I have lost count to the many phone calls and emails from upset pet parents whose pets have gone missing and these call usually come several days if not a week later. I ask the usual questions. Does your pet have a collar with an ID tag? Is your pet micro-chipped? Do you have a current photo of your pet? Have you put up flyers and contacted the vets, shelters, police, animal control in a 10 miles radius?
The usual answer to these questions is No.
One of the most frightening things that can happen to any pet owner is their pet disappearing. It does happen. Some pets will run off to explore or hunt and then are not able to find the way home. Some pet get out of their enclosures, slip off leashes, or even dart from the car or from an open door. Some pets are lost after a vehicle accident or are stolen. Dog theft is on the rise and the target is usually purebreds, hunting dogs or bully breeds. The dogs get sold on the black market to labs, puppy bills, or even as bait dogs for dog fight training.
A responsible pet owner will protect, supervise, and know where their pet is at any given moment and yet after all the efforts made sometimes things just happen. We can take steps to protect our pets from becoming lost or stolen:
- Keep color photos of your pet and of you being with your pet current.
- Be diligent in checking the pets enclosure or fenced area to ensure that escape isn’t possible. A fenced yard DOES NOT guarantee that your pet is safe and secure without supervision. Dogs can dig under, jump over, and climb up and over fences. Even a little hole can become an escape route for a determined pet or thief.
- Most places have leash laws for dogs, follow the leash laws and do not let your dog run off leash in an unfenced area.
- Some dogs and cats tend to run out an opened door, be careful when opening doors.
- Avoid leaving pets alone in the yard, car, or tethered outside of a business. It really does take just a moment for a pet to vanish.
- Make sure leashes and collars are secure. I recently transported a dog whose collar was not fitted to him and he slipped out of it. I am thankful the dog responded to his training and went right to the car to jump in. I fitted his collar immediately.
- Make sure your that the data on your pet’s collar and micro-chip are up to date.
- Most communities issues rabies and license tags to pet owners, securely attach these to the pets collar. Keep these tags valid, these can help trace the pet owner.
- If your pet is tattooed make sure it’s visible and that the data at the Tattoo Registry is up to date.
- Replace frayed, worn, or chewed collars, leashes, and cable runs.
- Be careful with the retractable leashes, they do not normally give pet owners optimal control and when some dogs will dart when these are dropped because of the noise it makes hitting the ground and retracting.
- Many pets turn up missing after a big noise event or loud parties, especially related to fireworks. Make sure pets are secured during these events and never leave them outside and unattended. Other loud triggers can be thunderstorms, construction noises like nail guns, big delivery trucks, other types of large equipment, motorcycles, gunshots, backfire from vehicles, sirens, and horns.
- Traveling with your pets can be fun but travel safety is very important. Take precautions and if flying the crate needs to be secure and properly identified. Keep pets from running out of open vehicle doors and do not leave them alone in the vehicle.
- Training your dog is important. A solid foundation of obedience training can be essential especially a strong recall command. Keep treats handy at all time for incentives.
Not all lost dogs will bark for help and some instinctively remain still and quiet to avoid getting the attention of wild or human predators. Time is of the essence when a pet vanishes and pet owners must take immediate action:
- If theft is a possibility call law enforcement immediately.
- Post signs and flyers that has a current color photo of the lost pet and your contact information on it, be sure to include in large black letter “LOST DOG or CAT” and include a description of your pet. If your pet is tattooed or micro-chipped mention that but do not mention what the tattoo or micro-chip number is.
- Contact local animal hospitals, shelters, animal control, rescue groups, and other pet related businesses
- Canvass the neighborhood and ask friends, neighbors and family members for their help.
- Post lost dog ads in the newspaper
- List your dog online at lost dog databases.
- Act fast and do not give up hope
- Don’t beat yourself up, even the best preventative measures don’t always work
- Post on websites designed to help with lost pets.
- Utilize Social Media like Facebook and Twitter and don’t forget to include your location which means include the city and state. I have seen a lot of lost pet posts that don’t include this vital information.
There are criminals who will see your misfortune as an opportunity to make money so beware of scams. Avoid posting the actual reward amount, tattoo and micro-chip information on the signs and flyers. Do not give out your full name and address for your own safety. If you receive a tip do not send any reward money until your pet is safely in your arms. Never go out alone to pick up your pet from anyone you do not know and let your friends and family know where you are going.
Other tips to remember:
- When your pet is spotted don’t chase this could cause your pet to run away whether it’s out of fear or being playful. Make sure your search parts knows this and that they know how to approach or shy or fearful dog.
- Leave fresh food and water, bedding with shelter and some favorite toys outside the pet’s home
- Periodically visit each of the locations of where signs and fliers have been posted and replace as needed
- Don’t forget to post a sign on your vehicle and ask friends and family to do the same
- Keep tracks of all places you have posted sign and visited and remove signs immediately after your pet is home. Keep a log of online listings as well and remove your listing when the pet has returned home.
Pets owners don’t expect to have their pets get lost or stolen yet assuming it could happen and taking steps to prevent it can help. Sometimes all the preventive measure just isn’t enough. Never leave your pet unsupervised in vehicles, tethered outside of business or even in their own yard. If you think your pet has been stolen contact the police immediately. If your pet becomes lost take immediate steps. Most importantly, Don’t Lose Hope and Keep Getting The Word Out.
Joyce Rheal is based in Southern Illinois and is a nationally certified pet care consultant, trainer, and the author of “Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies and Disasters” and “Disaster Plan: Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies and Disasters.”