Anyone who owns pets knows that they quickly become part of the family. The unconditional love that they provide is priceless. The companionship is irreplaceable.
So if one runs away or is otherwise lost, you will naturally be very upset. This happened to me recently, and I thought I’d lose my mind. Not only was I frantic and in tears, but I also quickly realized that I was totally unprepared for this contingency.
Fortunately, in this digital age you have quite a few options. And after my experience I realized that there’s a lot one can do in advance of a pet loss to prepare for it. (Fortunately my beloved dog was returned to me after 48 of the longest hours of my life.) So what follows is what I learned.
First and foremost, have your vet microchip your pet, and keep your contact information with them up to date. This may seem like an unnecessary expense, but believe me, if you don’t do it, there may come a time when you desperately wish that you had. When shelters receive new animals, the first thing they do is scan them for microchips. If a responsible person finds your pet, they will most likely bring them to a shelter or a vet, and vets can scan for chips as well. You may think that the ID on your pet’s collar is sufficient, but my dog dug out under the backyard fence, and left his collar behind (the doofus).
Next, as soon as you discover that your pet is gone, walk the neighborhood. You may get lucky and Rover is just exploring the trash cans next door or sniffing another person’s pet through the screen door. If, like me, you have amazing friends and neighbors, recruit their help in this as well. Also, and I hate to say this, but if you live near any busy highways, you will need to look on the side of the road and in ditches as well.
If that doesn’t work, the next step is to spread the word in as many ways as you can. The best way is to post a notice on the Lost and Found section of Craig’s List for your area. That is ultimately how the man who found my dog was able to contact me. It’s often one of the first places people will look.
Next, post the information on your Facebook page so all your friends, especially the local ones, will know. It’s important that you make this post PUBLIC so they can share it with their local friends, and so on. You’d be amazed at how quickly the word spreads. (Six degrees of separation ROCKS!)
Also, search Facebook for groups related to your neighborhood. You’ll find that they mostly will allow you to make this post, even if it’s not exactly their subject matter. I got a lot of feedback from a local Buy/Sell/Trade page, and a Farmer’s Market page. There was even a Lost Dogs Facebook page for my county. Keep track of what Facebook pages you post on, because people will get emotionally invested in your story, and they’ll want an update if your pet is found.
Next, it is important to contact the area pet shelters. Many of these have entered the 21st century, and have ways for you to post reports and pictures on their website. They also may post pictures of found pets on their websites. Others have hotlines where you can hear descriptions of the animals they’ve taken in in the past few days. Don’t count on their descriptions being accurate, though, especially if you have a mixed breed. What they think of as a terrier mix may be your half beagle, half Chihuahua. You never know. It’s best to pay them a visit and have a look and touch base with them.
Remember that there may be more than one shelter in your area. I live on the border of two cities, so if my dog ran south, he’d wind up in one jurisdiction, and if he ran north, he could have been in any of three different facilities. The first shelter you contact will be well aware of others in the area and can give you a list. But think city and county Animal Control, neighboring cities, no-kill shelters, breed rescues, and Humane Societies
There are also all sorts of pet finder websites on line. You can register with any or all of them, but be aware that they’re often trying to get money out of you or spam you within an inch of your life, so choose carefully. Some sites will fax a flyer to all your area vets, often free of charge, which is very helpful. But if you have a good relationship with your vet’s office, contact them as well, because they’ll often do the same thing for you. Failing that, you can always google all veterinarians in your zip code and e-mail them a flyer yourself.
A note about flyers. It is important to include the following information:
- Lost Dog (or cat or boa constrictor or whatever) in very large font so it can be seen from a distance.
- The breed of your pet and its weight and coloring.
- The gender, and in the case of males, whether it has been neutered.
- Any unique and distinguishing features such as moles. (And note the location of those features NOW. In my agitated state, I couldn’t remember if my dog’s cyst was on his right or left side.)
- Whether or not your pet was wearing a collar.
- The date your pet went missing, to avoid getting calls about pets that were recovered before yours disappeared.
- A recent picture of your pet. (Do you have a recent one? If not, take one now.)
- Also, include your CELL phone number rather than a land line, because someone might call while you’re out searching.
These unique descriptions help to eliminate many calls about animals that look like yours but aren’t. There’s nothing more upsetting than getting those. Also keep one of your pet’s unique features to yourself, so that if you do get a call and the person says, “How do I know he belongs to you?” You can respond, for example, “He has a white Nike swoosh pattern on his left flank.”
Here’s my flyer for example:
Now, print out multiple copies of your flyer, stick each one in a plastic sheet protector to protect them from the rain and weather, and then, armed with a staple gun, post them on telephone poles all over your neighborhood. Also hand flyers to your postman, your local police officers, the fire department, and area churches. Does your grocery store have a community bulletin board? Post one there, too. (You may need to bring your own tacks.)
Here’s something I wish I had done: make a note of every place you’ve posted a flyer so if you do recover your pet, you can take them all back down again. No need having your personal info out there if it’s no longer necessary. Plus, it’s the responsible thing to do from an environmental/good citizen standpoint. It doesn’t do to piss off the neighbors. You might lose your pet again one day and need their help.
Once you have done all that, you’ll be reduced to canvassing the neighborhood, old-school style. Knocking on neighbors’ doors. For that, I suggest you produce a mini-flyer, three per page, that you can hand them so they have your contact information, like this one:
It’s important to appeal to their emotional side. The worst case scenario (aside from the final, unspeakable one) is that your pet may have been stolen, or a kid brought it home and whined, “Ma, can we keep him? Pleeeeeeease?” and the selfish parent doesn’t have the heart to say no. If that’s the case, public pressure is your friend. Your neighbors will keep an eye out. Your internet friends will, too.
Now, if you’re an organized person and want to give a gift to your future, frazzled self, you might want to reread this again, and make a list of all the contacts mentioned above. Then compile the names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mails and websites of the agencies in question for your area. Also keep all needed supplies in a central location (it’s a pain in the behind to have to go buy sheet protectors when you’re hysterical). Even start the bare bones of a flyer in advance and leave it on your computer.
Believe me, I wish I had done all of these things in advance. I also hope that if you have other ideas, you’ll post them in the comments below.
If you’ve lost your pet, I’m very sorry. All you can do is your very best, and hope, like me, that a kind, responsible person has taken him or her in and will contact you. Best of luck.