Canine Connections

December 11, 2011 (CHICAGO)

This fall, when workers left Chicagoan James Huffer's gate open, his dog Clyde bolted and ran away from home.

"I was completely devastated, I was going around asking everybody, sending out notices," said Huffer.

He also turned to social media, posting Clyde's story on a Facebook page called "Lost Dogs Illinois". An animal control worker saw the post, recognized Clyde, and got him home.

"It's quite amazing that Facebook keeps us so connected that it helps you find your missing pet," said Huffer.

"I am surprised - I didn't know what this page was going to do," said Susan Taney, who helps run the Lost Dogs Illinois Facebook page. It is a growing online community where people post pictures and identifying information about lost and found pets.

Fans read the posts, and the hunt is on, sharing the posts with their friends and trying to connect with people in the lost dog's neighborhood. Sometimes, fans even go out to look in person.

"You could just tell the comments - I live in the area; I have family that lives in the area; we will be reposting and we will be sharing the post," said Taney. "They want to see these dogs get home."

"You can use social media not just to connect people who are at a distance from one another but to engage in a local community that needs to mobilize itself," said Northwestern University professor Noshir Contractor.

Contractor says finding lost pets is a local example of a global movement. From fueling uprisings like the "Arab Spring" to publicizing the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, social media is empowering communities.

"Now, as people are getting more literate and savvy with Facebook, they are beginning to see its potential for creating opportunities for creating collective action," said Contractor

"It's almost addicting," said Georgia Leakakos, a fan of "Lost Dogs Illinois" on Facebook. Earlier this month, Leakakos was scrolling through "found dog" postings on Craigslist when a bell went off.

"I looked at a picture of the dog, and I'm like, wait a second, I remember this dog," said Leakakos. "So I went right back to the Lost Dogs Illinois Facebook page and found Buddy."

Sunday night, Buddy is back at home with his owners on the Northwest Side.

"I'm so glad to get him back," said owner Violet DelVecchio. "I did so much crying over that dog."

National research shows that only 15 to 20 percent of lost dogs actually make it back to their owners, something "Lost Dogs Illinois" is trying to change.

On their Facebook page, organizers offer tips and resources for what to do if your pet runs away.

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