“Have you seen my keys anywhere?”
It’s a question that has boggled minds ever since the first crude pin tumbler locks were crafted from wood 6,000 years ago in Egypt. Today, an estimated 20 million car/house keys are misplaced annually in the U.S. One survey reveals the average person wastes two and a half days per year looking for lost stuff such as keys.
Forgetfulness and human error are responsible for the vast Bermuda Triangle of lost personal items, such as keys, glasses, cellphones and other electronic devices that together are valued at an average $7,500 per person over a lifetime. And, according to the experts, men and women are equally forgetful.
None of this trivia came to mind as my wife posed her question one day last fall, frustrated at not finding her car keys in the usual spot near the front door. We recounted her steps from the day before, when she came home with a minivan full of groceries. Where had she set down her keys?
“Oh, no. Now I remember: I left them on the back bumper of the van as I was unloading the bags,” she admitted sheepishly.
That was at around 4 o’clock. I climbed into the van with my own key at 6 pm to drive to the subway station – then remembered hearing a faint ‘clink’ when I put the van into gear and accelerated up the street.
“They must have fallen off the bumper as I drove away. They’re on the road, probably right in front of our house,” I concluded, and leapt to put on my shoes and investigate.
A long walk up and down the street, both sides, revealed no keys. I went as far as the first major intersection, thinking the keys had somehow managed to defy physics and clung to our Toyota for a good half-kilometre. No such luck.
“I’m not worried. Someone must have picked them up,” I told Margaret, projecting hope. “Our street is full of evening walkers. Somebody would have picked them up and put them in the mail to return to us.”
How could I be so sure?
Like many, I have been receiving key tags from the War Amps for as long as I can remember, dutifully attaching the slim plastic tags to my keys and every set in our house. It’s as instinctively Canadian as buying our milk in bags and complaining about taxes.
The tags are imprinted with a code that is uniquely tied to the keyholder’s name and address, confidential information that is archived by the War Amps and is never shared with other organizations. The finder of the keys can call the tollfree number on the tag or drop the keys into any Canada Post mailbox. The keys go to the Amps’ processing centre, where the information is matched with the owner, and the keys are mailed or couriered back to the rightful owner at no cost.
It’s a simple and reliable service that’s been around since 1946. To date the War Amps have returned more than 1.5 million sets of lost keys to Canadians.
“Give it a week or so, I’m sure the keys will show up in the mail,” I told Margaret confidently. Almost three weeks later, we were still waiting. We had good reason to be patient.
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Car keys rely on expensive technology these days, thanks to the popularity of keyless entry, ignition and security systems. The keys themselves are precision laser cut and require special equipment to reproduce. Toyota charges $213 for the key fob and another $49 for the key itself, plus a labour charge to program the transmitter.
Altogether, losing the key to our battle-scarred 2006 Sienna minivan was going to set us back more than $350 – hardly pocket change. I counselled patience, hoping that a good Samaritan had done the right thing.
A few days later we were rewarded with a small package in the mail. Margaret’s keys had come home, thanks to an observant walker, an unfailing Canada Post, and a special organization established by amputee veterans at the conclusion of the First World War. Yes, the War Amps have just celebrated their centennial year.
“There are approximately 70 disabled employees employed at the War Amps today,” points out David Saunders, chief operating officer at the War Amputations of Canada. The agency does not receive government grants, and instead relies on donations to do the work it started 100 years ago, including advocacy for amputees, providing financial assistance for artificial limbs and special support for child amputees, among other services.
With more veteran amputees returning to Canada after the Second World War, the key tag program was launched so that they could work for competitive wages while providing a valuable and marketable service. Today the service is more important than ever, given the high cost of replacing lost key fobs and other electronics.
But with the advent of GPS- and Bluetooth-enabled tracking devices such as Tile, is the Amps’ legacy service threatened with extinction? Saunders doesn’t think so, as he hasn’t seen the popularity of the War Amps key tags diminishing.
“On average we return about 20,000 sets of lost keys annually. This number has remained pretty steady,” he says. “As more information is reported in the media about the replacement cost of smart keys and key fobs, the desire to protect keys has been increasing.”
The key tags are designed to protect keys, but inventive Canadians have been attaching the tags to a variety of personal items over the years.
“About 20 years ago I received a call that a puppy had been found with a key tag on his collar. We were able to trace the owner and have him pick up the puppy,” Saunders recounts.
The War Amps have returned plenty of coats and other valuable clothing whose owners had the foresight to attach a key tag. Then there’s the other stuff whose value is incalculable by owners.
“We received a 10-foot-long chain with a key tag attached. We contacted the owner to see if he really wanted the chain back. He said that he did as it was the chain that he used to lock up his motorcycle.”
Sometimes the odds that you’ll see your lost keys again seem excruciatingly low.
“A gentleman wrote to us thanking us for the return of his lost keys. He told us that he had been hiking in western Canada and his keys fell out of his pocket and slid down a glacier. When he returned home five days later his keys were waiting for him,” Saunders says.
Items aren’t always returned that quickly. Lost keys stay lost until they’re discovered by someone. Once that happens, and the finder reads the instructions on the tag, Canada Post and the War Amps “tag team” springs into action.
“A gentleman told me this week that he had lost his keys in the woods. It took six years [until they were discovered] but the keys were returned to him,” Saunders says. Sometimes keys make a mysterious – almost miraculous – journey before they are found.
“We received a letter from a lady who told us that her young son had flushed her keys down the toilet. They were returned to her almost one year later much to her surprise.”
Happy surprise is a common theme to Saunders’ anecdotes. Any service that can reunite people with their lost personal items has the capacity to surprise and delight.
Harried vehicle owners can order key tags online at waramps.ca or by calling 1-800-250-3030. It’s indispensable insurance for the inevitable.
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