A lost dog is every pet parent’s worst nightmare—and unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. According to research by the ASPCA, 14% of dogs go missing at least once over the course of their lifetime.
Finding your pet depends on a number of factors. But if you’re in the Seattle area, your odds of a happy ending are especially high—as long as you have the help of Lost Dogs of King County. With almost 40,000 members, this Facebook group boasts a stunning 92% success rate of reuniting lost dogs and their families.
“I just can’t not help,” says the group’s founder, James Branson. “If a dog or a cat needs my help, I don’t really have the power to say no.”
The Lost Dogs of King County isn’t your average Facebook page—largely because its moderators aren’t your average dog lovers.
As a certified Missing Animal Response Technician, Branson is a seasoned professional with decades of experience. With the help of his own specially trained dogs—Komu, Fozzie and Valentino—he operates Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue, a search-and-rescue business that receives around 80 requests for help per month. He also runs a nonprofit rescue, Useless Bay Sanctuary, that cares for stray dogs who don’t appear to have worried families looking for them.
“Because I am in a unique position to help, I think I have a responsibility to help whenever I can,” says Branson of starting The Lost Dogs of King County page. “If one of my dogs was missing, I would want the help of the community to find them as quickly as possible.”
But Branson doesn’t do it alone, as he’s quick to point out. The day-to-day operations of Lost Dogs of King County are handled by Lily Burns, a dedicated volunteer who sifts through the page’s 30-plus missing dog posts each and every day, replying with tips, dispatching volunteers and otherwise connecting the dots.
“She works 16 hours a day, every day of the year, for free,” says Branson. “That’s not something I would dream of asking of anyone. Lily makes matches quickly, based on the extensive records she keeps, and also because she recognizes dogs and remembers seeing posts about certain dogs.”
“I think I have a responsibility to help whenever I can. If one of my dogs was missing, I would want the help of the community to find them as quickly as possible.”
One of the most successful methods, Branson says, is education. While other lost dogs groups simply post photos and information about missing dogs, the Lost Dogs of King County page acts as an educational resource center, instructing community members how to safely find, approach and capture dogs.
“Our group is not just for posting about your lost dog to get awareness and attention for your dog, but it is also for people to learn the best ways to find their dogs, based on years of experience,” Branson says. “Many people have found their dogs by following our advice.“
Diligently moderated, the group has policies in place to block scammers, misinformation and bad advice. For example, one of the biggest and most common missteps involves dogs in traffic. For as many dogs that Branson and Burns have helped save, they continue to see pets perish on freeways after being chased by concerned citizens who don’t know how to approach stressed animals. That’s why “never chase a dog” is one of the mantras of The Lost Dogs of King County, and it’s a message the group hopes to spread far and wide with the help of social media.
You don’t have to scroll far through The Lost Dogs of King County to find uplifting rescue stories. But for Branson, it will be hard to top August 13, 2016. Someone posted about a skittish German Shepherd wandering around Snoqualmie Pass, a mountainous region outside of Seattle. Branson set out with a humane trap, safely capturing her before she could reach the nearby freeway.
But the story doesn’t end there. After bringing the German Shepherd home to foster, Branson was surprised when she delivered a puppy the next day. He named the puppy Valentino—or Tino, for short —and the two have been together ever since. In fact, Branson and Tino even go searching for other wayward pups together.
“He has found many lost dogs and saved many lives,” says Branson proudly. “Tino is only alive today because of Lost Dogs of King County, and now he has a job helping other lost dogs.”
The Lost Dogs of King County page is unique, but Branson would be more than happy to share the success. He hopes dog lovers in other regions consider replicating their model and sharing links to their lost dog resources.
“I certainly would encourage anyone who is interested to take a look at our page and try to replicate it in your area,” he says. “I wish every community had a group like Lost Dogs of King County.”
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