I don’t know if there’s anything more terrifying as a pet owner than coming home to find that your pet isn’t where he should be. When the unthinkable happens, a million emotions will hit you all at once – fear, denial, terror, guilt, and panic. I remember these feelings well, as I went through all of them when Tucker went on his Great Adventure, and again when I came home to find this:
…and no Cooper in the house! Thankfully, Cooper had only “escaped” into our fenced in backyard, but for several terrifying seconds, I thought he was Gone.
As difficult as it might be, it will be very important to keep a clear head and have a plan in place to get your loved one home, safe and sound, as quickly as possible. Here are some things you can do in advance so you can be prepared if you find yourself in such a scary situation.
Keep a pre-made LOST flyer on your computer. If Oscar were to go missing, my first instinct would be tear around the neighborhood like a crazy lady looking for him. The last thing I’d want to do is sit down in front of a computer, looking through pictures trying to pick the perfect one to put on a flyer, and trying to remember what kind of information I’m supposed to include. So instead, I laid it all out in advance. If that horrible day comes, I can simply fill in a few last-minute details like “last seen” location/date/time, print out (color!) copies and start posting them around town. When you’re making your own LOST flyer, make sure to include:
- Your dog’s name
- Weight and size
- Color, description, distinguishing characteristics
- Where he went missing
- The date and time you last saw him
- What he was wearing (collar, tag, harness, etc)
- Your contact information – list multiple phone numbers, including your vet.
- Offer a reward. Hey, money talks. Oscar’s LOST flyer doesn’t even use the word “LOST,” instead it says “$$ REWARD $$” in big bold print right at the top, and underneath it says “…for safe return!” It probably would not hurt to add the phrase “No questions asked.”
You can also look online and find templates for creating a LOST flyer. One good one I’ve found is PetBond.com. All you do is fill out some information about your pet, add your contact information and upload a photo, and it will generate a .PDF of a flier for you that you can print out yourself. PetBond even gives you the option to include little tear off strips at the bottom with your contact info. Oh, and it’s free, which is always a bonus.
Chosing the right photo. I cannot stress enough how important a clear, up-to-date, color photograph of your pet is on a LOST poster. Take a look at these photos of lost dogs that I pulled off Craigslist:
Those dogs could walk right past me on the street and I couldn’t recognize them from these pictures. How big are they? Are they male or female? Do they have a collar on? Even if this information is listed elsewhere on the flyer, a picture is worth a thousand words. Now compare the photos above with these:
These pictures are clear and in focus. The second one even has a person in the photo with the dog, so you can easily tell how big the dogs is. Some people might not be able to recognize a dog that running down the street is 40 lbs, but they will be able to tell if the dog comes up to their knee or the bumper of a truck.
If you don’t have any good clear current pictures of your pet, stop reading right now and go snap a few. Go ahead, we’ll be here when you get back.
Microchip, and register! We all know how important and easy it is to microchip your pet. However, just as important is making sure that the chip is registered and up to date with your current contact information. Earlier this summer, a dog got picked up as a stray and taken to the Nashville Humane Association. The dog had a microchip, but it wasn’t registered. After the dog had been in the slammer for a month, a man showed up with his two daughters to search the rows for their family pet. When they came upon this dog’s cage, the man started screaming, “My dog is here! You have Irene!” Irene is now home safe and sound, but she could have been home a month sooner if her microchip had been registered.
Dress for success. We all make sure our pups are sporting a collar and ID tag when we take them out on the town, but what about right now – look at your pup snoozing at your feet, is he wearing his collar and tag? What about when he goes out in your fenced in back yard? Your dog has an astronomically higher chance of coming home if he is wearing a collar and tag. As cute and cuddly as our pups are when they’re au naturale, what if someone breaks into your home and lets your dog out? What if there’s a fire and your pet escapes with his life, but without identification? If your dog is in the backyard after a bath, what if there’s a loose board in your fence and he wriggles his way to freedom, or what if your meter reader didn’t latch your gate all the way? Your pet should always wear visual identification, even when he is safe at home – just in case.
Make a sign for your front yard. This next tip I can’t take credit for. I saw this posted on Facebook by fellow foster blogger and pit bull advocate Our Waldo Bungie. Talk about a forehead slap moment, I can’t believe this had never occurred to me before!
Even as I, after finding lost dogs in my neighborhood, drive around looking for someone who may be out and about looking for their dog or posting signs, I never thought of putting a sign in my own yard if I lost my furbaby. I suppose you could do the same thing if you find a dog, as folks who’ve lost their pets will probably be driving around the neighborhood searching.
Use the Internet. Get together a list of websites that help find lost dogs. Does your local online paper have a lost/found section? Does your neighborhood group have a e-message board or list serve? How about Facebook? In Nashville, there is a Nashville Lost & Found Pets group that has helped reunite many pets with their owners. Learn about what online resources are available to you in advance, so you’re not wasting time scrambling to sign up for accounts and join groups when your pet goes missing. Petfinder.com no longer offers a classified section, but they do have links to articles offering many more tips and steps to take if you lose your pet. Of course, there is also Craigslist, but…
Beware of phishing. It’s sad that people would take advantage of someone who is clearly in an emotional state, but it does happen. If you choose to list your e-mail address on your Craigslist ad, be careful of e-mails you might get with vague information or odd wording, such as “I have information about your pet!” or “I’d like to pray for your pet.” Chances are, these are less-than-legitimate, and these people are betting that you are letting your emotions overrule your better judgement. Responding to them could get your e-mail account hacked.
Hopefully we will never have to go through the nightmare of losing Oscar or one of our foster dogs. But if it does happen someday, I know that we are as prepared as we can be to deal with it. What other steps would you or have you taken to find a lost pet? What’s worked well for you? Is there anything you would add to this list or do differently? Please share your thoughts in the Comments below!