MARCH 2006 – NO. 4
"Turtle. Find him."
I collect lost pet posters. Each one is a heartbreaking story about love, loss, and friendship, illustrated with folksy artwork. Though they're cheaply made and quickly destroyed, pet owners pour their hearts into them, exposing deep emotions to an unknown telephone-pole audience. I own posters that bemoan the loss of everything from cats and dogs to ferrets and cows. One poster of a lost dog turns out to be a message from a jilted lover to her lost boyfriend. "Tell him to call," it says. Another poster includes only the plaintive plea: "Turtle. Find him."
As a child, I was allowed to have only small pets like goldfish or hamsters. The hamsters were forever breaking out of their cages and running away. But not too far. It was too snowy in northern Ontario, where I grew up. I usually found my pets underneath the refrigerator or living inside the walls, so I never had to put up "missing hamster" posters in my neighborhood.
I started collecting lost pet posters when I was living in Switzerland. My roommate had a cat that climbed out of the window and along the ledge to visit a neighbor's cat. One day "Nava" fell off the roof of our five-story apartment building and disappeared. My distraught roommate put up missing cat posters everywhere in the neighborhood. After a couple of weeks, we received a call. A veterinarian had performed surgery on Nava's broken paws, legs, and jaw. A medical bill for over 3000 Swiss francs had to be paid in order to retrieve the cat. My roommate paid the sum. A few years later Nava ran away from his new home in the country and was never seen again.
I wanted to see what missing pet posters looked like in other parts of the world. I advertised in a variety of zines and contacted a network of friends, family, penpals, and artists. News about my collection spread. Posters began arriving from Australia, Japan, Europe, and across North and South America. I also received flea collars, dog tags, paintings of chickens, and a lot of letters. One letter from someone in Iceland explained that people in Iceland don't lose their pets and that I would never get a poster from anyone there. Another letter from the Netherlands told me: "We just don't do that sorta thing in Holland. Lose a pet and the thing to do is go out and buy a new one."
Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters From Around the World contains my absolute favorite posters. Watch out for a rat named "Poison"; a 10,000 dollar reward; pets lost in bag-snatchings, earthquakes, and carjackings; pets lost by babysitters; Pudding, Piggy, Porky Pie; cats with extra toes; dogs with no legs; Toto, Kitty Lang, Elvis, and Grizabella.
If you start your own collection, replace posters you remove with new ones: if you remove one, make copies and put ten back.
Reprinted from Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters From Around the World, by Ian Phillips © Ian Phillips. Published by arrangement with Princeton Architectural Press.
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