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When town bylaws get in the way of finding a missing pet

Pat Panek knows firsthand the difficulty of finding a lost pet without being able to post lost pet signs around town. Her dog Bridgett went missing two and a half years ago and Panek has had problems trying to post signs to help bring her home.

Rudy, missing since May 22, 2014 from Westborough. Please call 857-205-5732 with any information.
Kate Coleman
Lost pet sign for Bridgett, missing from Littleton, MA, last seen in Lincoln.
Pat Panek

In Littleton, Mass., where Bridgett went missing from, the town bylaws do not allow lost pet signs to be posted in public areas, such as on telephone poles, fences, etc. – the places most people are apt to see a poster when passing by – without permission from the Board of Selectman.

Panek has also had issues with lost pet signs in Acton, Sudbury, Concord and Lincoln – other towns Bridgett has been seen – due to similar bylaws.

And she is not alone. Kate Coleman, whose dog Rudy went missing in Westborough, has also come up against town ordinance when attempting to post lost pet signs. Teri Hennigan, a Blackstone resident searching for her dog Kizzy, was told by police she had too many signs posted, but posting any sign is also against the town's bylaws.

The problem extends beyond Massachusetts, as Amanda Denes discovered when West Hartford and Manchester, Conn. told her to take down the lost pet signs for her dogs, Burton and Zuzu. Denes also had issues posting signs in Springfield, Mass.

According to Missing Pet Partnership, a national, nonprofit organization that helps reunite lost pets with their owners, signs play a crucial role in finding a lost pet.

“Using proper posters is critical in generating leads to help recover a missing dog or cat,” Kat Albrecht, founder of Missing Pet Partnership, told Examiner.

Nancy Despeaux, a board member of MPP, agrees, “For spreading the word, 'outdoor advertising,' as I think it's called in marketing terms, is still unsurpassed.”

Towns have zoning bylaws, many of which specify what types of signs can be displayed and where. A large majority of Massachusetts towns and cities prohibit what is termed as 'non-accessory' signs, which is what lost pet signs fall under. These signs, by definition, are considered advertising for a business, product or service at a location not nearby.

Panek is determined to change the bylaws. “I want to start a movement to get these bylaws amended, first in Mass. and then hopefully nationwide. Almost every single state has communities with these narrow minded bylaws. There is such an easy win-win work around and I am hoping that I can get the attention of Mass. legislators as well as U.S. legislators,” Panek told Examiner.

When a pet goes missing, the first instinct is to post signs with the hope the animal is still in the neighborhood. Signs alert others to be on the lookout for the missing pet and provide a phone number in case the pet is spotted. This information is often immediate and can bring a lost pet home sooner rather than later.

“In the moments after your pet goes missing, you will do anything to bring him or her home,” Coleman told Examiner. Rudy went missing on May 22, 2014 and the Coleman family immediately put up signs. Just as they were making progress as to Rudy's whereabouts, they were ordered to take the signs down.

“It is frustrating in those days following the disappearance that towns will not allow signs to be posted. This is the best and fastest way to get people to get a visual of your dog, and for them to help in the search. We continue to want people to know that Rudy is still missing. Without signs it becomes very easy for the community to assume that he has been found,” said Coleman.

Panek echoes this frustration. “If Acton had left my signs alone two years ago, I really believe I could have gotten (Bridgett) back.”

Denes was warned she would face fines or repercussions if she left signs up in Hartford. Burton and Zuzu went missing on February 27, 2014 after her home was burglarized. “It's really disappointing when you are working so hard to find your babies to have these rules hinder the search. These signs are pivotal and are the reason we get half the calls about sightings that we do,” Denes told Examiner.

Missing Pet Partnership advises using signs as only one way to help bring a lost pet home, even though lost pet signs are one of the most effective ways to reunite a pet and owner. MPP suggests tagging cars and doing intersection alerts, along with learning about lost pet behavior. Finding a missing pet is all-encompassing and should include every avenue available.

Panek, who is also a certified Missing Animal Response Technician trained by Albrecht, has been on a mission to educate others on missing pets. She started Bridgett's Bylaws, a move to amend the zoning laws in Massachusetts, as well as across the country, to allow lost pet signs as part of town ordinances.

“I want to educate people about lost pet behavior, about the absolute importance of signage, and to present my simple idea for change. I had one town tell me that my signs were promotional and that wasn't allowed. I wasn't giving away prizes or trying to earn money, I was just letting people know that my dog was in their area and how to reach me,” said Panek.

She has many supporters and her petitions have garnered hundreds of signatures. And her search for Bridgett is far from over.

Likewise, Coleman is determined to find Rudy. “I wish that towns would be more compromising to allow lost pet owners the option of posting signs. I do wish that it was not such a hassle. It makes an incredibly difficult situation even more challenging than it needs to be,” she said.

“We need to find our Rudy. Giving up is not an option for us.”

For more information on how to find a lost pet, please visit Missing Pet Partnership.

Visit Help Bring Bridgett Home, Find Rudy Coleman, Help Find Kizzy, and Find Burton and Zuzu on Facebook.

Littleton woman faces local adversity in the search for her missing dog, Bridgett
Rescued dog from Blackstone goes missing hours after surgery
Westborough family ordered to take down missing dog signs

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