We all know that sick feeling in the pit of our stomach when, even for a moment, we fear one of our pets is missing. My wife and I follow some simple security measures like doing a head count before we leave the house, never leaving our pets outside unattended, and locking our outside gates. Prevention is primary, but knowing what to do if your beloved pet ends up missing can help save its life. I asked Michelle Humphries, founder and president of the Georgia Humane Society, for advice.
The very first thing to do is search your property completely, both inside and out. Cats and small dogs can hide in the strangest places. Calmly look around for possible nooks and crannies they might crawl into and get stuck or go to sleep in. Even when you call them, they might not feel the same sense of urgency that you do about this. Be patient and thorough. The most important thing is to not lose your head. Make a list, and follow the steps. I know that is much easier said than done.
After ruling out the inside of your house, look around the outside. Can your pet possibly burrow under your front or back porch? Could they do that next door? Examine your property for possible hiding places. Check them all out, and then move on to your neighbors on each side. This is one of the best reasons to get to know your neighbors ahead of time. Look in any outside sheds or closets and doorways to basements that might have been propped open. Talk to your neighbors, the postman, the garbage crew, parents waiting with their kids at nearby bus stops. You never know who might have seen something. Always call your animals as you walk. Most pets will hear you and know you are out there looking for them. The most important thing is to never give up!
It is a good idea to post Lost signs around your neighborhood. Michelle suggests something simple like: LOST! MEDIUM SIZE DOG, BROWN AND WHITE, YOUR PHONE NUMBER, and possibly REWARD! Breed is not so important, because many people do not know the difference. DO NOT include your name and address. Scam artists could pick up this information and use it against you. The important thing is to make your sign short and sweet. Drivers might only catch a glimpse of it while passing by, and you want them to be on the lookout for the right things. Flyers containing this information would be good to pass out to your neighbors as well.
While you’re out posting Lost flyers, look for Found flyers. Several years ago, my wife found a stray chocolate lab mix without a collar while she was walking our dog Owen. We quickly discovered that this little Houdini could easily escape any collar, so we took him with us while we posted Found flyers around our neighborhood. As we were stapling a flyer to a telephone pole, a station wagon pulled up to the curb next to us, and a mom and her two young daughters leapt out of the car crying, “Hershey!” Hershey responded to finding his family with gleeful woofs and much tail wagging!
The next step is to contact your local police or animal control office. Go to www.spotsociety.org to find the email addresses and phone numbers of local shelters in your area. If your pet is picked up on the street, this is where they will probably end up. If your pet is wearing tags, you will probably get a call. Do not depend on the shelter workers to do this though. They may be understaffed and overwhelmed with a flood of stray and surrendered animals. It is important to call them and stop by their offices. You can never be certain unless you go and see for yourself, so do not overlook this crucial step.
If your pet’s tags are missing, their best chance of getting home is having a microchip. These are inexpensive and could be the one thing that saves your pet’s life. If your pet gets lost and doesn’t have a collar, they can be located if someone scans them. All shelters in Georgia are now required to scan before they euthanize an animal. Each chip has a corresponding serial number that the chip company will use to trace your pet back to you, so it is very important to register your up-to-date contact information with the chip company.
Those are only a few of the basics for doing a physical search for your lost pet. There are many online resources as well. A comprehensive list of steps to take can be found at http://www.petrescue.com/petlibrary/pet-rescue/how-to-find-a-lost-cat-or-dog/.
Don’t forget to check and post on local community online forums like Patch and Facebook to reach more people to help find your pet. One website my wife and I have used to return lost animals to their owners is http://atlanta.craigslist.org/laf/. People are often steered clear of using Craigslist regarding pets for several reasons, but the Craigslist Lost and Found section can be an invaluable tool when it comes to others reuniting you with your pet. Be certain to list your missing pet there and check their Found listings. A stranger may have already rescued your pet and be looking for you.
Michelle also advises to post a free ad in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. Their number is 404-577-5772, and you can have up to three lines of print. She suggests abbreviating things like brown = brn & white = wht – and leaving off articles (like “the”, “a”) to save space. Location (like Stone Mountain, N. Decatur) is very important to include as well. Then watch the paper for found ads. People often do try to help.
Knowing what to do if your pet does get lost will help reunite you in the shortest time possible. The most important thing is to keep a cool head and follow your plan. Leave no stone unturned, and hopefully, your pet will be back safe and sound at home with you in no time. And, remember, being a good neighbor works both ways – you may have to rely on the kindness of strangers to help a pet get home to you, so be willing to help someone else who is searching for their lost pet!