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Lost a pet? Look to the Web for help

There are more options nowadays to help find lost pets.

At Web sites such as findtoto.com, petharbor.com, petfinder.com and craigslist.com, pet owners have all sorts of tools at their disposal, including e-mail blasts, phone alerts, postcard blitzes and faxes.

"There are a lot of different things available," says Brenda Mitchell, an educator for Central California SPCA. "People need to just do the steps while using them."

Among Central Valley pet owners, Mark and Lori Ruh are trying some of the options while searching for their son Jimmy's 11-month-old white Lab, Colby. The dog was last seen in the family's Fresno back yard on Sept. 15.

The Ruhs first searched by posting fliers and running ads in the newspaper. Then, the Ruhs turned to the Internet.

"It opened our eyes to how the process works," Mark Ruh says.

Kelly Joos, director of Valley Animal Center in Fresno, says it is important that pet owners try the various options.

"Petfinder.com and findtoto.com are wonderful avenues for people to use," she says. "You can reach a lot of people."

Findtoto.com, for example, uses phone alerts. Users declare how many neighbors they want notified, fill out the missing pet information and enter the ZIP code that can reduce neighbors' phone numbers to within a mile radius.

Findtoto.com says it finds seven out of 10 lost pets. The Ruhs paid $70 for 250 neighbor phone alerts. They received just two callbacks, including one from a relative.

Craigslist.com provides a pet discussion forum.

Petharbor.com sends out postcard blitzes with colored photos of lost pets. Its fees range from $399 for 500 postcards to $1,299 for 3,000.

Joos says pet owners are smart to have a microchip with contact information inserted in their pet. The microchip is injected near the animal's collar bone. Cost is $25 for a dog or cat.

If the animal strays and is picked up by animal control workers, shelters scan the animal for the microchip information, usually a number. Shelters, veterinarians and online services use the database nationwide to link lost pets with owners.

"Ninety-five percent of microchipped animals do come home," Joos says.

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