Lost and Found

Bert, the parrot, flew into Jim Loots’ life years ago and occupies center attention in his home today. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Bert is a yellow-nape Amazon parrot. He is chirpy and happy in his gilded cage in Jim Loots’ dining room on G Street SE. The spirited bird flew into Jim’s life in 1985. No kidding.

Loots, a young lawyer enjoying the bachelor life, was living in a house near Stanton Park. Cleaning up from a Friday night party, he was moving around the kitchen and opened the door to move out some trash. “I thought maybe I had partied a little too much,” he says, “when I saw this large bright green parrot sitting on my back security bars.” He closed the door, regrouped, and opened the door again, and sure enough, the parrot was still there. Loots put out his arm, and Bert jumped right up on it. And as they say, the rest is history.

This all happened in the pre-internet era, so Loots had to spend quite a bit of time with the White Pages and phone to find a pet store that could advise him on how to care for his new pet. He had the bird checked out, and invested in a cage and things his new friend needed. He took out a free ad in a local paper similar to the City Paper, hoping the previous owner would get in touch, but no one ever responded.

Loots named the bird after a popular novel at the time by Julian Barnes, “Flaubert’s Parrot,” about a stuffed parrot. Over time Flaubert became Bert. Jim and Bert’s story is a wonderful one – a lost bird finding a good home. But sadly, all lost pet stories don’t have such a happy ending.

Getting the Word out When Disaster Hits

Moving around the Hill, you cannot help but see all the notices plastered on utility poles, trashcans, and every public space pleading for help finding a lost pet. Last year there was a series of posters about Juliette the box turtle that had gone missing. She is still missing. And most recently, very colorful posters about a lost cat, Wally, and photos of Geoffrey the lost dog.

There are heart-warming stories of dogs being found years later. In 2015 the Washington Humane Society picked up a stray dog that had been missing since April 2011. Owner and dog were reunited because of tracking through a microchip that had been placed under the dog’s skin. Matt Williams of the Washington Humane Society reports a 50-percent success rate of reuniting dog and owner. The Humane Society offers microchip implanting for $35 at the National Capitol Neuter and Spay Clinic at 1001 L St. SE. A walk-in facility open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the clinic offers vaccinations, spay and neuter, and other services.

One of the most famous dog searches in the DC area involves a Rottweiler named Havoc who ran away in the Spring Valley-American University area. The owner has spent more than $35,000 trying to find Havoc. Besides printed posters, the owner enlisted LostMyDoggie.com, a company that broadcasts missing pet alerts. The service places robo-calls up to four times until someone picks up. The owner also set up a special website, alerted all the local shelters, and bought $100 billboards and set them up around the neighborhood. The intensity of her campaign has alienated some neighbors, making the situation even more fraught with tension. A year later, signs for Havoc remain scattered around Northwest, frustrating many, but the owner continues to hold out hope that one day Havoc will return.

What Should You Do?

The Center for Lost Pets, established as a web tool to find lost animals, has a very comprehensive to-do list for people who find themselves in this heartbreaking situation. Its advice is similar to that offered by many other shelter and humane societies. The top piece of advice is to post a minimum of 10 signs in the immediate area where the dog or cat was last seen. It is best to use bright-colored paper and make sure you put the name of the lost pet and the best way to contact you. The Center for Lost Pets even has a template to print up the poster: http://www.thecenterforlostpets.com.

It is also important to check with neighbors, especially for cats, to ask if they may have seen your pet, or to check around their backyards or places where a cat or dog might have hunkered down. Cats do not stray far.

One dog owner told me that on his local Listserv he posted a photo and description of his Jack Russell that had gotten out of the yard, and he immediately started getting emails about sightings. Going door to door where the animal had been seen, he found that a neighbor had taken in his dog. 

Local shelters are also an important part of the process. But veterans of lost-pet episodes all say it is important to go to the shelters in person and not rely on phoning. New pets come in daily, and sometimes the pet’s ID has come off or maybe the microchip doesn’t scan. Leave the flyer with the shelter, especially if it includes a photo. Descriptions of pets can be confusing, so taking a look at the animals brought in each day is very important.

Contact local rescue groups and let them know your cat or dog is missing. The police will not do a search for your lost pet, but many community officers do see wandering animals and will report to the animal control officers. If they know you have a lost pet, they will be on alert, and police have been known to unofficially help get a pet back to the owner. Often people that find pets will call the police first to report the missing animal.

Finally, the Washington Animal Rescue League and Washington Humane Society merged their two organizations in February 2016. The merger brings together a comprehensive set of animal care and protection programs. The Washington Humane Society serves as the District’s animal control agency. It responds to nearly 1,500 calls per month that range from lost and injured animals to injured wildlife. The merger has strengthened the two adoption facilities, which are located at 1201 New York Ave. NE and 15 and 17 Oglethorpe St. NW.

The website washhumane.org serves as the central resource and provides directions on what to do if you have lost or found a pet. Time is important. Getting the word out quickly is a major factor in turning the story of your lost pet into a happy tale of reunion.

The Washington Humane Society’s Neuter and Spay Clinic on L Street SE can put a microchip in your cat or dog to help you find your pet if it is lost. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Rindy O’Brien has facilitated the reuniting of lost dogs and owners and encourages all to microchip their pets. She can be reached at rindyobrien@gmail.com.

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