Miracles in the Making

Elizabeth Poynter was despondent. On a sunny Sunday morning while vacationing in Florida, the East Nashville resident awoke to a barrage of missed calls and urgent text messages: her beloved 2-year-old Great Pyrenees, Oscar, was missing.
     “We were having nice weather that weekend in Nashville, so a window was left cracked open in my house,” she explains. “Oscar is 90 pounds, so it didn’t take much for him to raise it with his snout and escape.” Panic set in as Poynter grappled with the unbearable uncertainty that accompanies a missing loved one. Back home, family and friends were springing into action as Poynter made plans to return early to join the effort. “It’s a really helpless situation to be in,” she admits. “It was difficult being away, even though I knew everyone was doing everything they could.”
     In the past, if an East Nashville pet decided to go rogue, methods of getting him/her back home were limited. Photo albums were brought down from the shelves, and pages of shiny-eyed images were shuffled through. Pictures were photocopied to Sharpie-inked fliers, and search parties wandered the streets calling out in desperation. The process was slow and inefficient, resulting in a low rate of reunions. But with the onset of social media, a sea change has taken shape. Platforms such as Facebook now serve as online alert systems for lost pets — an invaluable tool for pet owners and advocates to gain immediate access to the surrounding community.
     Today, East Nashville residents, both bipeds and quadrupeds alike, are benefitting greatly from the establishment of the East Nashville & Inglewood Lost and Found Pets page on Facebook. With 3,000 page followers, owners now have an effective venue to post their pet’s disappearance, and lost dogs and cats are getting the exposure they need to facilitate their return home. The page also serves as an online work space for page administrators and other community advocates to collaborate and assist distraught pet owners with encouragement and advice. Just ask Elizabeth Poynter.
     “We immediately posted Oscar’s picture and information to the Lost and Found Pets page,” she recalls, “and right away, we began to receive leads on his whereabouts, and that guy, Jack Kitsch, started commenting with suggestions on the best steps to take to bring him home.”
     Jack Kitsch, who Poynter refers to as the patron saint of lost pets, is the founding member and head administrator of the Lost and Found Pets page. Kitsch believes the most important steps East Nashvillians can take to help lost pets reunite with their owners begins with intervention. “A lot of times, a lost pet will be seen many times before anyone will actually intervene and start looking for an owner, and unfortunately, for a lot of pets, there are no second chances,” Kitsch says. “If you pass that pet up, there is no guarantee that it will live to find someone who will help. We have to be that someone.”
     In Oscar’s case, that someone was a neighborhood couple who spotted him wandering alone in Shelby Park. Instead of brushing the pup off as yet another East Nashville stray or assuming he would find his way home eventually, the neighbors intervened, following a plan of action that Kitsch and the other page administrators strongly advocate: They removed Oscar from the streets, took him to the safety of their home, and began the search for an owner. Oscar’s picture and pertinent information were spotted on the group page, and within two days of his disappearance, Oscar was successfully returned home. “I don’t know how we would have found him without the Lost and Found Pets page,” Poynter says. “That, and all the helpful suggestions from Jack.”
     That name — Jack Kitsch — has become increasingly well-known within East Nashville social media circles. Kitsch is often summoned first whenever a four-legged friend is missing or found, and promptly arrives with experienced advice or an encouraging word. Yet, unbeknownst to most, “Jack Kitsch” is not a real name. In fact, Kitsch isn’t a “guy” at all, like Poynter and many others believe.
     “When I started the Lost and Found Pets page and it was less known that I was actually a woman with a manly sounding screen name, I’d get hit on all the time through email,” Kitsch, whose real name is Kelly Perry, says with a chuckle. “Other women just couldn’t believe that there could be such a man out there who would do all of this stuff. It just goes to show that animal rescue is hot! So, dudes — rescue a pet.”
     Though Kitsch admits more women than men seem to participate in the page’s cause, there are numerous devoted male members who will grab found pets and work hard to unite them. She rejects the notion that “maternal instincts” are what fuels the fires of reuniting. Instead, Kitsch maintains that both men and women possess tenderness and empathy, and opening up to those feelings is key when helping pets in need.
     “My page is definitely not a ladies club,” she asserts. “It’s not a sweet place where we just sit around and coo over cute pets. Some days are seriously wrenching and leave us all gasping. We have heartbreak, but at the same time, so much elation. We’ve got men and women and people of all races and generations, just like in our own neighborhood, and we all love reuniting pets.”
     From swift reunions like Oscar’s to one unforgettable feline returned home after missing for two years, Kitsch and the other page administrators possess a genuine devotion to each furry wayfarer that comes their way. It is what attracted so many unwitting suitors to her inbox, and may be the most defining mark of Kitsch’s recently declared sainthood. Yet, Kitsch maintains humility and a strong faith in the power of community. She believes that if given the proper channels, individuals can and will unite to take care of their own.
     “Oscar’s reunion story is the perfect example of why I started the page,” Kitsch says. “I wanted to create a place where East Nashville neighbors could post about their lost and found pets and then receive advice, encouragement, and leads. Oscar’s reunion was all of that and then some. It wasn’t about my doing anything special, but just that a place was created where the perfect storm of a reunion could happen. That’s what I want the East Nashville & Inglewood Lost and Found Pets page to always be about: neighbors helping neighbors and their pets.”
     Before the page’s inception, Kitsch’s work as a lost pet advocate began when she fell into matching lost and found pets on Craigslist. “It was just my way of doing volunteer work, a little feel good thing,” she says. But as neighborhoods in and around Nashville began creating Facebook pages for their own adrift animals, Kitsch followed suit and launched the East Nashville & Inglewood page in February of 2014. “Since I live in Inglewood, I really wanted to have a page that just focused on the pets that were in my community,” she explains. “I could see that it was badly needed. Lost pet owners and finders were grasping at straws and needed a place where they could feel supported.”
The “need” that Kitsch refers to is an issue that could be described as an East Nashville elephant in the room — remedying the community’s stray cat and dog epidemic. The problem is so great that Kitsch says many East Nashvillians claim the area to be a “dumping ground” for cats and dogs, which she vehemently refutes. According to Kitsch, the problem did not come from the outside in, but was spawned within the community itself.
     “We have to own up to what’s ours, and these pets — well, they’re ours,” she explains. “Nobody did this to East Nashville — we have to take responsibility for our own. Change can come, but we have to recognize our own shortcomings in pet ownership and animal welfare. If we see a pet that needs help, we have to help it. We have to be the change that we want to see. This goes for lost pets, pets on chains that are suffering from neglect, animal hoarding — the whole ball of wax. Say something. Do something.”
     Solving the problem of strays in East Nashville brings up a common misconception that Kitsch aims to shed light upon. “A huge majority of dogs and cats that turn up as strays on the streets are actually not strays at all, but lost pets who never made it home,” Kitsch explains. “They’re not just falling out of the sky or being tossed out of car windows onto our sidewalks. They lose their way and they get absorbed into our neighborhoods. It’s up to us to make the next move. We are a fantastic, loving community, and together, we can do this.”
     Coadministrator and lost pet advocate Annaliese Barber adds additional perspective to the conversation. “Too many people assume that a roaming dog or cat does not have someone looking for it,” she says. “It is amazing how quickly a pet’s behavior and appearance can change once they are out on their own — their hair gets matted quickly, their survival instincts kick in, and they become skittish very fast. So what may appear to be a stray is usually someone’s lost pet, and we want to urge everyone to do their due diligence and find an owner.”
     With the creation of the Lost and Found Pets page, Kitsch also intended for other animal activist groups in the community to be freed to function more efficiently. “East C.A.N., an amazing animal rescue group in the neighborhood, was being inundated with lost and found pets on their page,” she says. “I knew that if I created a group exclusively dedicated to reuniting, I could get a lot of that load off of them so that they could breathe a little easier and concentrate solely on rescue.”
     As the success of the page grew, and the number of followers and reunions increased, more pet owners and finders needed assistance than Kitsch could manage alone. She brought on a dedicated team of coadministrators who work diligently by her side. “Currently, I have Annaliese Barber, Susan Hosey, Jane Whitesides, Erica Silverboard, and Jennifer Core as my coadmins. They’re really wonderful and have so much energy for reuniting. I’m hoping that the team will continue to grow with the page.”
     Today, the Lost and Found page is blossoming with a grand emergence of community participation and volunteerism. Residents are enthusiastically coming together and taking part in the care of their own. “At first, it was just the admins that were offering advice, but now we see page members chiming in with helpful tips and offers to hang signs,” Kitsch says enthusiastically. “Someone will post a lost pet, and within minutes, another page member will say, ‘Is this her at animal control?’ or ‘I think I just saw him on the neighborhood page,’ and soon we’re all cheering because a reunion is happening. It’s pretty exciting to watch.”
     What lies ahead for the page and its administrators is continued growth, education, and becoming a more organized entity. “We hope to recruit more volunteers to help with hanging fliers and visiting animal control,” Barber says. “Lots of people need help taking those steps. We are also looking to raise future funds to purchase supplies like microchip scanners, and eventually we’d like to build a searchable database of lost and found pets that will allow us to network with other Nashville community Facebook pages.”
     “I hope to encourage all East Nashvillians to follow the page and question each animal that they see out there,” Kitsch adds. “A lot of people get caught up in this feeling of helplessness because they can’t help all of the pets on the streets, and so they do nothing. But it’s important to realize that helping just one pet is huge. There is no underestimating the power in that. For that one pet, it’s everything.
     “I also want people to know that getting pets microchipped and tagged is a very simple and inexpensive thing to do to help get pets reunited,” she continues. “There is no excuse these days for not taking these precautions. Also note that pets that are seen roaming while wearing tags are more likely to be helped by strangers, because these folks feel like they won’t get ‘stuck with’ a found pet. If the unexpected happens and your pet gets lost, you want them to look like they have swift reunion potential.”
     When asked what she aspires her community members to take away from her page, the response from Kitsch is one of endurance and hope: “Never say ‘never’ — and never give up! Lost pets will keep trying to get home for as long as they have breath in them. They don’t and can’t give up. We can’t give up on them, either. Sometimes, all it takes is a single post to spark a reunion. That’s exciting to me.”
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