After an 1,800-mile journey back home, T-Chen the fox terrier began to tap dance and squirm the second he saw owner Fred Hollier’s face through the car window.
T-Chen had run through an open door during Hurricane Isaac’s aftermath before she was picked up by a federal worker in town for the storm and ended up in Illinois.
Because of a post by Hollier’s daughter-in-law to the Lost Pets of Baton Rouge Facebook community, T-Chen was identified five states away and returned home after more than a month.
“This is like Christmas and a birthday all together,” Hollier, 67, said when he had the hyper little black and white dog in his lap.
Beloved pets are finding their way home because Baton Rouge animal lovers faithfully check a website. The Lost Pets of Baton Rouge Facebook community — and others like it that cover Ascension, West Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes — have thousands of followers on the alert for missing dogs and cats.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to Baton Rouge,” Hollier said after he learned T-Chen had been found.
One of the four who currently run the page, Mindy McCallum Brooks, started The Lost Pets of Baton Rouge community in August 2011. Around that time, three other Baton Rouge women were maintaining other pet-finding Facebook pages and blogs. Then they became aware of each others’ work.
“When we had these pages for the same reason, we were not only duplicating our work, we were dividing their attention,” said Beatrice Winkler, who had run a blog called the Lost and Found Hound. “We wanted it to be the one-stop shop for Baton Rouge.”
When they combined their efforts in January, the Lost Pets of Baton Rouge page had 200 “likes,” or Facebook followers. In September they reached 1,400.
At the top of the page, https://www.facebook.com/lostpetsbatonrouge, a banner reads, “NO MORE LOST PETS!” Below, friends of the page have posted photos of solemn-looking dogs and cats that have gotten away from their masters and a few of happy reunions with animal companions curled up in their owners’ arms.
Lost Pets of Baton Rouge has coordinated reunions that likely would not have happened before, when pet searches consisted mainly of taping fliers to utility poles and notifying neighbors.
Some pets that have been considered lost forever have been remarkably returned, including Sophie Lynn, Jill Holton’s 16-year-old, blue-eyed Siamese cat that disappeared in early August. Sophie Lynn lived inside but liked to stay on the carport in the evenings, and the last time her owners saw her was the night Holton’s daughter had been in a wreck near the Mall of Louisiana.
Holton had searched throughout her Livingston Parish town and posted pictures and descriptions of the cat to the lost pets Facebook pages for Baton Rouge, Ascension Parish, Southeast Louisiana and West Baton Rouge Parish.
The day before Hurricane Isaac hit, Holton received a call that Sophie Lynn had been found — 20 miles from home.
“I had other false leads, so I was a little bit discouraged,” she said. “So I asked her to describe her collar.”
The caller described it perfectly — a tattered collar with gold studs.
About 5 a.m. that day, Sophie Lynn had walked into the J.C. Penney at the Mall of Louisiana and greeted an employee, who fed her breakfast and called the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society.
“My guess was she sensed the storm was coming,” Holton said. “She’s not the most social cat in the world, but she decided to be social that day.”
Sophie Lynn had apparently hitched a ride to the mall with Holton the night of her daughter’s wreck and wandered off.
Now, Holton is an online administrator for Lost Pets pages covering Livingston, Ascension and West Baton Rouge parishes.
“I realized we really need to get the word out,” she said
Without the Internet searchers, T-Chen, too, would never have been identified and would have remained in Illinois, said Bonny Schumaker, founder of On Wings of Care, a nonprofit organization that transports wild and domestic animals to new homes or to receive medical care.
“No one ever would have known who she belonged to or where she was from,” said Schumaker, who drove T-Chen back home. “Zero chance with no microchip and no ID. There’s an awful lot of good people in the world.”
T-Chen — named for the Cajun French phrase for little dog, petit chien — bolted out the front door right after Isaac passed through, leaving Hollier’s neighborhood without power. The nonstop hum of his generator may have driven her crazy, he said.
An Illinois man with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on standby during the storm spotted the little dog and stopped to help her, said Rebecca Johnson, manager of the Henry County Humane Society in Geneseo, Ill., where T-Chen ended up. She jumped right into the cab of the man’s truck.
No one would take the dog off his hands without guaranteeing she wouldn’t be put down in a few days, so he took her home and turned her over to Johnson, who began searching for her true owner.
At home, T-Chen was the “matriarch” of a three-dog house, said Hollier. Bebe and Pick-up, two much larger dogs Hollier rescued, would let the little terrier boss them around and bathe them.
In T-Chen’s absence, Pick-up would howl in the backyard, Hollier said, “like he was saying, T-Chen, come home.”
After giving up on T-Chen returning home, Hollier’s daughter-in-law posted a picture of her to the Lost Pets page, which Johnson happened to find. When she called Hollier’s daughter-in-law, they were shocked.
“I was speechless,” he said. “I was like, ‘How in the world?’ ”
Johnson then contacted nonprofit organizations that transport animals from shelters to homes and found Schumaker, who planned to fly T-Chen back home. Instead she and a friend drove to Geneseo and returned last week. The Henry County Humane Society paid the transportation costs, implanted her with a microchip for identification and sent her with a bag full of toys and a new collar.
Scratching his dog’s head while the rain fell around them, Hollier took an assault of licks and said to T-Chen, “I told those boys yesterday, ‘You better be ready — Momma’s comin’ home.’”
After a month away, T-Chen took back her place as matriarch of the house.