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Help in finding missing pets

Colleen Lange is an expert in the field of finding lost family pets

Posted: August 10, 2013 7:13 p.m.
Updated: August 10, 2013 7:13 p.m.
Colleen Lange with Gunny, a Vizsla Pitbull mix. Lange runs Photo by Jonathan Pobre.  Colleen Lange with Gunny, a Vizsla Pitbull mix. Lange runs Photo by Jonathan Pobre. 
Colleen Lange with Gunny, a Vizsla Pitbull mix. Lange runs Photo by Jonathan Pobre. 

Mark Benson of Canyon Country had just finished taking his family’s newly adopted dog Gunny for a walk when it happened. As Benson went to take off his shoes on the front porch of his home, Gunny slipped out of his harness.

"It was horrific. Gunny just bolted onto the street, looked at us and took off," said Jess Benson, Mark’s wife, of that morning in April. "It was one of those moments you wish you could stop, but can’t."

Fortunately for the Bensons, they knew who to call. Colleen Lange, a Newhall dog trainer and Gunny’s former foster mom who also happens to run

The website and corresponding Facebook page, which has more than 600 followers, is a resource for Santa Clarita Valley residents whose pets go missing. Pet owners can call, email, post a photo and information on the Facebook page or fill out a missing pet report on the website, which prompts Lange and her all-volunteer staff to provide helpful resources.

"Losing a pet is an emergency and most people don’t know what to do, so our job is to be the professionals and say ‘Here are the five things to do in the first hour and the 10 to do in the first 24 hours,’" Lange said.

Among the bits of advice: physically go to animal shelters to check if your pet has been brought in, put up fliers with a photo of your pet and contact information around the area and via social media, and visit veterinarian offices to spread the word about your missing pet.

Lange, who also works as a lead dog caregiver at Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Mission Hills, and her volunteers will often provide emotional support to the pet owners, who are usually very distressed over the situation. "Most importantly, we tell people not to give up," she said.

While doesn’t traditionally offer search and rescue services, Lange went above and beyond by personally searching for Gunny. She’d had the dog for a year before adopting him out to the Bensons, who’d only had Gunny for five days.

Guided by a volunteer at Simi Valley Missing Pets, Lange parked her car at the bottom of a hill near the Benson home, started a small barbecue to create enticing smells, and called Gunny’s name. She had planned to stay there the whole evening, but Gunny re-emerged by 9 p.m., when Lange’s father called out to the dog, using his former nicknames.

"He said, ‘Come on Gunster.’ I opened the door to my car and sure enough, Gunny came running up underneath my legs," Lange said.

Jess Benson broke down crying upon the news her dog had been found.

"I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. He had just been three blocks away, hiding up in the hills," she said. "Gunny had rolled in skunk, so he was stinky and dirty, but it was wonderful to have him back."

Pets go missing for a variety of reasons, according to Lange.

"It can be anything from not being properly put away and a visitor leaving a door open to a dog digging under a fence," she said. "Ultimately, it’s about not controlling your pet’s environment."

In retrospect, Jess Benson realized her family could’ve possibly prevented Gunny from running away.

"We were kind of lax with Gunny in the beginning," she said. "Now we’re much less lenient with the leash and harness. I would say that when a new dog comes into your family, you really need to pay attention until they’re used to the dynamic of your home."

If Lange had her way, there would be many more successful pet and owner reunions through

"I’d like to increase the recovery aspect, but we need more volunteers that would like to be a part of the team," she said. "Gunny wasn’t my personal dog, but I had a connection with him, so I knew the terror of him being lost. I don’t want anyone to have to feel like that again."

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