Where, oh Wear, are Chittenden County’s lost animals?

When her 10-year-old cat, Geno, went missing in June 2022, Susie Snow of Williston turned to social media for help. Immediately, someone gave her a name to call: Sue Wear, vigilante pet sleuth.

Wear, a South Burlington resident, designed Snow a flier and advised her to put clothes and cat food outside her door.

But as months went by and the weather got colder, Snow was losing hope. “I had given up,” she said. “I had given away all of his stuff — litter box, toys, everything.”

Then came the night of Oct. 2, 2022, when Snow noticed a couple of missed calls from Wear. She dialed back. “I just sent you pictures of a cat that’s been hanging around a house in South Burlington,” Wear told Snow, who scrolled through the photos and recognized the orange and white face looking back at her.

“That’s definitely him,” she recalled telling Wear. Four months gone and five pounds lost later, Geno was brought home, safe.

Photo by Camila Van Order González.
Sue Wear and her foster cat, Petey.
Photo by Camila Van Order González
Sue Wear and her foster cat, Petey.

For the last decade Wear and several pals have worked to reunite families with their furry friends. When a pet goes missing, searching for it can be difficult and lonely. Wear can help.

Wear’s main tools are game cameras and cage traps made specifically for gently catching dogs and cats. She sets up a game camera where the pet was last seen that sends a notification to her phone when it detects movement. If she sees the missing pet in question there, she’ll then set up one of her many Tru Catch pet traps, which come in a variety of sizes and close quietly so as to not disturb the animal. The traps are easy to use, which is important when she is lending them to a frazzled family.

Geno was an indoor cat, as are most of the cats Wear works to bring home. When indoor cats get out, they tend to get spooked and hide, before romping about between midnight and 4 a.m.

In those early morning hours is what Wear calls a “crappy game of patience,” in which she and the owner wait for a notification from the game camera.

“If it’s an inside cat, they’re not that far away,” said Joan Myers, who has worked with Wear. “You just got to be patient, until they can come out from being so terrified. And she holds (your) hand through the whole process and gives you that support you so badly need.”

“There is no feeling like when you lose an animal, either to death or you lose them outside and you can’t find them,” Myers said. “It’s just a horrible feeling.”

The first time Wear did this kind of volunteer work, she was grieving.

“It’s funny, today is actually 10 years since I lost one of my prior dogs,” said Wear on a late September day this year. “Right after she passed away, there was a lost dog in my neighborhood.”

Something told her she should help. As she drove around, searching for the dog, she noticed somebody from Essex doing just the same thing. It was a woman named Michele Rennie, who is now one of Wear’s best friends.

“That’s how I got into it,” Wear said. “I think I was looking for something, just because I was sad about my dog … After that, Michele and I worked on a couple of lost dogs with some other friends that we made.”

Over the years, Wear has widened her network of friends who help out on missing pet cases. They are active on Vermont-based missing pet Facebook groups. Her community-oriented method tends to be successful. Through these networks she can connect a report of a found animal back to an owner’s report of a missing pet. Although they joked about it, Wear and her friends never gave their group an official name. They prefer to keep it low-key, independent.

Myers has been cat-sitting for a living for about seven years. She met Wear in 2021 and has been friends with her since. When her clients’ cats go missing, she makes sure to contact Wear. “I’ll say, ‘Have you heard about this one?’ And most of them, she has.”

“I have never met anybody like her,” Myers said. “My gosh, this woman has such a heart of compassion for missing animals. She goes out of her way and she never charges anybody. … She works with people one-on-one and stays right with them until the cat (or dog) is found.”

When Myers’ daughter found a stray cat that they could not take in, Myers reached out to Wear. “Bring it right over to my house,” Wear told her. “I’ll take care of it until we can get to the Humane Society and see what we can do.”

(The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.)