Your pet is lost! What should you do? Here is a timeline for immediate action, what to do after two hours, two days and beyond.
Don’t Waste Time!
- Get a couple of people to work in an organized way simultaneously. In the first two hours, ask family and friends to search around town and up to a two-mile radius of the location where the pet was last seen.
- Tell any children you see that you are looking for a pet and posters will be up tomorrow with your phone number. However, keep in mind that many children have been warned that this is a trick used by potential kidnappers and kids may become frightened.
Bring along your pet’s favorite toy or another noise that makes him come running.
- Dogs and cats can hear sounds from very far away and may come if they hear a comforting sound! Shaking a treat bag, opening a food can, or something else a pet knows means food can help, too.
- While you’re out searching, have someone else make phone calls to your local Humane Society, animal shelters, rescues, vets, and police departments.
- Post your lost pet on all social media pages within a 20-mile radius.
- Contact your neighbors to be on the lookout. If you’re close to a county line, contact similar places in that county, too. If your local TV and radio stations make community announcements, ask them for help.
- Notify the local pounds and shelters. If someone does find a pet and brings it there, they will know to reach you. If they do say they have a pet that matches, make sure to visit yourself, and don’t call off the search until you’re sure it is yours. Their description and yours can easily vary.
After It’s Too Dark To Search Any Longer
Create an ad with a recent picture of your pet. If you don’t have a photo, and your pet is a purebred, use a picture from a book. Describe the pet so an average person would recognize him if he saw him. Include identifying information about him like his collar, tags, tattoo, identifying features like scars or unusual colorations, or microchip ID number. Leave one detail out that can be used to identify your pet should someone call to say they have found it.
Be specific: Here’s an example: “LOST: (Pet’s Name) a brown dog with white face and paws, SPAYED female; got loose from yard on Dec. 1, 2005 (Location where lost) near the post office in Our Town, PA around 4 p.m. Wearing a pink collar with rabies tag and license. Is on anti-seizure medication. Family pet. REWARD. Call (555) 555-0000.”
“Family pet” tends to motivate people to look. Advertising it as a “show dog,” “breeding dog,” “therapy dog,” or “search and rescue dog” is not a good idea. Too much disclosure is not always the best policy in these matters.
A reward tends to motivate people. However, don’t state an amount. If you make the reward too large, like $5000, people will wonder about the pet’s value and some people may not want to return your pet.
Always say a female is spayed, whether she is or not. Again, this is to protect the pet from the unscrupulous who might see a breeding opportunity. The same logic applies to a medical problem or genetic defect. People will be less likely to think of breeding a dog that could be perceived as valuable if they think it has a medical problem. That gives an urgency to the ad, too.
If the dog is friendly, say, “Please try and coax her into your garage or fenced yard and call us.” If the dog is not friendly or could be a fear biter say, “Don’t attempt to corner her. Simply call us with her location ASAP.”
It is a good idea to make a few copies of flyers in different languages, like Spanish or French, especially if you live in an area with people of many different backgrounds.
Day 2: Intensify the Search
Make at least 200 photocopies of your ad. (Printer ink runs in the rain; photocopier toner won’t.) Start posting on bulletin boards and in high visibility areas like gas stations and grocery stores in your neighborhood. Tape flyers to phone poles (in many places, it is illegal and unsafe to use staples because it’s a danger to pole men). Ask friends and family members to distribute flyers door-to-door. Be sure to put extra fliers around the playground, or notify the owners of the dog park.
Take “Found” Calls With A Grain of Salt
At this devastating time, you are vulnerable and there are unethical people who may try to take advantage.
If someone calls and describes your pet from your ad and says, “I’ve got your dog here,” use the one detail you left out of the ad to verify it is your pet. Respond, “Does she have a mark inside her right leg?” If they say, “She sure does,” ask them to describe it and it’s exact placement to verify that it is indeed your pet.
If someone tries to blackmail you into a higher reward before returning your dog, try to make sure they have the right dog (or any dog at all) and ask the person to meet you in a public place. Then go with another person to meet them. Don’t be taken advantage of. If it is your dog, offer a token reward.
Recent scams include people calling for out-of-state airfare for your lost dog. They might say your dog has been stolen and dumped far from home and they found him 200 miles away. Don’t fall for it.
After 2 days: Extend your search
Go a little farther by vehicle and start spreading the word to your local mailmen, UPS and Fed Ex drivers, joggers, runners, bikers and anyone else walking around the search areas.
Extend your social media posts to a 50-mile radius.
Drop off or fax a copy of your ad to area shelters.
Expand the radius of your search area by several miles – call shelters even beyond the area you think your dog could have reached.
Visit the animal shelters and rescue leagues to look for your pet every other day. Don’t expect volunteers to recognize one brown dog from another. If the dog is a dirty, matted mess that lost weight, you may have trouble identifying your own pet. Ask if there is a quarantine area or an area where injured animals are kept in case your dog is separated from those shown to the public.
Check the “found” ads in the newspaper and social media posts each day your pet is lost.
Dogs have been reunited with their owners even after a year or more. Keep going back to the shelters showing pictures of your dog.
- Many vets, neighbors, shelters & rescuers have found that the fastest way to place an animal back with its family is by following information on tags and microchips. Be sure that your pet is wearing a tag at all times, also be sure to microchip and register your pet.
- Put articles of clothing or your pet’s favorite toys outside the house. Dogs are attracted to things that bring them comfort. The scent of their master whom they love can allure them.
- Plan ahead for a “lost pet” emergency. Always have a picture of your pet on hand and a record of his ID tag, tattoo license numbers, and/or microchip ID information.
- Keep these phone numbers handy: your vet, the animal rescue league, the Humane Society and animal shelters in your county and possibly a neighboring county, local radio or TV stations that make community service announcements, local and state police.
- Some people tell you not to put the pet’s name on its tag or thieves might easily lure the pet into their car. Anyone close enough to read the name tag is probably already holding the pet’s collar. It is very difficult to call for a cat or a dog without a name. “Here doggy, Here kitty,” just doesn’t cut it for most pets who are frightened and are often afraid of strangers.
- If you have a purebred dog, check with the rescue organizations for your breed. Many of them have “Lost Dog” links on their websites. Some rescuers will travel a distance to help their breed in need.
Never respond to a found pet claim alone. Take a friend and ask to meet in a public place such as the park.
Keep this emergency guide on hand, in case your pet is lost. Speediness and thoroughness are essential for bringing your pet home safely.
By Karon Brandt, James Quirk, and Jake Wartenberg