By Alex Lippa
---- — Leilani Nadeau thought all hope was lost. In January, Kamaya, her 3-year-old Chow, had been missing for a week. With a big snowstorm on the horizon, the Derry resident didn’t know how much longer Kamaya could survive on his own.
Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers, Kamaya returned home safely just before the storm hit.
“They were just amazing,” Nadeau said. “They did a phenomenal job calming us down.”
Nadeau received help from Granite State Dog Recovery, a nonprofit group focused on reuniting dogs with their owners. The group posted Kamaya’s picture and description, reaching more than 25,000 Facebook fans and Twitter followers.
“The most important thing is to get the word out to as many people as possible,” said Lori Bertrand, one of the organization’s founders.
Bertrand is one of six women who volunteer around the clock to find missing dogs or the owners of found pets.
The Salem-based organization covers all of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and posts notices for dogs missing elsewhere in New England.
The volunteers create and post fliers on social media and go out searching for dogs.
“If we know the location of the dog, we will try to set up a trap to bring it in,” Bertrand said.
If a dog is seen in a specific area, volunteers will set up a food-baited trap and a trail camera, which notifies them if something passes by.
With help from the traps and thousands of Facebook fans, GSDR has found about 1,200 dogs since the group formed in 2010.
About 80 percent of dogs that have been posted to the group’s Facebook page have been found.
“There isn’t a better feeling than reuniting a lost dog with its owner,” said Susan Piche, a GSDR volunteer.
The group was started after they successfully found a dog in 2010, and they realized how valuable a tool social media could be in finding a dog.
“There wasn’t anything out there to help people look for dogs,” Bertrand said. “We started out with five people, then it grew to 25, 50, 100, 1,000. We just kept growing so fast.”
They have rescued more than 600 dogs already this year and receive notification of about 20 missing or found dogs per day.
“Even through rescue work I’ve done, I never realized how often a dog went missing,” Bertrand said.
All the funding for the group comes from donations and goes toward purchasing equipment, hanging up fliers and travel expenses.
“It generally ranges from $100 to $500 a month,” GSDR co-founder Holly Mokrzecki said of donations.
Not only does the group help find missing dogs, they keep in constant contact with their worried owners.
“We reiterate to them that we are doing everything we can to help find their dog,” Piche said. “I’d want them to help me.”
Someone from the group will call the owner every night and offer tips to help find their dog.
“They would always just check up on us,” Nadeau said. “They told us something we would never have done, cut up old socks and to leave a scent of a trail for him.”
The advice worked. A day after they set up the scent trail, Kamaya came home.
While Kamaya was missing for a week, the organization has found dogs that have survived for months on their own.
“One dog in Allenstown was gone for five years,” Mokrzecki said. “People would randomly spot him all over the place and feed him sandwiches. Finally, we were able to catch him.”
In Moultonborough, a dog was spotted around town for 11 months.
“They called him the mayor of town,” Piche said. “He’d always go to Dunkin’ Donuts every Sunday for stale donuts they would throw out.”
Eventually, the dog was caught. Piche said it was one of the happiest dogs she’d ever seen.
“She was hugging for us for hours it seemed,” she said.
The group did some research and found the owner, who had given up hope of finding the dog. The dog is now living with a new owner.
Other times, the site has alerted neighbors to a missing dog.
“We had lost our dog, Brady, after he ran away during some fireworks near the Fourth of July,” Gina Lebrun of Derry said. “A couple was walking down the street and saw the dog after seeing it on Granite State Dog Recovery.”
Most of the volunteers who run the website work with dogs in their full-time jobs. Piche and Mokrzecki run dog-sitting businesses, while Bertrand worked at Salem Animal Rescue League for 12 years.
But this organization means something else to them.
“We just have a compassion for animals,” Bertrand said. “An animal out there trying to survive without help of any people is heartbreaking.”
To post a missing or found dog, visit granitestatedogrecovery.com or facebook.com/granitestatedogrecovery.