Tips on finding your lost dog or cat

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Tips on finding your lost dog or cat

Losing a pet is very stressful and a cause for anxiety. As you worry about your pet’s whereabouts and safety, you might not be thinking straight, so it can be helpful to have a handy “to do” list to make sure you cover all your bases. By following a few simple tips, you will stand a better chance of finding your lost dog or cat.

What to do when you realize your pet is gone  

  • Search your house and property first. Sometimes, pets can hide really well. You don’t want to begin your search away from home without being absolutely sure your friend is not still nearby. Inside, look under beds, bed covers, couches, pillows, tables, and in dirty and clean clothes piles; behind bookcases, televisions, computer equipment, and the washer and dryer; in closets and cabinets. Outside, look up trees, down drain pipes, in storage sheds, behind bushes, in the garage, under your car, car hood, porch, and deck, and every possible nook and cranny, given your pet’s actual size. Cats can get into some very small places.
  • Search the neighborhood next. Start out on foot first, talking with your immediate neighbors and knocking on doors. Give your neighbors your cell phone number and ask them to be on the look out for your pet. They will not likely capture your pet for you, but they may call and tell you they just saw your dog or cat near by. Very often, if your pet has just gotten loose, someone working outside may have seen your dog or cat. Cats tend to hide, so hoofing it through the neighborhood might help you locate your pet faster. Dogs tend to run at a slow pace, so if no one has seen your dog, it many be time to get in the car and widen your search. Dogs can cover a lot of ground quickly.

  • Take a flashlight. Even if it’s high noon, you will need a spot of light to look under porches and decks and in bushes and storage sheds. 
  • Make some noise. Call out your pet’s name and bring along a squeaky toy and some of your pet’s favorite treats to get their attention or lure them from their hiding spot. Shake the box of treats or tap on a can of food. Use whatever techniques and sounds you normally would to get your dog or cat to come running from inside the house or backyard.
  • Listen for your pet. If they are hurt, they may not be able to come when called, only whimper.
  • Reel them in with homey smells. Some pets don’t go far, but don’t know how to get home either. Some can follow their nose, but will need some assistance from you. Put some smelly clothes, a cat litter box, or food and water outside your home to lure your pet back to the house.
  • Contact your veterinarian and other local vet offices. If someone picks up your dog within a few miles of your house, they most often will take the dog to a local veterinarian. Keep in mind that most people who find your pet will do what’s quickest and easiest for them. Think about where’s the closest place one could go to drop off a found pet — and go there. If your pet is lost in the evening, check with local pet emergency clinics.
  • Call animal shelters and lost and found groups right away. Chances are your dog or cat may not be at the shelter yet, but file a report with them and area lost and found groups, so they will be on the look out for your pet. 
  • Prepare a flier with a color photo, date and place lost, the breed of your dog or cat, the offer of a reward (don’t given an amount), and your cell number. Never give out your name and home address.  Take these fliers and give to neighbors, local vet’s offices, local stores, animal shelters, and lost and found agencies in your community.
  • Place a lost ad in the newspaper a file online or over the phone reports with local agencies that keep a list of missing pets.
  • Visit the animal shelter right away.  Visit your local animal shelter as soon as possible to begin your search. If your pet was found in the morning, visit animal shelters before they close that same day. If late in the afternoon, begin visiting shelters the next day. By law, most animal shelters will keep a lost pet for up to three days before adopting our or euthanizing. You have a very small window to work in, so you have to move fast. Visit all the shelters, drop off your flier, and ask to search the shelter as well. Your description may not match their description of the pet, even though it is the same pet. Always ask to look at lost pets for yourself. Visit shelters every one to two days, depending on how long they keep lost pets before adopting them out. 
  • Check with local rescue groups. If you have lost a purebred dog, call local purebred rescue groups. The person who found your Golden Retriever may know the person at the Golden Retriever rescue group and have taken your dog there instead of the animal shelter.
  • Confirm the worst. Call your city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and ask who picks up dead dogs from along the highways. Sometimes it’s the DOT and sometimes it’s animal control. In any event, send them a flier with a photo so they can be on the look out for your dog or cat. It’s not news you want to receive, but it might give you some closure to know that pet is not suffering any more.
  • Keep up the effort. Check the newspaper everyday for lost and found ads. Visit local shelters every one to two days. Continue asking around and talking about your lost pet in your neighborhood. Even though your pet may not end up at the shelter the first or second day, they could end up at the shelter days or even weeks later. Some dogs and cats are resistant to strangers trying to coax them into a car, so they could be on the run for a long time before finally making it to an animal shelter.

How to protect your pet before he or she gets lost

  • Secure all gates and fences.
  • Inspect the yard and ensure your dog is not digging holes in the yard.
  • Put a collar and tag, include your cell phone number and the word “Reward” on the tag.
  • Microchip your pet and keep your registration information current. Many pets are found with microchips, but then the contact numbers are no longer valid.
  • If you have a pet that likes to bolt, discuss with family members ways to keep your dog or cat from getting out.
  • Take a picture and write out a description now with your pet sitting in front of you so you are ready to make a flier.

What to do if you find your pet

  • Celebrate. Hooray! Your friend is safe and sound.
  • Take your pet to the vet for a thorough exam. Many found pets can be dehydrated and malnourished, even from a few days on their own.
  • Pick up all your fliers — from everywhere. This frees up space for others who have lost their pets.
  • Let animal shelters and lost and found groups know that your pet has been located. Some shelters keep statistics on the number of pets reunited with their owners.

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Cathy Rosenthal (aka The Pet Pundit), CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 35 years' experience in the animal welfare field. She is a sought-after speaker, Certified Humane Education Specialist, a syndicated pet advice columnist, an author, a publisher, and of course - a loving pet parent.

Read more about Cathy here or check out her Non-Profit's page to see more ways she can help you and your organization.

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