Erika Arizmendi had given up hope of ever seeing her Siberian husky puppy Niko again, after he was snatched from her Kansas City home in November 2016.
But on Feb. 27, she got a call from Glenn Golden, founder of a group dedicated to reuniting owners with their lost pets.
Golden is known by metro area shelter managers and animal advocates as something of a “pet chip detective.”
Niko the dog had been found on a Raytown street and fortunately had a microchip with identifying information. Golden was able to track down and call Arizmendi within about 15 minutes.
“It felt so good to get him back,” Arizmendi said as she hugged Niko in her front yard, 16 months after the dog went missing. “I’m extremely grateful for everybody who really tried to help out…It’s pretty incredible what they all did for Niko.”
All in a day’s work for Golden. His Facebook page, “Lost and Found Pets of Johnson County,” has galvanized a small army of volunteers in the cause of getting missing cats and dogs back to their rightful owners. He estimates they have reunited about 1,000 pets with their owners in the past few years.
The Kansas City metro area has other dedicated lost pet advocates and groups, and they all work well together. But what distinguishes Lost and Found Pets of Johnson County, supporters say, is the fact that Golden and his group have their own microchip scanners and go the extra mile to track down owners even when the chip information is outdated.
Golden, of Overland Park, created the Facebook page about 2 1/2 years ago as a conduit to solve a big problem.
“I would see on Facebook heartbroken owners that had lost animals, and good-hearted people that had brought animals in but didn’t know how to find the owners,” he said. “It just seemed like this would be a good channel to help reunite people with their animals.”
Slowly it grew in popularity, to the point where it has 5,000 followers and several hundred active members. Golden readily gives credit to all those who share information on his site.
“It’s not just me. It’s everybody,” he said. “That’s the beauty of social media.”
Golden estimates they get eight or nine animals listed every day, with two successful reunions per day, sometimes within just a few hours. The page caters to Johnson County but helps people throughout the metro area. About 65 percent of the posted pets are dogs and 35 percent are cats.
The group also frequently uses social media tools, plus cameras and humane live traps, to track and rescue skittish animals that resist capture. It works collaboratively with the Great Plains SPCA shelter in Merriam, the Olathe animal shelter and Unleashed Pet Rescue in Mission.
“He helps me out quite a bit,” said Megan Ochoa, intake supervisor with Great Plains SPCA.
“I notify him especially when I’m having trouble finding an owner. He does his extra detective work for me,” Ochoa said. “He has helped me reunite dogs with their owners that otherwise might not have found their way home.”
When worried owners call the shelter about lost pets, Ochoa advises them to post on Lost and Found Pets of Johnson County as the first step to possible recovery, because so many people monitor that site. She said the majority of animals are found, often within just a few hours, especially if they have a microchip.
Golden is self-employed and found himself with time on his hands a few years ago for volunteering. He joined The Rescue Project, an animal rescue and education advocacy group that serves the metro area.
As a member of a licensed rescue organization, Golden is authorized to get owner information such as addresses and phone numbers from the microchip companies.
He also subscribes to other databases that help him track down people even when they’ve moved or the microchip information is outdated.
That was the case just a month ago with a dog at Great Plains SPCA. The chip information had an old address, so Ochoa couldn’t find its owner. The dog was faring poorly, wasn’t getting adopted, and Ochoa was worried.
“Glenn found a secondary address. We checked it out and that’s how we eventually got the owner,” Ochoa recalled. The owner lived in Prairie Village but hadn’t known to check the Merriam shelter. Golden’s information was vital.
“He really saved that dog’s life,” Ochoa said. “That was a really cool thing.”
People who find lost pets will often take them to a veterinarian to check for the microchip. But veterinarians often aren’t open late at night or on weekends. And they don’t have time to track down owners when the information isn’t complete.
Golden was so committed to that work that he bought his own scanner for $100, and people started reaching out to him to scan chips on discovered animals, even at 9:30 at night.
Recently, he created a GoFundMe page to buy five more scanners. Within 24 hours, he raised enough money for 11 scanners. He’s now recruited other helpers willing to go out with those scanners and do the follow-through.
Golden covers south Overland Park and Olathe. But he’s got other volunteers who cover Grandview and Belton; Independence; Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan.; Gladstone; Lee’s Summit; Liberty and elsewhere throughout the metro area.
Golden and a handful of others in the group, including from Olathe and Shawnee, also have strategies to capture skittish runaways that don’t come when they are called. They have live traps and trail cameras. When there’s a sighting, they can place traps and food, and the cameras alert them with texts when the dog is close.
Golden recalled a Great Dane that got away from its owner last October. The dog had been spotted, but kept eluding rescuers.
They set up feeding traps in the area where the dog had been spotted, and Golden was alerted at 1 o'clock one morning. Sure enough, the dog was in the trap, and soon returned to its owner.
Then there’s the case of Skylar, a 4-pound Yorkie that got away from a pet sitter last October when its Overland Park owners were out of town. The owners, Pam and Dave Welsh, returned home immediately but endured an agonizing six days while Skylar remained missing.
Their daughter suggested they contact Lost and Found Pets of Johnson County.
“Glenn just showed up and started helping us right away,” Pam Welsh recalled. The dog was spotted repeatedly but kept running away. And cold weather was looming.
Finally, on the sixth day, Skylar was spotted around noon in a wooded area near 103rd and Switzer. Golden put the word out on social media.
“Within 30 minutes we had literally 35 people leave their jobs, leave their homes looking for this dog,” he said.
Dave Welsh tearfully recalls that he was right in the area but couldn’t see the dog. A volunteer did spot Skylar and coached Welsh how to get close enough with a can of food that he was finally able to catch him. The dog had lost a pound, and a veterinarian later told him it wouldn’t have survived much longer.
“It was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever been through in my life except for the birth of a child,” Dave Welsh said. “It could never had happened without Glenn’s group, and the volunteer who spotted the dog.”
The couple wanted to give the group some money but Golden told them that wasn’t necessary. They never accept reward money.
“These people do this for the love of animals, strictly,” Pam Welsh said.
For Golden, all the happy endings are reward enough. He asks just one things of the people who are helped. “When an opportunity presents itself,” he tells the families, “Remember what we did. And pay it forward.”