Feb. 28, 2008 -- After 6-year-old yellow Labrador Mooch had been missing for more than two weeks, his owner, Rebecca Backer, had lost all hope of finding her beloved pooch.
Despite calling countless animal shelters in her New Jersey neighborhood and plastering the area with missing fliers bearing the dog's furry mug, Backer had no luck locating Mooch, who had managed to escape her front yard's invisible electric fence and disappear in broad daylight.
It wasn't until she discovered FindToto.com, one of the few Internet-based companies specializing in locating lost pets, that Baker found Mooch at a local country club, skinny and tick-ridden, but otherwise OK.
"[Losing a dog] is like losing your child. I was panicked and frantic," said Backer. "I had been spreading the news all over. But I couldn't hand out enough fliers or put them in enough places."
And that's exactly where FindToto.com came in -- helping Backer find Mooch by calling all of her neighbors and playing a prerecorded message describing what the dog looked like and who to call if he was found. In Backer's case, the country club owner had received a call from the site, spotted Mooch, hungry and homeless, and immediately knew whom to call.
"It's like the Amber Alert for pets," said FindToto.com co-founder Krislyn Sterlino, who said her brother Dustin came up with the idea after a good friend of theirs lost her cat and quickly discovered there was no efficient way to notify the entire neighborhood of the missing kitty. "Plus, putting up fliers takes a lot of time and not everyone sees them."
FindToto.com, which operates nationwide, uses an outside company to find the phone numbers within a particular neighborhood, and Sterlino said those who are on the "Do Not Call list are not contacted.
Amber Alerts … for Dogs and Cats
While Sterlino's Web site offers to call customers' neighbors in exchange for a fee -- the more neighbors they call, the more they charge -- Bill Rozich's Colorado-based organization, Amber Alert for Pets, notifies members of missing pets through e-mail.
With 3,700 members who've signed up since its creation just over a year ago, Rozich's organization relies on the golden rule: Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you. Upon joining and paying a $20 lifetime membership fee members must pledge to help other pet owners search for their missing dogs or cats should they go missing. That member can then count on those same people to help him or her in return.
"Most of the members never have any contact with one another; they don't care if you're a one-legged person, a Democrat, a Republican, or what religion you are," said Rozich. "All that matters is that you're a pet owner."
Rozich estimated that of the 601 reported lost pets, his organization has located more than 300 of them.
Much like FindToto.com's phone calls, Rozich's e-mails display photos of the missing animal, lists any medical problems the animal has and provides the owner's contact information. The pet's veterinarian is also listed so that if the dog or cat is found injured, it can be taken to a vet familiar with its history.
PETA Commends Sites, Warns Owners to Keep Calling Shelters
While the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wasn't familiar with the new pet version of the Amber Alert until ABCNEWS.com's inquiry, a spokeswoman for the organization was undoubtedly impressed that pet owners were doing so much to help others locate their furry friends.
"Any effort to try to reunite lost animals with their people is to be commended," said Daphna Nachminovitch, of PETA. "These Web sites are a wonderful way to try to add an extra option and extra way to find your lost animal."
"But it's also important that people don't think they are safeguards, because the bottom line is that it's dangerous for your animal if they're lost," warned Nachminovitch, who said fliers should still be posted -- preferably with the offer of a reward in clear view -- and shelters should always be notified of missing pets.
In addition to Baker, several other happy customers told ABCNEWS.com that before turning to FindToto.com or Amber Alert for Pets, they had believed their handmade missing fliers and neighborhood searches were outdated in today's digital world.
Houston pet owner Amy Burton told ABCNEWS.com that she spent days earlier this month posting and faxing fliers around her community and compulsively checking local animal shelter's Web sites to no avail after her dog, Gai Pan, was accidentally let out of a gate on her property.
"I was doing everything that I could but not getting any response. I was really frantic," said Burton, who just one day after signing up for FindToto.com got a call from a neighbor who had found the scared and thirsty pooch hiding in a bush in her yard. "[FindToto.com] sounded like such a novel idea, especially in Houston where many people never go walking and won't see missing posters."
"It was 100 percent thanks to the phone call that I found Mooch," said Backer, who described her Lab as a core member of her family. "And he's been well-behaved since he came back."
"I think he's happy to be home," Backer said.