Illustration by Caroline Gaspich

It was a run-of-the-mill, sunshine-y Saturday in 2009 when everything changed for Angela Shore. The 56-year-old, who has bright blonde hair and eyes ringed in black eyeliner, was out running errands in northwest Gainesville. But every corner she turned — a gas station, Publix, the bank, a street near her parents’ house — she saw flier after flier for a missing dog. Printed in bold above a picture of a Bernese Mountain dog surrounded by his family was a single word: “DEVASTATED.”

Shore immediately dialed the number on the flier. She asked the family what they had already done so she wouldn’t duplicate their efforts and discovered they hadn’t called Animal Services, the county’s shelter. Since the dog was a purebred, not a stray, Shore said it never occurred to them that he might be there. She insisted the family call the shelter that day — sure enough, their dog had been there all week and was about to be adopted.

“It’s usually something as simple as this, but people just don’t know what to do,” Shore said. “This experience made me realize that educating people … could save so much heartache.”

That night, Shore got to thinking: When pets go missing in Gainesville, what do people do? Where do they look? Who do they call? For six months, Shore did her research. On her lunch breaks at her work in UF Health’s IT Department, Shore called every number on every flier she had stumbled across. Every time an advertisement was placed in the local newspaper, she called. Vets, rescues, law enforcement and Animal Services — Shore called them all to learn the role they played in the recovery of Gainesville’s lost pets, taking
note of the methods that worked.

Then, in January 2010, Shore brought her newfound resources together in one place. The Gainesville Pet Finder Facebook page was
born.

Pokemon is a grey cockatiel. Shore is still searching for him.

Today, due in part to one lost dog, Shore’s page has helped find over 20,000 local lost pets.

“I never envisioned what this turned into,” Shore said. “‘I had no idea I would end up being in the middle of it all, constantly interacting with people and helping them find their lost pets. It’s really taken a life of its own.”

When a pet goes missing in Gainesville, it can take anywhere from five minutes to five months to recover them if they can be found. Animal Services is required to hold the animal for three days, but if no owner comes forward during this time, the pet is spayed or neutered (if not already), vetted, vaccinated and put up for adoption.

Nicole Healy, an administrative coordinator at Alachua County Animal Services, said the staff checks the Gainesville Pet Finder page every day and that there have been numerous times they have been able to reunite pets with their owners using the page.

“Having more places for these animals to be posted and the community to be involved is a great help,” said Healy.

It took Shore about a year to get the Pet Finder page established. In that time, she did everything to raise awareness: She would scour Facebook, the Gainesville Sun, and flyers around town for missing pets to let the owners know about her page. She printed 1,500 cards
and made bumper stickers and posters that she passed out to vets, rescues, groomers and local businesses. Shore wanted her page to be the only place people posted.

The way it works is that anyone can post a picture of a lost or found pet to the page along with the pet’s name, where it went missing, and contact information in case the pet is found. Shore will then share the post onto the main page. Posts are also categorized in albums depending on how recently the pet went missing and if it was found.

Shore will also post if an animal is found deceased.

“It is just as important for families to know if the animal is dead and so … they can know what happened,” she said. “Not knowing is the worst.”

This turtle was lost in the Sunrise neighborhood off Tower Road a year ago. He was eventually reunited with his family.

Surely and steadily, Shore’s page grew. It now has a following of over 17,500 people; on average, about 20 lost and found pets are reported to the page each day, ranging from cats and dogs to ferrets, cows, foxes, skunks and guinea pigs. Shore can get up to 45 texts or phone calls a day from people with information about lost and found pets in Gainesville, the surrounding counties or sometimes as far away as New York.

One time, a little girl even contacted Shore about her lost stuffed bunny. “Surprisingly, we were actually able to find it after it had fallen off the family’s car roof,” she said.

Kelly Hicks was also reunited with her lost companion through the Facebook page. A year ago Hicks lost her black cat Padfoot when she climbed through a window in her home. Her family was desperately searching for Padfoot when one of her friends suggested
using the Pet Finder page. Hicks contacted Shore, who immediately responded.

Shore advised Hicks to go outside around 3-4 a.m. when it’s very quiet and call her name and shake her food. She explained that a lot
of times, cats are more comfortable coming out at night when they can easily hear their owner’s voice.

“I immediately heard a meow, and a minute later she came up to me from where she was hiding,” said Hicks. “I woke my son up that morning to the best news ever and got to see the relief of having his cat home and safe.”

As the page has grown, so has its effectiveness. Shore said the page has facilitated up to 10 reunions per day and has developed a dedicated following of people who will go out looking for lost animals that have been spotted.

“Once I had 20 people show up to pick up an animal,” Shore said.

Beckham, above, is currently missing. He was last seen on NE 15th Terrace.

Shore also has a group of people who voluntarily help with overnight reunions because they know that she is unavailable after 8 p.m.

Shore calls this group of people her “Twilight Barkers,” a reference from 101 Dalmations, where information is passed from one dog to
another during the late night hours.

Not only do these volunteers help Shore out, but most of the vets, rescues, groomers, law enforcement, animal services and community also check the page to stay updated on lost or found pets. Even animal service officers will watch the page and will go looking for the dog or lost animal and keep Shore in the loop.

Animal Services even offered Shore a job to run the page because they were worried that she would stop doing the Facebook page, but she declined the offer.

“I didn’t do this for the recognition,” Shore said. “I just wanted to help Gainesville residents reunite with their pets.”

On March 23, Shore set out in search of a chihuahua in Hampton, a tiny town about 30 minutes northwest of Gainesville. But when she got there, she realized that the people who had found the small dog had no intentions of returning it to its owner.

This is Kevin. He was found on Thanksgiving morning 2018.

So, in an hour and a half, Shore had covered the town in flyers. The chihuahua, named Princess, was reunited with her rightful owner, a 70-year-old woman who had adopted the dog after her husband died in 2010.

“Almost all of the time, somebody is looking for the dog you’ve found,” Shore said.

Shore said that some of the hardest animals to find are cats and ugly dogs, since people usually assume they are feral or strays. On
weekends, Shore will often look for them, prioritizing the ones she doesn’t think people are looking for.

“There are pets that went missing in 2010 that I am always looking out for and still hope to one day reunite,” she said.

In her remaining free time, Shore cares for two dogs and three cats: A Papillon named Walter with white fur and big ears, a Jack Chi named Stewert, a Siamese brother-and-sister pair named Ozzy and Harriet, respectively, and an orange tabby named Bohdi, whom she adopted after he showed up at her door as a feral kitten.

Though running the page is a lot of work, Shore sees herself sticking with it for at least another five years. She won’t leave if there isn’t
someone to take the reins.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. •