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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Shelter volunteers reunite pets, owners via Facebook

TAMPA — For Linda Kelecy and Nancy Latimer, Facebook is a full-time job.

They spend hours each week posting statuses, sifting through photos and responding to comments and messages.

As volunteers with Hillsborough County Animal Services, Kelecy and Latimer manage the Lost and Found Pets of Hillsborough County Facebook page, a forum for people looking for missing pets or searching for the owners of cats and dogs found wandering in their neighborhoods.

Their work has helped get hundreds of pets home safely since the Facebook account was created in 2011. The page’s “Returned to Owner” album contains photos of more than 200 cats and dogs reunited with their pet parents in the last three months alone.

“It’s turning out to be something really good,” Latimer said.

The page — which has more than 6,000 “followers” — is a way for pet owners to broaden the search for their missing animals and try to find them before they get to the shelter, she said.

“It puts everything at their fingertips so they don’t have to go searching,” Latimer said.

People send in messages about their lost pets or animals they have found, and Latimer and Kelecy post it to the page. They encourage followers to share the picture and the description and help swap contact information between the pet owner and the person who finds the animal.

Everyone who sends in information gets a “tip sheet” of what to do and who to contact if they lose a pet, the women said. They take every opportunity to tell pet owners about the importance of microchipping.

Kelecy loves her work with the Lost and Found Pets page as much as other people like playing Candy Crush on Facebook, she said. Matching the photos and descriptions of missing pets is like solving puzzles.

“This is my own version of that game,” Kelecy said. “It’s kind of addictive.”

She has so many photos saved on her computer that she’ll soon have to buy a new one with more storage space.

When Latimer started volunteering with the county shelter in 2007, her job was to post descriptions of the cats and dogs in the newspaper classified ads. Websites such as Craigslist and Facebook grew in popularity, and she began to post photos there and compare descriptions with the animals in the shelter.

That’s how she met Kelecy.

Kelecy posted a description of a lost cat she found on Craigslist, and Latimer sent her a message. They worked together to get that cat back home, and Kelecy signed up to volunteer as well.

It isn’t a glamorous job.

Many shelter volunteers want to play with the kittens and puppies, not post pictures online and answer emails. But the page is something the two women get “a lot of satisfaction from,” Kelecy said.

The women work hard to keep the site professional and “nonjudgmental,” Latimer said. Losing a dog doesn’t make someone a bad person, so they don’t want people making critical comments when the information is posted to the page.

“It keeps everybody happy and it’s respectful to anybody that might read it,” she said.

The page has kept many lost pets out of the shelter, said Cathy Carr, the foster and rescue coordinator for Hillsborough County Animal Services. Latimer and Kelecy found a way to meet a need at the shelter and to help frantic pet parents, she said.

“It’s got to be a lot of comfort for somebody to actually talk to people about what to do,” Carr said.

The success of the page is dependent on the “village” of people in Hillsborough County who see the posts, spread the word and keep an eye out for the missing cats and dogs, Latimer said.

And while they are happy about the page’s popularity, Latimer and Kelecy know they can attract even more followers among the county’s 1.2 million residents. More followers could get more pets back home to their families.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Latimer said.

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Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO

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