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Oakley, who is microchipped, is lost in the Trenton, Ga., area. He was in the car when his owner, James El-Ajam, wrecked on Interstate 59 North and was gone before the ambulance arrived.
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After the car accident on Interstate 59 North in which his dog, Oakley, disappeared, James El-Ajam, returned to Trenton to search for him. Thanks to having Oakley's picture posted on several pet-finding websites, many people in the area were already aware of the missing dog and keeping an eye out for him.
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Oakley, who is microchipped, is lost in the Trenton, Ga., area. He was in the car when his owner, James El-Ajam, wrecked on Interstate 59 North and was gone before the ambulance arrived.

Tips

* First, look around your neighborhood. Lost pets usually are confused and just want a safe place to hide. Walk the streets where you live, calling your pet’s name and maybe shaking a container that contains their favorite treat.

* Keep your pets inside on the Fourth of July. Why? Fireworks. They can terrify some dogs. And, once a dog is on the run, it may keep running because everywhere it goes there may be more fireworks to frighten it even more.

* If a pet is lost, put a shirt or blanket outside; dogs and cats have extremely sensitive senses of smell and could be able to follow your scent back home.

* Microchip your pet.

* Make sure they’re always wearing a collar that has a tag with their name and your phone number on it.

Online resources

Facebook

› Missing Pets Chattanooga

› Chattanooga Pets Lost and Found

› Tennessee Valley Pet Lost and Found

› Lost Found Pets in Chattanooga

› Lost and Found Pets in Dalton and Surrounding Cities

Internet

www.mckameyanimalcenter.org

www.heschatt.org (Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga)

www.hsnwga.org (Humane Society of Northwest Georgia)

www.petkey.org (also on Facebook)

www.pawboost.com (also on Facebook)

www.lostmydoggie.com (also on Facebook)

For information on steps to take if a pet is lost

› McKamey Animal Center: www.mckameyanimalcenter.org

› Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga: www.heschatt.org

› Humane Society of Northwest Georgia: www.hsnwga.org (Humane Society of Northwest Georgia)

James El-Ajam was headed north on Interstate 59, driving from his home in Pensacola, Fla., to meet family that lives in Knoxville.

Near Trenton, Ga., he found himself drifting on the highway. He pulled the steering wheel away from the drift — and the car flipped, rolling for about 400 feet before ending up on its wheels against an embankment. El-Ajam was unconscious in the backseat when emergency medical technicians found him. His dog, Oakley, was gone.

"He adopted Oakley about five years ago, and Oakley legitimately does everything with him," says his sister, Liza El-Ajam. "My brother has moved several times for work, moved to brand-new places, been through many life hardships, and Oakley has gone and done everything with him."

El-Ajam is so close to his dog, when he awoke in the hospital, staff had to wrestle with him to keep him still, she says. He was frantic to search for Oakley.

"They ended up having to strap him down because they were afraid that he had spinal damage, and they could definitely tell that he had sustained some head trauma," she says. "Out of everything that occurred during the accident and all the life changes that it has caused for my brother, losing his dog has, without a doubt, been the most difficult."

At this point, Oakley is still out there. He has a microchip in him, so if someone finds him and takes him to a shelter or vet, identifying him should be a snap. Liza also posted his photo to Facebook and from there it also showed up on several websites that help in searches for lost pets. As of last week, a photo of Oakley, a yellow lab and shepherd mix, had been shared almost 2,000 times, she says.

The dog's big brown eyes are so well-known, when she took her brother to Trenton to search for Oakley, he'd tell people, "'I was in an accident last week, and I'm looking for my dog,'" she says. "And people would interrupt him to say, 'Oh my goodness, are you the guy who is looking for Oakley?'"

Digital fliers

For most owners, the idea of a lost pet is terrifying. While not quite reaching the level of a lost child, it's still a time of sleepless nights, frantic worry and, in many cases, tears.

But these days, there are many avenues that may lead to a lost pet. You no longer have to follow the old standby of stapling printed fliers to telephone poles. Just turn on your computer; the internet is filled with lost-pet sites that transmit your pet's mug to thousands of screens, sometimes well out of your home stomping grounds.

"I have one right now that got off the leash, and they're trying to catch it in Franklin, Tenn.," says Nina Kyle, who created the Tennessee Valley Pet Lost and Found page on Facebook.

Along with Franklin, the page has listings from Knoxville, Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., Rhea County and Pikeville, Tenn. A cat named Lily from Ooltewah, for instance, was found in Cleveland, Tenn., after being missing for about a month. "There's always hope!" Lily's owner, Lana Wilkinson, says.

But Kyle's Tennessee Valley is hardly alone in its pet-finding quest. The Chattanooga area also includes Missing Pets Chattanooga, Chattanooga Pets Lost and Found, Lost Found Pets in Chattanooga and Lost and Found Pets in Dalton and Surrounding Cities. National websites such as Pawboost, Lostmydoggie and Petkey are in on the hunt, too.

Each contains anguished appeals for help finding Taco or Rambo or Raelan or Moja or Sophie. There are dogs, cats, even a parrot. But the sites also have photos of animals that have been found, offering distraught owners another way to search. And they post "Reunited with owner" notices because happy endings take some of the sting out of pets that are never found.

Most of the websites bind together as an unofficial network, so something on Tennessee Valley often shows up on Missing Pets Chattanooga or Lost Found Pets in Chattanooga or even Pawboost and Lostmydoggie. The more websites, the better chance the animal will be found.

These websites sometimes post photos of animals needing a new or foster home, but they won't post photos of dogs for sale because the seller might be a puppy or kitten mill or simply a scam.

On its website, McKamey Animal Center includes links to lost-pet sites, but officials there recommend that you also come by for a walk-through to see if your pet is in their shelter. Taking care of all the other animals living at McKamey means employees simply don't have the time to search Facebook pages and other websites to see if an animal corresponds to a lost-pet report, officials say.

In some cases, it's not just a case of going to a website and posting a lost-pet notice. Anyone wanting to post to the Facebook page for Tennessee Valley Pet Lost and Found or Lost and Found Pets in Dalton and Surrounding Cities, for instance, must ask to join first. Tennessee Valley's Kyle says her page has that rule because "it cuts out someone showing a dog that they tortured just to upset people who do this." Yes, she says, that actually happens.

During her nine or so years as a volunteer at Dalton's Humane Society of Northwest Georgia, Pat Bell has pretty much seen it all when it comes to lost dogs. She recalls one, a hunting dog of some sort, who trekked more than 40 miles before it was found.

In general, the owner of a lost pet will immediately call the Humane Society or send a message through the society's Facebook page, she says. To get more people involved in the search, she puts the notice on the other search websites.

"I always go on there and make it public," she says. "People are just aware that we're here because the word has spread."

280 miles from home

The internet helped Bill Travis find his dog, Sparky, even though the two were about 280 miles away from each other.

Leaving his home in Calloway County, Ky., Travis had driven to Dalton to visit sick relatives. He brought his two dogs with him, Harley and Sparky.

Settled into the Howard Johnson hotel near Dalton State College, Travis headed out to see his family, leaving the dogs in the room. When a maid opened the door, Harley was blocked from getting out, but Sparky rifled through.

For three weeks in September, Sparky, a Jack Russell terrier, was on his own. Travis had to go home to work, but he put up printed fliers with Sparky's picture before he left Dalton. Sparky's mugshot and Travis' contact information also made it onto some websites that help owners find lost pets.

Those weeks were "rough," says Travis, who'd raised 8-year-old Sparky since he was a puppy,

"I thought the world of that dog," he says from Kentucky. "I had long days, I tell you what."

While Travis worried and fretted, a dog was found scratching at the door of a screened-in porch in Dalton, trying to get in. The homeowners called the Whitfield County Sheriff's Department, and a deputy recognized Sparky from his photo. Travis drove back down to reunite with Sparky.

"Hell, he'd lost a lot of weight," Travis says. "He was happy to see me."

Contact Shawn Ryan at 423-757-6327 or sryan@timesfreepress.com.

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