"We think it's kind of a miracle," said Holt, 72. "She wasn't really supposed to be alive."
Co-founder Judy Charuhas said the idea was born when an acquaintance was fruitlessly searching for a lost Yorkie."She put up fliers all over the place," Charuhas said. As she watched, she thought, "There has got to be a better way."
Charuhas runs the operation, and her neighbor, Winter Park real-estate agent Shelley Heistand, provided the start-up money. The service is free, and any funds raised through pet-related ads are directed to animal-rescue causes.
Using a potent mix of social media, volunteerism and the old-school method of posting notices around town, the pet locators have so far found 260 animals.
When their dog or cat goes missing, owners can post descriptions and contact information and print out sample fliers. Anyone who finds a stray pet can do the same. That sets into motion alerts via Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, volunteers fan out to animal shelters with photographs, like cops looking for a missing person.
"The pet patrollers that they use are so familiar with those areas. It's a little more difficult because we are covering a thousand square miles, but they are just covering Winter Park," said Kat Kennedy, spokeswoman for Orange County Animal Services. "They have more impact in the community."
During the 2010-11 fiscal year, the county took in about 14,000 stray dogs and cats. About 1,400 were returned to owners.
Testimonials on Winterparklostpets.com, under a section labeled "Happy Tails," tell the success stories.
One recounts finding a poodle — a hard task considering the dog was blind and deaf.
Jamie Sandstedt, a graphic designer, used the site to find Champa, her black cat. She disappeared in August and was gone almost six weeks until Sandstedt got a phone call from someone three blocks away.
"I'm a new Winter Park resident," she said, "and it just amazed me how much the community, the people, are concerned about the pets."