We all know who to call when an emergency hits, but who do you call when your beloved pet has gone missing? It was that very question that prompted the creation of Ground Search and Rescue, a completely volunteer-run group of community members who respond to the call. If you are a pet owner, you know the fear of losing your furry friend; maybe you’ve even experienced it. 

When Katt Burtenshaw started Ground Search and Rescue four years ago, she wasn’t sure just what she’d be getting into. A lifelong animal lover, and early childhood educator, she had participated in animal recovery operations before as both rescuer and fearful pet owner, but running a rescue organization in her spare time would be interesting. 

“Oh, the things I’ve put in my car over the years,” she commented wryly. Those things being anything from cats, dogs, goats, snakes, skunks, peacocks, and beavers. You might remember the beaver that made its way into the uptown Beertown in May — well it was Burtenshaw and her team that was called in to collect the lost beastie.

In the years since, she’s gotten an education in animal behavioural patterns. 

“Most animals establish a circuit pattern with a home base they’ll always return to, which makes it easier to find them,” she said. 

But some animals make it difficult. 

“Huskies will just keep running and running, [whereas hounds will] follow their noses,” she said, “[and cats will] hide silently … but each animal is different.” 

She credits the amazing community here in Waterloo Region for their successes, and that every person, from hikers to late-night students, have played an essential role. 

“We couldn’t do what we do without the community”, she said, commenting on how the over 13,000 member Facebook group is essential to their work. “We post a photo and people start sharing it, commenting on sightings — things have gotten a lot easier with social media.” 

When the call comes in that a pet is missing, the team puts together a profile on the animal (name, breed, age, medical details, etc) and then the ‘bat signal’ is activated. The photo is posted on social media and a team of volunteers is dispatched to the area and the search begins. 

It is through communication with the community, volunteers, and other organizations that an animal is returned home safely. 

“We all have the same goal,” Burtenshaw said, reflecting on how supportive other groups have been, such as the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society and the Waterloo Region Police Service, with officers keeping an eye out for lost pets. 

“Reuniting families is the best part of the work, seeing that joy is thanks enough,” Burtenshaw said. 

But for a fully volunteer-run organization, Ground Search and Rescue is always open to donations and items in need, such as slip collars and traps. You can also join their Facebook page and watch for any animals in your neighbourhood that may be lost. 

If you’re a pet owner, you can microchip and tag your pet, it makes a huge difference should they ever get lost. Burtenshaw said that it’s the “ability to restore hope” that keeps her going. 

“[People are] afraid and in anguish when their pet is missing, and we get to help them,” she said. 

The group – and Burtenshaw – are always on call, whether she’s in the hospital (which was the case once), or when she’s on vacation, she will always take a call. 

“As long as I’m physically able, I’ll be out there. If you need help, we’re here to help you.”