SHERMAN OAKS : New Hot Line Helps Reunite Owners, Pets

Doubt lingers: Whiskers has been missing for a week. But maybe she hasn't met with some terrible fate. Maybe somebody has found her.

There's one way to find out: Call the Pet Lost and Found Hotline, a new 24-hour automated pet locater service started by William McLean, a 56-year-old pet-sitter from Sherman Oaks.

If an animal was lost within a 10-mile radius of Sherman Oaks, its owner can leave a message, free of charge, on the hot line--(818) 386-1475--and McLean will include the information on a recorded list of missing pets that he updates daily.

Or, if a pet has been found by someone in the Sherman Oaks area, a message describing the animal can be left. Callers can check hot-line recordings at the push of a button.

McLean came up with the idea while walking someone's dogs a few weeks ago.

"I love animals," McLean said. "As I walked around and saw all the signs for missing pets, I thought a lost and found hot line wouldn't be too difficult. I had an extra phone line with 30 minutes of voice mail space. And if that fills up, I can switch a line to my computer, and I have virtually unlimited space for people to record messages about animals they've lost or found."

McLean launched the hot line last week and hopes to encourage pet lovers in other areas to begin similar services. He's gone to local animal clinics and pet stores to notify them about the system.

The service costs McLean little to maintain--he pays the phone company a basic charge for the extra line and four phone mailboxes--and, so far, updating the message list takes him only 20 minutes each day.

McLean said about 10 people have left messages listing pets lost in the area, with several offering rewards.

One man, who recovered his missing dog after leaving a message--and a reward offering--on the hot line, raised questions about the possibility of con artists using the system for phony pet ransom schemes.

"I'm not saying it happened to me," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "I'm just saying it's a possibility."

'I thought a lost and found hot line wouldn't be too difficult. I had an extra phone line with 30 minutes of voice mail space. And if that fills up, I can switch a line to my computer, and I have virtually unlimited space for people to record messages about animals they've lost or found.' WILLIAM MCLEAN

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