he was faced with the same obstacles that I and many other pet owners face. A vast sea of lost and found sites and postings with nothing to connect them all.
As luck would have it, he was a computer programmer and he ask himself the same question that I had asked my daughter. Why was it so hard for pet owners to find their missing pets? Why was there not a central place, nationwide, for people to list lost and found pets? He knew that if such a site exist, so many missing pets would get back home. The site would have to be free and become a household name so that no matter what city, state or country you were in, you knew exactly how and where to connect. The answer to his question was simple and was staring him right in the face. It was because no one with the skill and know-how to create such a site had stepped up to the plate. He sat down with a group of his colleagues and mapped out what was needed to connect EVERYONE and to start getting these pets back home. With this blue-print in place, he created what is now known as helpinglostpets.com.
I’ve often described helpinglostpets.com as a database, but that only tells half the story. Helping Lost Pets is best described as database that joins together shelters, veterinary clinics, rescue groups, pet related businesses, pet owners, pet finders and volunteer groups like Lost Dogs of America, to all access and share the same listings. Helping Lost Pets provides everyone a map-based database and a system to connect them all. This results in a mass exchange of information both on and off Facebook, giving a pet and their owner the best chance of being reunited. In Georgia, listings sent though Lost Dogs Georgia and Lost Cats Georgia are instantly sent to the shelters, clinics and members in the area that are using the system or have signed up for alerts. In turn, listings that are referred to Helping Lost Pets from shelters, clinics or the public are sent to other shelters and clinics in the area as well as to Lost Dogs Georgia and Lost Cats Georgia for them to provide assistance and to help get the word out on Facebook and various other social media sites. Many of the listings that come to us to post are referred to us from shelters and clinics and are from people who aren't on Facebook and would have never known to post on any social media site. When listings come in, we not only post them to our page, we work behind the scenes to educate and empower pet owners and finders by giving them the tools and information they need to effectively search for their missing pet or to search for a pet's owner. It's this mass exchange of information that makes this system so effective and gives these pets the maximum exposure they can receive to help them get home. In the words of Bill Wise with Walton County Animal Control, this system is a "powerful tool in getting lost pets home”. This is the reason that Walton County Animal Control continues to use the HeLP system and encourages other shelters to join.
When everyone is referring owners and finders to ONE central location, nationwide, those listings will be there whenever they are searched by shelters, clinics, pet owner, finders or the general public. And as we continue to grow and word spreads, more and more people will be using the system to list lost and found pets and more and more pets will get back home. This is why I believe so strongly in what we are doing and why I believe that this system is the long-term solution to getting lost pets home. Helping Lost Pets is already being widely used by several animal control units in Georgia and has proven to be effective in not just getting pets home, but in saving shelters and clinics time and money by letting the public manage their own lost and found listings. This has allowed one shelter in Georgia to put one more officer out in the field helping animals. And when everyone is using the same system, shelters, clinics and the public all have the SAME listings. It's a win-win for everyone. Read our article to learn more about how hepinglostpets.com can help your shelter or how helpinglostpets.com can help your clinic.
As for me and my search for Corbin, I continue to watch listings for black labs matching his description, but I choose to use my voice and Corbin’s story to help bring about real change in the lost and found process and in the fight to save lives in our overcrowded shelters. I am proud to be a strong leader in my community and to be leading the way for this great system to come in to shelters not just in Georgia, but nationwide. I am also proud to have the support of so many other great leaders in our community from our local animal control units, veterinary clinics and rescue groups to all of the wonderful volunteers (official and unofficial) who work alongside me at Lost Dogs Georgia. These volunteers and followers post listings, keep the site updated, help people with their listings, spread the word about our cause, share listings, look for matches and so much more. Together, we are making a real difference in the fight to get lost pets home. I also could not do this without the support of sites like Lost and Found pets of Gwinnett County, Georgia's Missing Pets, Furry Friends Lost and Found in Cherokee County and many, many others who believe in the cause and allow us to use their own sites to promote Helping Lost Pets and Lost Dogs Georgia and share listings to their own sites to help these pets get the exposure that they so desperately need. I am a firm believer in mass networking listings and working together and supporting our fellow sites. There are a lot of wonderful communities out there with wonderful people all working together to help lost pets get home.
Above all, I believe in working together to find better ways to help our pet owners find their missing pets. Facebook is a beautiful and wonderful thing and sometimes the rapid sharing of a Facebook post will help a pet get home very quickly. But for every pet that is reunited with their family, there are a dozens and dozens more not getting back home. Just look at any shelter site and you'll soon learn that even at its best, our current system including Facebook has many flaws and broken links and will never completely solve the problem of getting lost pets home. Until there is real change, family pets will continue to be rehomed, rescued or euthanized in our overcrowded shelters.
I invite everyone to share Corbin's story and follow us on our Facebook page, Lost Dogs Georgia and join us on this mission. Let's start connecting the dots to make it easy for pet owners and shelters to get lost dogs home. Together, we can bring about real change in the way we search for lost and found pets and together we can make a difference!
And as for my nephew, he’s doing great. He is a proud father of a beautiful baby boy and has a beautiful family. They miss Corbin dearly and like me, wonder where he is. They hope that wherever he is, he is being loved and cared for. They hate that he was lost and still has not been found, but they are proud that his story sparked a movement that has already helped so many other missing pets get back home and will continue to grow and help others for years to come.
Lost Dogs Georgia
Official HeLP Partner and Member of Lost Dogs of America
Come find us on Facebook: www.LostDogsGeorgia.com
Helping Lost Pets is a FREE nationwide database and partners with many volunteer groups across the nation. To find your state organization, go to: www.HelpingLostPets.com
To sign up as a shelter, veterinary clinic or rescue, go to: www.HelpingLostPets.com/ORG
To search Helping Lost Pets: www.HelpingLostPets.com/MAP