It happens every day in spite of our best intentions. Cats get out through an open door either because they are scared or curious. Dogs jump fences or escape through a gate left open by a child or contractor. So now what? If your dog or cat is gets lost and is wearing a color with some form of identification and the collar stays on, you have a fairly good chance of getting them back if they are helped by a Good Samaritan or they end up in an animal shelter. But what if the collar comes off? What if your pet has been stolen? The reality is that getting your lost or stolen pet back to you is hard work and you may never get them back even if you do everything right. Animals who are loose can cover great distances and animals who have been stolen can be driven great distances. I have written before about the importance of having all pets microchipped, even those who live inside and are ordinarily never outside unsupervised. Life happens, accidents happen and natural disasters happen and there is just no replacement for having your pet chipped so they can be easily identified if they are displaced from you for some reason.
If your pet does go missing or is stolen, there are a host of things you can do to try to get your pet back to you and that’s the purpose of today’s blog. This list is not comprehensive by any means. If you read the blog and you have a suggestion which has worked for you in the past or which has worked for someone you know, by all means post a comment to share that information.
Contact the microchip company. If your pet is microchipped, contact the company you used to register your chip to let them know your pet is lost or stolen. If your registration information is outdated, update the information with the company. There may be an extra fee to do this depending on the microchip implanted in your pet, but it will be some nominal amount and is worth every penny.
Go to local shelters to look for your pet. Many animal shelters have listings of found pets which are in their custody, but many animal shelters do not. There is no substitute for physically going to the shelter or shelters in your area to look for your lost pet. You should take an image of your pet with you to leave with the shelter staff so they will "be on the lookout" for your pet to arrive in the future. You should go more than one time just so you can be sure that your pet did not roam for a period of time before being taken to the shelter by an animal control officer or Good Samaritan.
Look for your pet in your area. It may sound obvious, but look around for your pet to see if you can find him or her. You should do this quietly and not by enlisting the help of others. Your friends may want to help you find your lost dog or cat, but if you try to canvas a particular area with people unfamiliar to your pet or calling out your pet's name, you may spook your pet and cause him or her to flee or run into traffic.
List Your lost or stolen pet on a reputable website. If you do an Internet search for “lost pet websites” you’ll come up with enough hits to make your head hurt. The two websites I use most often for posting lost or stolen pets are Helping Lost Pets and Track My Paws. Helping Lost Pets is map-based which means that your post about your pet will show up on a map in a geographic area. You have to register to post your pet, but the process is entirely free. You enter data about your pet (more is better), you include a photo and your pet is listed on the website. It’s just that simple. People who are in your area who are registered on the site receive an email alert about your pet. You can also create a free flyer about your pet using a variety of formats so that you can then print that poster to put up around your area and you can share on social media or email as either a pdf file or an image file. Track My Paws is very similar. You register to post your lost or stolen pet, enter as much information as you can and then your pets is shown on a map.
Create a flyer about your lost or stolen pet. When it comes to getting your pet back home, the key is letting as many people as possible know that your pet is missing. We have Amber alerts for children. When it comes to pets, we are left with old school methods of letting people know that we need their help. Create a flyer about your lost or stolen pet which includes a good color image using Helping Lost Pets or using your computer. Print as many posters as you think you can reasonable distribute and then post them in your neighborhood, personally deliver them to the neighbors and businesses closest to where you live and share them on social media and by email with people in your area. Do not offer a reward for your pet. Although this has historically been seen as a way to motivate people to help you, it can actually encourage "dog napping" and can cause people to chase your dog or cat, making them run further away. If you do put up flyers, make sure you go back and take them down once your pet is safely back home.
Use social media. There are a lot of social media pages that relate to geographic areas like cities and counties. Do a search on Facebook for groups or pages in your general area and post about your lost or stolen pet there. Because animals can travel distances, don’t limit this just to the city or town where you live. Try to post about your pet on any page that covers an area within about 60 miles of your location. There is no such thing as posting in too many places to help people know that your pet was lost or stolen and to share images of your pet so that people can be your eyes and ears all around you. If you do post about your pet on social media and your pet is found, please update your posts so that people know your pet is safely back home. People love a happy ending and this gives other people who have lost their pet hope for a positive outcome.
Contact the media. Most local newspapers will allow you to run a short ad about your lost or stolen pet. Contact your local paper or papers which service your general geographic area and ask if they will run an ad for you for free. Some small papers may actually include an image of your pet in a small add for which you would pay some nominal fee. If your pet was stolen from your home or from an area where you were staying (campground, neighbor’s house, etc.) contact local TV stations to see if they will run a story for you. Many television stations are very animal friendly and may be willing to do a short story to help you.
Entice your pet to return home using bedding and food. Although many pets go quite far once they are outside, some don’t go far at all and are just hunkered down some place because they are afraid. Leave bowls of water and food outside near your home or the place where your pet went missing with some of your pets bedding. You may also want to put an item of clothing you have worn and which smells like you with the bedding.
Contact locals. Contact local veterinary offices, animal control agencies and law enforcement agencies to report that your dog or cat is lost or has been stolen and provide them with a copy of your flyer. Sometimes people who find lost pets take them to veterinary offices or turn them in to animal control agencies. If your pet was stolen, you should file a report about that so that it can be investigated, particularly if you think you know who took your pet. Some law enforcement agencies may not take your report seriously, but be persistent and demand help. We don’t like to think of our pets as property, but your pet is your property and theft of a pet is the same legally as theft of other things you own (although much more upsetting, of course). It's always a good idea to talk to local bus drivers and mail carriers to let them know your pet is missing so they can be "on the lookout" for your dog or cat. You can also contact Lost and Stolen Pet Recovery Assistance to see if they can help you.
I have known of people who had a pet go missing who never found the pet again. But I also know of people who have found pets after they had been missing for months. When your pet is reunited with you, I encourage you to have your pet microchipped and to take any and all steps within your power to keep them from being displaced from you again.
(images courtesy of Shelley Lomanto and Peace and Paws Dog Rescue)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson