When pets are part of the family, losing one can seem like the most terrifying thing in the world. With a calm head and a plan of action ahead of time, recovery can be much more likely.
Whether you have just adopted a dog, or you have had one for years, consider getting your pet microchipped. Any vet or shelter can scan the chip and it contains your information in an ID database.
Make sure your yard is secure. Check all fencing- make sure there are no holes, broken areas, or gaps. Check gates and make sure that they securely latch.
Never leave your dog outside unattended. Unfortunately, strange things happen. In rural areas, small animals can be attacked by larger ones. Occasionally you see weird stories on the news about feuding neighboring retaliating via their animals. Don’t walk outside and go “where’s my dog?” and not have the slightest idea.
Have an emergency card ready in case you ever have a runaway or lost situation. Just like every human is supposed to have one of those lists in their safe of all of their credit cards, bank accounts, retirement accounts, email accounts, passwords, passports, etc., you should have one for your dog. Divide a piece of paper into fourths and put pertinent information on it: a photo (that you update every year), your contact info, description of the dog with identifying marks, dog tag numbers and microchip number if they have it, and medical conditions. If it is in fourths, it will be easy to copy, cut and distribute should the need arise.
The First Two Hours
The first two hours are critical. 90% of lost dogs are found within two miles of the home. Speediness is key to success. Immediately mobilize as many people as you can. Friends, neighbors, anyone. The more people that know the dog, the better.
Leave one person at home to start making phone calls. Contact as many people as you know (that aren’t already with you) and let them know what has happened and to be on the lookout. Take to social media. Everyone is on it nowadays, it is easy and quick, use it to your advantage. Get on Facebook, Twitter, post pictures of your pet and let everyone know she is missing.
For those that are out, drive out a two mile radius and start working back. Take some treats and your dog’s favorite toy with you- preferably one that squeaks or makes noise. Squeak the toy and shake the treat bag calling your dog’s name as you canvass the neighborhood (be careful at intersections).
Remember that card you have kept in your safe? Now is the time to get it out and make about 200 copies. Hand them out as you are walking around, post them on telephone poles, hand them out to businesses.
After 24 Hours
If you haven’t found your dog in those first couple hours you need to intensify your search. Start by calling local animal shelters and hospitals. Contact petamberalert.com and lostmydoggie.com. With petamberalert.com, packages start at $29.95 and they boast a 85% success rate in the first week. At lostmydoggie.com a basic package is free and they also claim an overall site success rate of 85%. Go to oliveralert.com, a wonderful site dedicated to lost and found pets and post.
You need to expand your search at this point; go out a couple more miles and search farther. Talk to anyone you see and hand out and post fliers, up to 2,000. Talk to mail carriers, UPS/FedEx deliveries, gas stations, and post at parks.
After 2 Days
Expand your search even farther and repeat all the same steps. Call shelters that are outside of your area at this point. Check the paper for found dogs. Start visiting shelters to look at the found dogs, especially if your dog is not microchipped. Unless your dog has a very distinct marking, don’t expect shelter workers to recognize one “black lab mix” from another. You wouldn’t. Be sure to ask if there is a separate area for injured animals in case your dog might there.
If it has been longer than two days you may want to consider a trained tracking dog. More and more, tracking dogs are being used to track each other. Dogs have been used to rescue humans for years- now they are rescuing each other.
Be aware of scams, especially if you listed an award. Dogs can travel far but be suspicious if someone calls you saying they have your dog and it’s 500 miles away after only 2 days. If you someone calls or emails you saying they have your dog, flush them out first with a false question. Ask something like “oh do they have a white spot on their left paw?” And if the person readily says “yes!” then you have a scammer. Always meet your prospective pet hero in a public place, and always take someone with you.
Tips for your flyer: if you have a female, always say she is spayed even if she isn’t. This will discourage the less responsible from considering not returning your dog and breeding her instead. Never use words like “therapy dog”, “show dog”, or “pure bred” as this implies a value to the dog and increases the likelihood that you won’t get it back. Do use words like “takes anti-seizure medication” (if applicable) because this indicates an urgency, and “family pet” everyone can relate to.
I have to admit I don’t have a Reggie-card. Reggie is not a flight risk so I’ve never done it. But actually Reggie is a flight risk. Every time he has a seizure, he runs. He almost got lost when he escaped his collar at the county park. I live in a state where, unfortunately, you hear about car thefts rather frequently. And, also unfortunately, there is occasionally a dog or (gasp) a child left in the car when the owner runs into the store or gas station for a cup of coffee or some other small item. This is another reason to have info on hand for your pet, even they are well trained and not generally a flight risk.
This is a terrifying ordeal. With a little pre-planning and a calm head, a lost pet has a 90% chance of becoming a found pet.