by Paul Clark
The posters are everywhere. On power poles, in cafés, libraries, community centres and social media. Each shows a beloved pet, lost somewhere in the city. For some reason, no matter when the photograph on each poster was taken, the animal looks sad. Each looks as though it had a premonition that it would be lost.
The posters tell sad stories. Fortunately, some of these stories have happy endings. Hugo, a Burmese cat, was missing for nearly two weeks in Sydney’s inner west. “We don’t know why he went AWOL,” says Alessandria Bosso, Hugo’s owner. “We just left the laundry window open and he escaped.”
Alessandria says she nearly gave up hope of finding Hugo, but on the thirteenth day she had a call to say that Hugo had been found in Lilyfield. Hugo had crossed several major roads in his journey from his home in Leichhardt and has clearly been a very lucky cat. “The community support was amazing,” Alessandria says. “It was really nice to see how many animal lovers there are in the inner west.” Eventually, Alessandria had to put up ‘found’ posters because so many people wanted to know what happened to Hugo.
Billy, a whippet cross, ran away from Callan Park in Lilyfield when another dog frightened him. Billy’s owner, Cheryl Isles, hoped he would be found soon. Billy’s tag has a telephone number on it, so his owners expected someone would grab him and make a call. Even without his tag, Billy can be identified from his microchip. The last time Billy ran away, even though he lost his collar, he was picked up in Annandale and identified at a vet’s surgery within 24 hours. The short distance Billy travelled was consistent with the advice Whippet Rescue offered Cheryl, that whippets tend to stay close to home.
Unfortunately, this time Billy ran away on Sunday evening and by Friday had still not been recovered. Cheryl was worried. Her little boy was wandering around holding Billy’s lead. Cheryl did her best to reassure him, but the fear that Billy would not be found after so long was real. Cheryl and her husband produced posters showing Billy’s picture and their contact details. They distributed these widely, and many more were stacked up on the dining room table in their home. They also posted messages on a Facebook page dedicated to the search.
On Thursday, Cheryl had a call that Billy had been caught, several suburbs away in Chippendale. Cheryl hurried to collect him. However, frightened, Billy ran off again and Cheryl missed collecting him by 10 minutes.
Pet Search has assisted the searches for both Billy and Hugo. Pet Search is a private organisation, set up to help pet owners deal with the various organisations that may be able to help them find their pet. Cheryl experienced a frustrating example of local government bureaucracy, because Billy could be in any of three or more local government areas. She made a lot of calls to Ashfield, Leichhardt and Sydney councils. Only one was unhelpful. “Three phone calls, no response from them whatsoever. I’m furious with them. Absolutely furious,” she says.
Billy never ended up in the hands of any of the councils, as a friendly Sunday morning dog walker found Billy, caught him, and called Cheryl. Missing for a week, when he returned home he looked thin but pleased to see his owners. Needless to say, they were pleased to see him too.
The RSPCA publishes annual statistics for animals received into RSPCA shelters. In 2010/11, over 67,000 dogs and 64,000 cats were received nationally. 29% of the dogs and over 50% of cats were unable to be rehomed or reclaimed by owners and were euthanised. Owners reclaimed 35% of dogs, but only a little over 3% of cats. Statistics are not available to illustrate the difference microchipping has made to the proportion of lost pets returned to their owners, but vet Dr Kellie Seres is in no doubt that microchipping is a significant aid. “If an animal is brought into the surgery and is microchipped we can call the owner straight away,” she says. “So many more animals would be euthanised if it wasn’t for microchipping.”
Dr Anne Marie Swan, a psychiatrist and a dog lover, says there is a long history of the relationship between dogs and humans. “Social co-operation between dogs and humans has developed to a high degree. The evolution of dogs and humans has been convergent and dogs are closer to us than apes in terms of social co-operation.” Dr Swan says there is considerable medical interest in the ability of dogs to empathise. “My own belief is that dogs are empathetic,” she says. “The scientific research is not there yet but it is beginning to emerge.”
Dr Swan often has her dog, Fabio, in her consultation room. “Fabio has a soothing, calming effect,” she says. “The spontaneous interaction between dog and patient also provides a ‘third space’ for a lot of therapeutic interactions”. Regarding the sympathy people demonstrate for a lost dog, Dr Swan says, “There is a recognition of the vulnerability of the dog, like if a child is lost.”
According to Lee Jefferies, of Pet Search, the most common description of a pet is ‘a family member’. Alessandria says of Hugo, “He’s like a little soul, a little presence. You don’t realise day to day what pets contribute. It’s only when they’re gone that you do.”
Pets are a part of many families, and a great support for many people. This is obvious when Carol Launders takes Jezebel, a three kilogram Chihuahua, to the Montefiore Aged Care Home at Hunters Hill. After Carol signs in at reception, Jezebel runs like a fluffy blur towards the residents’ lounge. “Jezebel knows the way,” Carol says.
On the way through the corridors of Montefiore, lots of residents and visitors give Jezebel a pat or a little cuddle. Once in the lounge, Jezebel sits patiently next to her human friends, staying close enough for her long soft coat to be stroked. “She could sit more comfortably somewhere else,” says Carol. “She always likes to sit where people can reach her.”
With her visit completed, Jezebel snuggles in to her harness on the back seat of Carol’s car. She starts to doze, looking very satisfied with the companionship and care she has provided today.