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Finding lost pets, one Facebook post at a time

Sea To Sky 'NANA' Uses social media to reunite animals and owners in the Sea to Sky region

For the last 18 months, owners of pets lost in the region have had a new way to get the message out there, along with calling friends and posting notices on billboards.

Thanks to Facebook, digital word-of-mouth has meant that photos and sighting can be shared with hundreds at the click of an "enter" key on a page dedicated to the task. Sea to Sky NANA (Neighbourhood Animals Need Assistance) began on the social media website in February 2012 and quickly became an important tool for finding lost Rovers and Mittens.

In its first full year, the NANA page reported 39 lost dogs with 33 found, two found dead, and four never found; 28 lost cats, with 13 found, one put down due to injuries and 14 never found; and three birds, one found, one found dead and one never located.

"The dogs, definitely, are more of a story but the cats not so much. Everyone sees a wandering cat and thinks they know where they are going," NANA's founder and co-administrator Randi Olson said, in an interview. "We do get happy endings with cats but the majority are dogs."

Sea to Sky NANA came about because of a recipe, Olson explained laughing.

"I used to bake dog cookies, so I was known as the cookie lady and dogs would come to me. I'm an animal person and people would always phone me and tell me they found a cat or a dog," Olson said. "I wanted to do something and Facebook came about and I thought it would be a good idea."

She struggled finding a name because she wanted it to be called something people would remember. A friend suggested NANA, saying "you're a nana! A grandmotherly type of person for animals!"

"We started with Squamish and then someone lost an animal in Whistler and we couldn't refuse," she said. "I tell the administrators to check Mountain FM's page or (Whistler Animal Galore's) page and we share them."

Currently, 800 people follow the page.

"We really jumped in followers recently when that black lab and truck were stolen from the Stawamus Chief (both dog and vehicle were eventually found). We had 120 new people when that happened," Olson said.

"What's interesting is that our numbers increase when we get a found animal. I think the 'found' stories reach people more."

Olson would like to see owners be more aware that they live at the edge of a vast wilderness, with an abundance of wild carnivores. She has seen coyotes chase dogs and a heart-wrenching photo of a cat in another coyote's mouth. Just a little more diligence could save the lives of beloved pets, she said.

She has received phone messages when she hasn't been available, even in the middle of the night, and she asks that people stick to posting on the NANA page, where there are phone numbers for Animal Control and the SPCA.

Squamish councillor Susan Chapelle lost her Borzoi, Kazmir, on a trail near Valleycliffe in Squamish and the dog ended up being the first animal to be posted on the NANA page.

"We went out for a bike ride and we do the same trail route every time. He's a rescue dog but he was fine for a long time, but suddenly an older man came biking along, and Kaz took off with his dog. The other guy's dog came back but Kaz didn't," Chapelle said.

The dog was missing for three weeks, being spooked even by people he knew and too fast to catch.

"It was that horrible winter, totally snowy and rainy," she said. "But NANA posted and the community on the page was so amazing. They posted his picture and we had phone calls every time he was sighted. It gave us hope that he'd come back."

In the end he went to a friend's house that he had visited with Chapelle and they found him.

"But it was just so amazing to be able to keep track in the community when there was a sighting. People you didn't even know offering to help," said Chapelle

She added it shows a real benefit for local social media pages of this kind and the positive impact they can have.

"It's a way to connect people over a single issue. I can't thank them enough," she said.