One of the worst feelings in the world is when a beloved pet goes missing. Owners experience a special brand of fear, frustration and helplessness, wondering if their dog or cat will ever return home.

Sacramento’s Front Street Animal Shelter doesn’t want any pet owner to feel that way. And it has launched an innovative, new texting program that helps to connect people with their missing animals.

City Express recently spoke with Ryan Hinderman, public information coordinator for Front Street and creator of the program, to find out more about how it all works.

Q: This program sounds like it can really help people. Can you explain exactly how a pet owner would use it?

A: When pet owners text STRAY to 555888, they’re guided through every step of finding their pet, including links to fill out a lost pet report, links to view pets at all Sacramento shelters, in-depth tutorial videos for finding both dogs and cats, which we developed with the nation’s top lost pet detectives, and more.

It’s a one stop resource — kind of like a 911 for lost pets.

Q: Is the program free to use?

A: Yes. It is absolutely free with no charges whatsoever.

Q: How did Front Street come up with this program?

A: We realized that only one out of three dogs and one out of 10 cats were actually being picked up by their owners. That was shocking to us, and we knew we had to do more to get pets home.

One of the big barriers for owners finding their pet is lack of knowledge. There’s so much scattered information out there, and so many myths, not to mention few people know which shelters exist in our area and which is the right one to check.

We also discovered that text messages are one of the most accessible ways to reach people — texts have a 98% open rate, which is higher than emails. 

Q: How are you informing the public about the program?

A: Our primary marketing vehicles have been postcards that hold a fridge magnet, lost pet emergency wallet cards and stickers. So far we’ve mailed to over 135,000 residences. We’ve also done bus ads, billboards, social media ads, local media and more.

Q: It must have taken quite a bit of funding to develop and market the program. Where did the funding come from?

A: When this program was just an idea, we submitted it to the Innovation Showdown, a contest organized by the Petco Foundation, which is like the “Shark Tank” of animal welfare ideas. We pitched the idea to investors and were awarded $250,000 to develop the program.

Q: What has been the response by the public so far? Have people been using the program?

A: The response was even better than we expected. The program launched in March 2019, and over 1,200 people have already texted the number to get help finding their pet. While it will take some time to see how this affects our population at the shelter, we are meeting a clear need in our community by providing a great resource to families who lose their pets.

Q: Have other shelters expressed interest in the program?

A: Yes, over a dozen shelters have asked for help developing similar programs in their area.