by Pete Mazzaccaro

During the last month, we’ve had some pretty remarkable developments concerning lost dogs and their owners.

In mid July, a golden retriever was found at the Chestnut Hill News Stand. After publicizing the dog on our website and Facebook page, the dog was quickly reunited with its owners. Just last week, a young dog named Truman was lost on Germantown Avenue. We ran a notice on our website and on our Facebook page and posted a video Brian Rudnick captured of Truman’s owners, Robin Gold and William Russell, handing out fliers. Truman was found after nearly a week of being lost and is currently recuperating at an animal hospital.

The intriguing thing about both of these stories, aside from the fact that both turned out to have relatively happy endings, is the interest residents of Chestnut Hill showed in spreading the word and helping to make sure both pets were returned to their worried owners.

During the course of a regular day, we push anywhere from four to eight stories online and share those stories via Facebook. A typical story with a photo on Facebook is seen by 200 to 300 people. The Facebook post about the golden retriever was shared and viewed by nearly 10,000 people.

No other news item we’ve ever run or a Facebook notice ever made generated nearly the same amount of interest. Some of our staff members even said that they were asked for updates during the last few days Truman was lost. Nothing else was important. Everyone wanted to know: Has that dog been found yet?

What does that say about Hillers and their dogs? And why do a couple of lost dogs garner such attention and concern? Why are lost dogs more important than anything else?

I understand that people grow attached to their pets – and to dogs in particular. But it’s something that one family’s lost dog becomes the most widely shared and read story ever on our Facebook page.

Perhaps a big part of it is this: Not only is a lost dog an innocent in distress, the fact that it might be found and returned to its owner is a story that people really feel they can influence and be part of. One can look for and find a dog. One can spread the word and by doing so increase the chances that someone will find the missing dog and return it to safety.

A lot of other things we report on, even those things that do attract the attention of readers – from an afternoon sidewalk mugging to a longtime shop closing – are not things our readers feel they can actively engage. They don’t feel as if they can change the economy or that they can have a hand in stemming crime. Those stories are informative but not actionable. In this case, readers actually did intervene and in one way or another were part of a network that made sure the stories of these dogs had happy endings.

Of course, the most important thing is not the sociology but the fact that two dogs were found and returned to their owner. That we can be a part of it is an added bonus and demonstrates something about the community that is a pleasant surprise: In this day and age of disengagement and cynicism, we still can connect and help each other out.