Andy, an 11-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi, has been lost since New Year’s Eve, frightened away by fireworks. Since then, thousands of people have seen his face online, though no one knows where he is.
You can see his fluffy golden coat and pointy, oversized ears on YouTube, Craigslist, and the blogosphere. If you drive through Westport, Conn., where Andy disappeared, you will find him on 4,000 laminated color posters.
If someone reports seeing Andy, prerecorded missing-pet phone messages (similar to a Reverse 911 call) go out to area residents. Anyone who thinks he’s spotted Andy can take a picture and post it on the Facebook page, “Bring Andy Home,’’ so a team of volunteers can follow up. At recent count, there had been more than two dozen Andy sightings.
The dog is owned not by an A-list celebrity but by Plymouth resident Jordina M. Ghiggeri. Since running away, however, Andy has become something of a celebrity himself. He has made more than 3,900 Facebook friends in 14 countries. He has been “liked’’ by National Public Radio, “The Howard Stern Show,’’ and strangers who call themselves “Corgi Nation.’’
Although millions of dogs go missing every year, Ghiggeri has tapped the power of the Internet to search for her beloved pet, transforming the typical lost-dog procedure of tacking up a few posters and driving aimlessly around town into a digital campaign.
In doing so, Ghiggeri stumbled onto a growing trend - pet owners combining social networking and high-tech gadgets with old-fashioned detective work to track down a woman’s best friend.
“Facebook led me to people who wanted to help,’’ Ghiggeri said. “Now we’re all connected.’’
Andy was lost 185 miles from Plymouth, where Ghiggeri lives with her husband, Michael. They were visiting friends in Westport when a neighbor set off fireworks that sent the startled corgi dashing into the woods.
Ghiggeri’s full-time job and limited financial resources have made the search difficult. But soon after the Facebook page was set up on Jan. 8, people started volunteering. Fifteen strangers showed up in Westport on a blustery day to put posters on telephone poles. They raised $11,000 for a dozen night-vision cameras to record “Andy sightings.’’ Humane cage traps were baited with dog treats.
“I have this team of people,’’ Ghiggeri said, “so I can literally do this from another state.’’
She said she isn’t a mastermind orchestrating this project; rather, she is riding a wave of sympathetic dog owners, many of whom have lost a pet. One volunteer auctioned jewelry and artwork. Another is updating lost-and-found posts about Andy on Craigslist, while others check the traps and cameras daily.
The number of stray dogs across the country isn’t known, but, according to the Humane Society of the United States, 6 million to 8 million dogs enter shelters each year.
Early on, Ghiggeri hired Karin TarQwyn, a hard-driving, self-described K9 private detective. Professionally trained to find missing persons, TarQwyn still occasionally assists the FBI on searches, but spends the most of her time helping dog owners find their lost pets. A three-hour case review costs $285. Depending on the location, the traveling fee from her home in Nebraska could run into the thousands of dollars.
Sitting in front of an oversized computer monitor, TarQwyn coached Ghiggeri. She pulled up Google Earth, set up a 12-mile radius around her friends’ house, and focused on shallow wooded areas along the Merritt Parkway where the dog could easily hide but still find food. TarQwyn said it’s rare for a dog to travel long distances to return home.
Once the target area was set, it was carpeted with posters, some designed and registered with PetAmberAlert.com, displaying a photo of Andy’s face and Ghiggeri’s contact information. The poster also has a QR code, which, when scanned with a smart phone, provides additional contact information.
TarQwyn keeps a detailed record of Andy sightings, whether from a poster, Facebook, or another source, each noted on her Google Earth map with a digital pushpin.
“I began to see a pattern,’’ TarQwyn said. “Andy sightings spiked on garbage pickup days.’’
Four months have passed, and TarQwyn said that in her experience, most cases are resolved in about seven days. But she also noted that one dog took 16 months to find, and that it’s unusual to have a volunteer group as enthusiastic as the one searching for Andy.
“I don’t necessarily think social media finds pets,’’ she said, “but it certainly creates awareness.’’
Ghiggeri also believes a well-trained search team is the most important element, and noted that if it weren’t for Facebook, she wouldn’t have a team.
In a recent Facebook posting, she said, “We have still been receiving phone calls from possible sightings. It has been a long road and may take more time, but we are definitely on the right path, closing in every day!’’