Click photo to enlarge
Catriona Cottle of Fido Alert- East Contra Costa County is photographed with her foster dog Wednesday, left, and Diamond, a dog she found earlier in the day on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 in Oakley, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

OAKLEY -- "Looks like a Pom on the run," reads the caption above a photo of a tiny dog as it trotted alone down a sidewalk.

Just below that picture is another, this one of Louie the cat, who's gone missing.

Farther down the page, FOUND DOGS appears above a trio of furry lap dogs that a good Samaritan had scooped up.

And so goes the seemingly endless litany of postings on Fido Alert -- East Contra Costa County, a Facebook page that has been reuniting owners with their pets for the past year.

With just over 4,500 "likes" and counting, the website has become the virtual go-to place for anyone who has lost, found or spotted a pet on the loose.

Inspiration for the page that's described as an "Amber Alert" for animals originated with Brentwood resident Candi Akers after she shared a Facebook post about her friend's lost dog. The person who found the pooch also had uploaded a photo, and someone who saw both posts alerted Akers, who put finder and owner in touch with each other in about an hour.

"The light bulb went off. I thought, 'What if I had a bigger pool of people to share with, not just my friends?" Akers said of the advantage a Facebook page has over a personal profile.

Shortly after she set up Fido Alert, Oakley resident Catriona Cottle joined the effort.

She'd heard about the site while trying to locate the owner of a German shepherd she'd picked up and, liking the idea, offered to help Akers maintain it.


Advertisement

"It just seemed like a good way to network, and everybody has access to the Internet now," Cottle said, noting that budget cuts have limited the number of days that East County's only animal shelter is open.

Together the two women dedicate countless hours collecting pet owners' contact information and posting framed photos of their cat or dog, advertising its status in a big, bold, color-coded stencil font: Red for lost, blue for found, and green to announce that a pet is back home.

What's more, viewers can download the photos and print them out to distribute.

"She's the one who's more organized -- I'm not even going to lie. She's a saint," Akers said of her friend, whom she credits with creating a more uniform look to the page and ensuring that each photo comes with identifying information.

Although Cottle has a full-time job, she typically spends about three hours a day outside of work checking the site and moving people's posts to the home page.

Her cellphone flags her attention when anyone adds something, and she gets calls and text messages from friends who want to notify her of an animal in need but aren't near a computer.

Cattle and Akers also maintain Fido Alert Claycord and Fido Alert West Contra Costa County, Facebook pages they set up last year.

The pair even do a little detective work when they have the time, trying to match photos of the lost pets on their websites with those that people have posted on Craiglist and the ones that the county's Martinez shelter has uploaded to a pet finder service.

"I love animals," is Cottle's simple reply when asked why she gives so much of herself to the project.

And, indeed, she is caring for two foster dogs in addition to her own and two rabbits; Akers, a fellow dog-lover, has four.

As word of Fido Alert spread, Akers says Antioch's animal shelter began referring people to the page, and her veterinarian's office now texts her photos of animals they've scanned unsuccessfully for microchips.

Although she doesn't keep track of the number of pets who have been reunited with their owners through the Facebook page, Akers guesses it's at least 100.

And it's not only cats and dogs she and Cottle help: They have posted S.O.S. messages about lost sheep, cockatiels, a chicken and a horse. Once a cage with a handful of guinea pigs from a petting zoo fell off the back of a truck. Then there was the case of the tortoise who crawled out of its yard and a small pig who went on the lam.

Among the more memorable happy endings is that of an old, blind Chinese crested dog that had spent several cold days and nights wandering around Knightsen in its blue pajamas.

Akers and Cottle also tell the story of the Lab-mix who regularly went AWOL and one day ran from Oakley to Concord along the shoulder of Highway 4. Drivers posted multiple sightings of the dog on Fido Alert during its three-hour odyssey before the owner found him.

Akers would just as soon the public do its part to reduce the demand for Fido Alert by including identification tags on their pets and getting them microchipped. Spaying and neutering also keep pets closer to home because they're no longer as driven to reproduce, Akers said.

"Work me out of a job! I would love it if there wasn't a need," she said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.

FINDING FIDO
To report a pet you've lost, found or spotted roaming free, go to https://www.facebook.com/FidoAlertECCC or email fidoalert@yahoo.com.