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VIPP works hard to reunite lost dogs with their owners
Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP) recently bolstered its lost dog program, and VIPP volunteers say they’re amazed at the number of lost and loose dogs the organization has begun to handle.
In January and February alone, they say, VIPP handled 53 situations involving dogs that were either lost or discovered running loose. And though VIPP didn’t keep count last year, volunteers handled 53 cases in 2010 and say the number of Island dogs they’ve helped has sharply increased over the past several months.
“I’m stunned,” said Berneta Walraven, who helps coordinate VIPP’s dog program. Walraven said that recently the dog program has been infused with a wave of volunteer energy, and at the same time VIPP has formalized its procedures for responding to lost dog incidents.
For the first time ever, Walraven said, there is one volunteer who coordinates the lost dog program, rather than having several people try to share the effort.
Lynda Bocconcelli, a retired nurse and animal lover who moved to Vashon about a year ago, now takes all of VIPP’s calls about lost or loose dogs, advises pet owners, disseminates information and, when necessary, organizes searches.
Bocconcelli said that last year it seemed like VIPP handled five to 10 lost dogs a month. But since becoming the lost dog coordinator in January, she said, she sometimes deals with two or three lost dogs a day.
“I have worked 40- and 50-hour weeks just on this,” she said.
Bocconcelli believes there aren’t necessarily more lost dogs now than there were a year ago, but rather Islanders are becoming more aware of VIPP’s services. She said the organization has really spread the word by posting lost or found dog alerts on VashonAll, an email list serve that many Islanders subscribe to.
“That has helped raise our awareness,” she said.
Walraven agreed, and said the dog program also gained attention during a few difficult and high-profile dog rescues over the past year.
In January, Frances Paresa, a 65-year-old woman new to the Island, turned to VIPP when her 14-year-old dog went missing overnight for the first time ever. VIPP put out the word for volunteer searchers, who quickly arrived at Paresa’s home. They eventually discovered that Kita, a Jack Russell terrier-Akita mix, had fallen down a steep ravine on the property and become trapped in the bushes at the bottom.
“Within an hour there were 10 ladies out here going down the ravine to get my dog,” said Paresa. “I nearly fell over backward at their kindness and response.”
Kita was carried out of the ravine unscathed, and a video of the rescue has been viewed more than 400 times on Facebook. Paresa, who still raves about the VIPP volunteers, donated $500 to the organization after the incident.
“I never dreamed there was such an incredible organization,” she said.
Not all VIPP searches have had such happy endings, though. Amy Carey, an animal activist who is involved in the lost dog program, believes VIPP really boosted its efforts about a year ago when, after a large volunteer search effort, two Labrador retrievers were found dead at the bottom of an abandoned well. Since then, she said, VIPP’s ranks of volunteers committed to finding lost dogs have grown steadily.
“I think that really kicked it off, whether it was intentional or not,” Carey said of the well incident. “It really brought home the value of ... community members coming together to help on foot like that.”
Most situations VIPP handles aren’t so dramatic, Bocconcelli said. Usually when an Islander calls about a lost dog, Bocconcelli will take the information, compare it with loose dog reports and then give them simple advice about finding their pet. Dog owners — especially when they are panicked — often don’t think to search in certain places, post fliers or ask neighbors if they’ve seen their dog, she said.
“These things are simple, but I wouldn’t have thought of it either ’til I started doing this,” she said.
Bocconcelli said that she’s been surprised to learn how many people let their dogs wander on Vashon. Since the Island is a rural place, she said, it seems that many don’t have fenced yards and assume their dog won’t wander — when, in fact, some take off to chase deer or other animals and end up far afield.
She said she also wished more Islanders would put tags with owner information on their dogs, a simple act that would help assure their dogs’ return.
“That would save us a lot of steps, if they put the contact information on the dogs,” she said.
As VIPP’s efforts grow, Walraven said, the organization is still trying to decide how it will assist those owners whose pets frequently run off, animals the organization playfully calls “repeat offenders.”
“It’s really sad to me that we have to continually return dogs to people who don’t seem to have a particular interest in having a dog or containing the dog they do have,” she said. “The real fear is the dog will be killed, and it’s not fair to the dog.”
And as VIPP boosts its lost dog response, it is also in search of more volunteers. Bocconcelli said VIPP is searching for someone to fill in for her to coordinate the program a few days a week; it’s also looking to build its list of volunteer searchers as well as those who can temporarily foster lost dogs.
Until then, Bocconcelli said, she’ll be on call seven days a week. She said the work is worth it, as most situations end with dogs being reunited with their owners.
“This is all for the love of animals,” she said.
To volunteer for VIPP’s lost dog program, call 389-1085 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.