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University of Arizona students assist Pet Detectives program

Lost. Found. Shelter. Home.

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

It’s a sad but well-known fact that millions of pets are lost in the United States each year, and the majority of them end up in the nation’s animal shelters. Here, at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA), we strive to keep pets out of the shelters as much as possible by finding new and innovative ways to end pet homelessness. 

Volunteer Pet Detectives assembles volunteers to help reunite lost pets with their families, all from the comfort of their homes. As an extension of HSSA’s Lost and Found Department, this remote volunteer service utilizes the magic of social media and the internet to find potential lost and found matches. By comparing shelter reports filed by owners and social media posts about lost pets to shelter intake and found reports across various platforms, volunteers are able to cross-reference a pet’s characteristics and determine if there is a match. Finding a match means finding a lost pet and identifying their family; reuniting them faster and significantly reducing the stress level of the pet. 

Our new program is the brainchild of our very own, Jennifer Stones, an HSSA Lost and Found Technician, who founded it out of an understanding of the need to keep pets out of shelters and in their homes. She believes this program is important in helping lost pets because it is “taking us [HSSA] out of the equation.” She explains that, “it gets pets home faster and is going to keep them out of the shelter setting entirely, which is less traumatizing for the animal.” When lost pets enter the shelter they are already scared, confused, and stressed, and as hard as we work to keep our shelter calm and comfortable for all of our pets, it’s still a shelter and will never be as comforting as a home. “Keeping them out of here is the goal of what we do”, says Jennifer. 

In an effort to jumpstart this enterprise our team has partnered with students at the University of Arizona who are working on a few different projects that will lay the groundwork for an effective and sustainable program. One of the groups, Blue Chip, is working on a two-part project that could transform this fledgling lost pet initiative into something huge. Part one is networking. By connecting with various clubs on campus, their first goal is to establish partnerships and build a permanent volunteer base. Acquiring volunteers is the only way we can really have an impact, and this group of students is on its way to that. Part two is a coding element. The students will be utilizing their skillset to create easily accessible information web pages that will assist in maximizing the effectiveness of the initiative. The final group is working as volunteers, experiencing Pet Detectives first-hand and providing valuable feedback that will help us create a strong, robust, community-serving program. 

The impact these students have on the longevity of this program is incomparable. Having support from the University of Arizona students who can provide fresh ideas and a diverse pool of insight to help construct Pet Detectives into a strong service, provides us with a greater chance at really having a positive effect on the number of lost pets entering the shelter. When asked what her goal is for this program in working with the students, Jennifer said she hopes to, “successfully lay the foundation of a program that is able to grow and become long-lasting.” 

GET INVOLVED! For this program to truly create change in our community, we need volunteers. This work is so important in ensuring lost pets make it home quicker and in the least stressful way possible; foregoing the shelter. The more eyes we have out there, the better chance we have to get more pets home safely. It’s a tough task, the effort you put in won’t always match the output, there is no guarantee you’ll find a match every time, but, by being proactive, every second you spend looking to find a match is one less second a scared, confused, lost pet has to spend away from their safe space, their family, their home.