But these heartbreaking images of lost loved ones are not of the human variety – they’re pets, mostly cats and dogs, whose owners are desperately praying for their safe return. But for the thousands of families across the nation who have already been reunited with their pets through a Brentwood-based search site called FindToto.com, they know there really is no place like home.
“We have an 80-percent success rate in the first 48 hours,” said Colleen Busch, director of public relations for FindToto.com. “You give us your address, we plug it in and we use it as a bull’s-eye to launch the search.”
Founded by Brentwood siblings Dustin Sterlino and Krislyn Pool, FindToto.com is an Amber Alert-type warning system and first-responder for pets gone missing. Sterlino came up with the idea in 2007 when his girlfriend’s cat disappeared and the traditional flyers and door-to-door searches produced nothing.
“Dustin was devastated by the loss of his girlfriend’s cat and frustrated there wasn’t a faster way to spread the word other than signs on posts and word-of-mouth,” said Busch. “That’s when he came up with the idea for Toto.”
Although Sterlino’s brainstorm came too late for his girlfriend’s needs, over the years FindToto.com has located more than 5,000 lost pets throughout the nation.
Boomer was one of the lucky ones.
When Boomer, Deborah Dutcher’s 12-year-old, 100-pound black Labrador escaped from the family’s backyard in June, the Brentwood resident feared the worst. “Of course it was the weekend of the terrible heat,” said Dutcher. “Boomer had just gotten out of the pool and he just snuck out. We ran around looking for him in that 100-degree heat. We were panicked.”
That’s when Dutcher called FindToto.com. Within minutes they spread the alarm, reaching residents Dutcher knew she could never connect with on her own. As it turned out, Boomer was picked up almost immediately by a Good Samaritan who spotted him wandering around by Freedom High School. But Dutcher said she was grateful for the services FindToto provided and would certainly use them again should the need arise.
“I think it is definitely a good service. It gives you a lot of peace of mind because you know you can’t knock on every single door,” said Dutcher. “These people are very good. They are very professional and very clear in their instructions. I would absolutely use them again.”
Here’s how it works. When a pet is reported missing to the Toto site, the exact address of where the animal was last seen is logged into the online mapping system and serves as the search area’s starting point. The website then pulls phone numbers within a certain radius and uploads them to an automated calling system that makes thousands of calls in minutes. Called Toto Alerts, the automated messages can be left on voicemails, answering machines and of course with a live recipient. The system has the potential to notify up to 10,000 neighbors in 30 minutes, and calls are repeated up to four times in a 24-hour period. The fee is based on the number of homes called, and a variety of packages are available.
For Shari Armstrong, the site allowed her to access a larger area than she could have physically covered when her cat Linus went missing a few months ago. Although the tabby has not yet turned up, Armstrong was impressed by the Toto site and the response she received.
“It was good. I was happy with the service,” said the Oakley resident. “It helped me to reach out to my neighbors and that was a positive thing. It made me feel better.”
Busch agreed that support and peace of mind are integral components of the site. “The fact is that with people being so busy, not everyone is outside seeing signs at the park or posters on telephone poles,” she said. “So we are able to get those signs into people’s living rooms. People are eager to help find someone’s pet; they get very excited when they can help or even just offer support. It’s a feel-good thing.”
For additional information, questions or to sign up, visit www.findtoto.com.