More than 10 million pets are lost in America each year. This startling number will hopefully prompt every pet parent to take steps to ensure the security of their pet by:
- Taking and keeping on hand several close-up color photographs of your pets. These photos will be invaluable to you if your pet is ever lost.
- Fitting your pet with visible identification, such as a collar with tags.
- In addition, having your pets microchipped and registered with current contact information provides another level of security.
Steps to Finding a Lost Pet
Lost pets are at risk for starvation, dehydration, poisoning, injury and death. To increase the chances of being reunited with your pet, be proactive and quick in your efforts to search. Don’t wait even one day, hoping your pet will return. Pet parents who visit or call an animal agency right away are much more likely to find their missing pets alive.
Step 1: Search Your Home
Pets who are ill, injured or scared are inclined to sneak off and hide. In case your pet is hiding or inadvertently got trapped somewhere in your house, search your home thoroughly. Check the basement, all closets, the attic, under furniture and porches, the garage, etc. Animals find their way by scent as well as sight and sound, so place some strongly scented articles outside your home to attract your pet. These could be sweaty clothes, favorite bedding and toys, the litter box, smelly food like tuna, cheese, bacon or freshly cooked chicken.
Step 2: Report Your Lost Pet
To report your lost pet, immediately call local animal control agencies, animal shelters, local veterinarians during the day and emergency clinics after 5 p.m., and pet identification microchip registries. Some of the major microchip companies provide resources for making lost pet posters and offer insurance in case your lost pet is injured or becomes ill while lost.
Step 3: Search Your Neighborhood, Talk to Everyone and Leave Your Phone Number
The good news is that 79% of dogs and 95% of cats either return home on their own or are found within one mile of their home. When you first realize your pet is lost, search the neighborhood. She may be hiding, so be sure to look under bushes, under porches, in garages and in other likely hiding spots.
Bring a powerful flashlight, even in daylight hours, for checking dark spaces. Enlist the help of friends, neighbors and family members to search. Call your local dog training club to ask for help. Club members sometimes have specially trained dogs who can try to follow your pet’s tracks. If you have lost a dog, take along one of her dog friends while you search. Encourage her to bark. Sometimes a lost dog won’t come to the sound of a human voice but will come when she hears a dog friend barking. Be sure to stop regularly, be quiet and listen for your pet to make a noise in reply. Stopping and waiting—especially in areas where your pet was definitely seen by someone—can also help your pet catch up to you, especially if she’s older, injured or scared. Many search parties sweep through areas too fast for the pet to catch up and work up the courage to approach.
If your dog gets loose while you’re out walking her, leave a familiar object, like your jacket or your dog’s bed, at the spot where you were last together. Your dog might find her way back to where she left you, but if you’re not there, she might wander off again. If she comes back and finds a jacket or bed with a familiar scent, she’ll be more likely to wait for you to return.
Step 4: Visit Local Animal Control Agencies and Animal Shelters
Visit animal control agencies and animal shelters in person. It’s not easy to accurately describe your pet over the phone, and not all agencies check for microchips. Walk through the stray animal sections and leave posters with your pet’s description, picture and your contact information. Include instructions if your pet has urgent medical needs. This will help shelter staff recognize and care for your pet if she’s picked up later. Call or, better yet, visit daily to make sure the agencies know you’re still actively searching for your pet. It’s not uncommon for animal control agencies to have minimal hold times for animals before putting them up for adoption or euthanizing them. This wait time may be as little as three days, so it’s crucial to check shelters and animal control agencies every day.
Contact your local police department. It’s horrible to think about, but if your pet was killed by a motor vehicle, they may know about it.
Step 5: Post Flyers Everywhere!
Make many lost pet flyers and post them everywhere you can within a one-mile radius of where your pet was lost. Flyers result in more found pets than any other method! Several microchip pet recovery databases and other online resources provide advice and templates for making lost pet posters. Prepare posters with a huge type size that’s easy to read from a driving distance. The headline should read: LOST DOG or LOST CAT or something similar that draws attention to the poster. Include the following:
A picture of your pet (a color photo of her entire body is best)
Your pet’s breed or mix of breeds
A basic description of your pet, including color, sex, age, size or weight
Where your pet was last seen
Your phone number and e-mail. Do not include your name or address!
A reward can help, but don’t state the amount.
To avoid imposters and scams, be sure to withhold several identifying marks and characteristics of your lost pet. You may need to use these to verify that a person has actually found your pet.
Place your posters in convenience stores, grocery stores, pizza parlors, gas stations, barber and beauty shops, laundromats, community bulletin boards, schools, churches, veterinary clinics, pet stores and other animal-oriented businesses. If local ordinances allow, put the posters on lamp posts, telephone poles and sign poles.
Step 6: Use Your Local Newspaper
Advertise in the local newspaper if possible. Again, a reward can help, but don’t state the amount. Be prepared to receive some false alarm calls. As soon as people see the promise of a reward, they’re likely to call about any pet they’ve seen, whether it fits the description of yours or not.
Some newspapers allow people to place free advertisements for pets they’ve found, so be sure to scan the newspaper to see if your pet has already been found by someone.
Step 7: Use Online Resources
Check local, regional, and national online resources that help with finding lost pets—but be cautious about providing personal information over the Internet. It’s best to provide an e-mail address or your pet’s microchip recovery service telephone number as ways to contact you. For starters, try http://www.pets911.com/index.php or http://www.petfinder.com/
Step 8: Contact Breed Rescue Groups
If your pet is a specific breed or resembles a specific breed closely, notify breed rescue groups in your region. Please see http://www.akc.org/breeds/rescue.cfm for a list of breed rescues. Some animal control agencies and welfare groups work with breed rescue groups to place purebred animals. If your pet has been missing for more than a few days, a breed rescue group may have information about her.
Step 9: Find Out If Your Pet Has Been Killed on the Road
Call city, county and state road crews, DOT (Department of Transportation) and Animal Control every day to see if they’ve found your pet’s body. Make arrangements to visit their offices and leave a photo of your pet so that road crews can be on the lookout. If your pet is wearing identification, DOT or Animal Control should contact you if they find your pet—but don’t count on it. You’ll probably have to make the effort to find out for yourself.
Step 10: When You Find Your Pet
Go around and take down all of your old flyers. Thank everyone who has helped you.
Never Give Up
The human-animal bond is a strong one, and it can be devastating to lose a pet. Follow the guidelines above to increase your chances for success. Be thorough and persistent in your search efforts, and don’t give up hope. Lost pets have been reunited with their families weeks, months and sometimes even years later.