It's one of the worst feelings: you aren't sure where your pet is. Most of the time, we strive to keep a close eye on our favorite animals. But some scenarios may happen that are beyond your control: your dog may escape his leash, your cat may run out the door when you have visitors, or your dog may climb over the fence in the backyard.
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It's good to put a little thought into any of these worst-case scenarios before they happen, because if any of them do happen, you might be so panicky that you aren't thinking clearly. The following steps can help you maintain your calm and hopefully help you to be reunited with your pet as quickly as possible.
Keep recent photos on hand
Whether you want to print out "lost dog" flyers or just go around to the neighbors on your street, being able to have some good photos of your pet to show people is key. You likely took lots of photos of your dog or cat when they were a super cute puppy or kitten, but if you haven't taken any lately, now's a good time to do so. You'll want to be able to use them on a poster, or show the veterinarian or animal rescue in your neighborhood what your pet really looks like today.
Get your pet chipped
The American Veterinary Medical Society explains that a microchip is about the same size as a grain of rice. The information that is encoded in this chip is readable when a scanner is placed over it. The microchip is placed under the animal's skin with a hypodermic needle, similar to an injection or vaccine procedure, with no surgery or anesthesia required. The veterinarian can place the microchip in your pet, but that is only the first step.
You must register your information with the microchip company. If you do not do this, then when the chip is scanned the chip will come up "blank" with no way to connect you with your lost pet. The microchip is not a GPS device and cannot track your animal if it gets lost. The chip manufacturers usually just encode an ID number in the chip as a privacy protection so that a random person can't access an owner's identification.
Create a list of animal resources
You likely already have your veterinarian's number in your phone, and that's great. If not, take the time to create a contact list of people you would reach out to in case your pet ever came up missing. This will take the pressure off at a time when you are stressed out and may forget someone who could potentially help you.
Here are some some smart contacts to add to your list. If your pet does get lost, call or visit them daily and provide them with your pet's microchip info.
- Your veterinarian and other vets in the area
- The nearest 24-hour emergency animal hospital
- All of the local animal shelters within 60 miles of your home. You might be tempted to just add the ones nearest you, but you don't know where your pet might end up.
- All of the animal control agencies in your area
- All of the animal rescue groups in your area.
- If there is no shelter in your community, add the phone number for the local police department or sheriff.
- Online resources, such as Facebook groups or apps that you might forget about
- The classified sections of your local newspaper
Steps to take if your pet gets lost
Search the neighborhood
Act fast, because the sooner you can find your lost pet the better, because it means they have less of a chance to go far. Take your pet's favorite treats or leash (especially if they get excited by hearing you get out the collar for a walk) and scour the neighborhood calling your pet's name. Walk, ride your bike, or drive slowly through the neighborhood in your car so you can cover the most ground.
Look in places where your animal might be trapped or hiding, such as in the neighbor's garage (with permission, of course), underneath their RV, or the like. Walk around when it's quiet, like at night, and call your pet's name.
Print out posters
If searching the neighborhood doesn't bring them back, use those current photos you have and print lots of posters. Make them big enough to be eye-catching, and include visual images and a written description, as detailed as you can be. Don't assume that everyone knows what a "Persian cat" looks like, so describe their hair color, length and style of fur, body size, tail, ears, etc. Make sure you include your pet's name and your own contact info.
You might consider offering a reward, because this might encourage people to help you search. In addition to the posters, you could print out index cards with a photo of your pet and your contact info and place them in mailboxes or on car windshields around the neighborhood. Your pet may be frightened, so you could request that your neighbors kindly check their garages, parked boats, barns, etc.
Use the internet
Take your pet's info to social media. Join some Facebook groups or other neighborhood apps (like Next Door) where you can post information about your lost pet and reach more people in your local area.
There are some apps and sites, such as Pet FBI, which can help you broaden the search for lost pets. Don't forget about free sites such as Craiglist. Add these to your list of resources so you remember to use them as resources if you need to.
Watch out for scams
What may be the saddest part about losing a pet is that you're likely to do just about anything to get them back, and pet scammers know this. If you include a reward amount on your flyer, someone might say they'll give you your dog back if you wire them the reward money. Then, it could be likely that you'll never see your dog because they didn't actually have them.
It's also possible that someone might try to steal your pet to sell them to someone else, particularly if your animal is a purebred. Check with online sales sites to see if an animal fitting the description of yours comes up for sale.
There are some scam websites that might promise to connect you with the person who has your pet if you provide them with a fee. Only you can evaluate whether someone seems truthful about having your pet or not, so be sure to do your due diligence in investigating anyone's claims, particularly if they are requesting money to reunite you with your pet.
Remember, a little preparation goes a long way. Be sure to have your pet microchipped (and to register their microchip with your current information), keep recent photos of your pet handy, and to have a list of resources to reach out to in the unfortunate event that your pet gets lost.