Winter Park Lost Pets celebrates 1,000 happy tails

Website hits milestone

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  • | 9:27 a.m. July 9, 2015
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - Debbie Farah holds Stella, her dachshund who made it back home thanks to neighbor Shana Albright and
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - Debbie Farah holds Stella, her dachshund who made it back home thanks to neighbor Shana Albright and
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A few good, strategically placed digs with her short stubby legs, and Stella was free. Her hotdog shaped body wriggled under the fence, and her white-tipped paws hit the pavement trotting along Mizell Avenue in Winter Park. Left behind was her worried older sister Jada, who nervously paced back and forth until their mom Debbie got home from work. Jada, the German Shepard, couldn’t fit her oversized body through the Dachshund-sized hole.

Stella had gotten her groove back, but not for long. That Sunday evening, less than an hour later, Shana Albright found the caramel-colored pup trotting along near Phelps Avenue. She scooped up the pink-collared pooch and took her home with her to Windsong. Stella’s ID tags had fallen off during a recent romp with Jada, leaving Albright with no name or number to call. Instead, she went on her computer and made a found-pet posting.

Across the community, Debbie Farah returned home from a quick trip to her office off Park Avenue to find a frantic Jada, a hole under her fence, and no slinky Stella to be seen.

She and Jada walked the neighborhood calling for Stella, with no luck. Some neighbors took down her number and offered to call if they saw her, and others recommended she check online.

From their computer desks two blocks away from each other, Albright and Farah ended up in the same place:

Winter Park Lost Pets cofounder Judy Charuhas has a thousand stories like this, and by the time she’s done telling you the most recent – a new one pops up. On Sunday, June 29, Stella became the 1,000th pet – mostly dogs and cats, a few birds, and one turtle – the website has helped reunite since it launched in 2009.

“I used to know every single pet and so many stories, but then the more and more you do it you realize, holy cow, there are a lot of pets out there that we’ve reunited,” Charuhas said.

“People love their pets. We’re their voice. We just want to get them all home; that’s what it’s all about. So here we are years later and we’re still doing it.”

When trying to recall the most memorable reunited stories, her memory swells with hundreds of happy tales that she knows by heart.

There was Zoe the Bengal cat who was reunited by an astute Bright House Networks worker on the job at the Winter Park Public Library. Joey, the mini schnauzer who made it from Winter Park Pines to Baldwin Park, and was reunited thanks to group of walkers and bikers who hit the street when the lost pet alert went out. And Kona, a pit-bull/Boxer mix, who was tracked down by a group of neighborhood kids and returned home back in February 2011.

Every time a lost or found pet listing is posted on the website, Charuhas is there on the other end of the interweb ready to send out an e-blast to 20,000 inboxes subscribed to the website’s updates. The e-blasts include a photo of the pet, where he or she was lost or found, and contact information for the owner or finder.

Over the years, Charuhas said, she’s noticed patterns in the lost pet stories, like the lawn service leaving the backyard gate open, letting Fido run free.

Or, she added, “If I had a buck for every time someone said, ‘I just took his collar off because I gave them a bath,’ I’d be rich.”

She uses each reunited story to encourage pet owners to microchip their animals, going as far as to start The Lost Pets Foundation in 2012, a 501(c)3 that helps provide free or discounted microchipping to pets reunited through her website.

“To me the best part is when [owners of found pets] say they’re going to go get a microchip tomorrow, or they tell me they took them to the vet and got their chip,” she said. “That’s when you feel like it’s totally worth it.”

In Stella’s case, she had a microchip but was found well after vet hours were closed, leaving Farah to worry that she and Jada would be up all night hoping for a scratch at the door or a response from her lost-pet listing.

“It’s so stressful when your pets are gone missing,” she said. “… Jada just kept pacing by the front door, neither of us would have gotten any sleep that night.”

But within an hour of posting Stella’s photo and information on Winter Park Lost Pets, Farah got a phone call from Charuhas asking if Stella had white-tipped paws. Minutes later, Stella was on her way home, and Charuhas was celebrating her 1,000th happy ending.

“It was really neat to see how many people were paying attention and out there trying to help me find Stella. There’s really quite a doggie community here in Winter Park,” Farah said looking down at her lap where Stella sat happily at home. “Right, Stella? You might not even be here if it weren’t for that great doggie community.”

“I’m a huge fan of the [Winter Park Lost Pets] service, and Stella should be too even if she doesn’t know to be.”

Twenty-four hours after Stella found her way safely home, Charuhas sat at her home computer in Winter Park reflecting on all 1,000 reunited stories while doing a daily run through of lost and found listings and emails.

“Look at that!” she said, her voice picking up an octave in excitement. “Bengal got reunited – we’re at 1,001 now! How cool is that?”

After a beat of celebration, it’s back to business.

“Now please just don’t let that cat get out again, geesh!”


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