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PETS : Not All Roads Lead to Home : Thousands of Dogs, Cats Are Lost Yearly

March 11, 1993|LYNDA NATALI | Lynda Natali is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

It was a stormy day last April when Mikey, a 6-year-old St. Bernard mix, jumped over his master's fence and disappeared. The thunder and lightning must have frightened him, owner Earl Lee speculates.

After searching unsuccessfully for two months, he figured he would never see Mikey again. "I thought someone had taken him and kept him," said Lee, of Orange, who had checked the local animal shelters each week for the dog, a member of the family for six years.

What happened during the next few months only Mikey knows for sure. But in September, he wandered into the Tustin neighborhood of Gloria Arrington, who, with help from the Animal Assistance League of Orange County, got Mikey back home.

Mikey was one of the thousands of pets lost last year in Orange County. In 1991, the last year for while the Orange County Animal Control has figures, 18,000 dogs and 11,000 cats were brought into the Orange County shelter. Of those, 6,100 dogs and about 180 cats were reunited with their owners.

Experts say that current identification can help keep a pet from becoming a statistic.

Mikey had tags, but Arrington and her neighbors could never get close enough to the shy dog to read them. After a few weeks, a little boy was able to quiet Mikey while a group of neighbors read the name on the collar, which had Mikey's license number.

They called the Animal Assistance League, which tracked Lee down and eventually reunited him with Mikey.

But, the experts say, even if your lost pet has up-to-date tags, don't just sit back and wait for it to be found.

"Get on down to the animal shelter right away," said Marie Hulett-Curtner, spokeswoman for the Orange County Animal Shelter.

"Come down every two days. Chances are an officer has immediately picked it up."

There are about a dozen government and nonprofit shelters in Orange County, including the county's facility in Orange. Officials suggest checking for several months, and not just at those shelters close to home. Mikey ended up eight miles from home, and a 15-year-old hound dog that recently disappeared in Dana Point showed up at the county shelter in Orange.

Check the local newspapers' lost-and-found sections and put up signs. Hulett-Curtner suggests noting on the poster that the pet needs medication; people are less inclined to keep an animal that is sick or might cost them money, she says.

Look around nearby schools. Animals tend to head to open spaces, such as soccer fields and baseball diamonds. Also talk with kids in the neighborhood.

A handful of nonprofit groups in the county, such as the Animal Assistance League, are also available to lend a hand. Volunteers field more than 3,000 calls a month at the league.

With a little persistence, you might see your pet again. "Don't give up," Hulett-Curtner said. "You never know."

Now that Mikey has been home for a while, he has settled back into his routine, spending lazy days in the back yard and eating Chinese food from a nearby restaurant. Lee takes special precautions whenever it rains so he won't lose him again. And he still wonders where his dog was for so many months.

"I wish he could talk and tell me all about it," he said. "That would be great."

Answering the Call

Animal Assistance League

Phone: (714) 978-PETS

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) of Dana Point

Phone: (714) 240-2899

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Orange County SPCA

Phone: (714) 536-0500

Hours: 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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