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The best advice for capturing a lost dog

May 20, 2013 36 comments

Lost not stray v2Many dog lovers have a dog preference, a certain breed, a certain look, a certain size dog – there is always something about a particular dog that we find ourselves attracted to when we seek our a dog.

For me, it was always the shy dogs. It didn’t matter what breed or size or look they had. The dogs who were fearful and scared, and cowering at the back of a kennel; these were the dogs I always gravitated towards. I still do. 

When I was a volunteer at Minnesota Valley Humane Society, you would often find me sitting sideways in front of a kennel in the impound room, using calming signals to help draw a dog out of his/her kennel. The dogs in this room were often more scared than most because these were the ones who had just been surrendered or who were just found roaming the streets and had been brought in to be held until their owner was found. They were overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of the shelter, and as you can imagine, terrified, scared and afraid of everyone. The last thing they wanted to do was come to you and go for a walk outside.

When I saw one of these scared dogs, I would sit in front of their kennel door and use calming signals to draw them out – lip-licking, bowed head, averted gaze, a sideways profile, these were all behaviors I employed when working with a shy or scared dog. They are the very same signals I used with Cupcake when she was running around that abandoned truck loading dock after being lost for 12 days.

Knowing and using calming signals can be so helpful when working with a fearful dog. They can also be helpful in trying to capture a lost dog. When you use them, you are speaking in a language that most dogs understand. What could be more reassuring than seeing someone speak to you in your own language? 

A friend recently shared this video with me. It’s about using calming signals to capture a lost dog or to calm a panicked dog (and what lost dog isn’t panicked?). It’s not very long but it is definitely worth watching. Maybe you don’t have a lost dog, but some day you may have one. Or you may come across one. Knowing what to do when you do is so important. Please watch and then pass it on. The more people that know the more chances we have to reunite lost dogs with their owners.

Remember, most dogs on the run are LOST, not stray.

Have you ever had your dog escape after someone left a gate open?

April 2, 2013 32 comments

IMG_4190I don’t know about you, but I have become pretty paranoid about my dogs getting loose and getting lost. Maybe it was my whole experience with Cupcake last year (she was lost for 12 very long days) or maybe it’s seeing all the lost dog postings on Facebook every day, but I am now super vigilant about where my dogs are at, whether at home or out and about.

I think one of my biggest worries used to be that someone would leave one of my gates open and the dogs would get out. I have read one too many stories of dogs who became lost after a construction guy or a plumber or a yard guy left the gate open and the dog escaped. What is up with that anyways? Do they not have a brain?

Yesterday I saw another posting, this one on Lost Dogs Arizona. It reaffirmed my belief that putting locks on my gates was not as crazy as I first thought (I could care less if it offends the neighbor).

The posting was a frantic message about a Cattle Dog named Jessi Jane who was lost after the “yard guy left the gate open” and then “chased Jessi Jane” after realizing his mistake. Of course, this only scared her even more and she ran even harder. (Side note: Chasing a dog is the worst thing you can do. If anything, run away from the dog or lay down like you are injured or open your car door and ask them if they want to go for a ride.) Jessi Jane’s mother was absolutely frantic. Who could blame her? I would be too! Fortunately, Jessie Jane returned home one day later. The yard guy was fired and Jessi was home safe.

Seeing yet another story about a lost dog that was the result of someone leaving a gate open made me wonder if this is more common than I think.  
So I would like to ask you… Have you ever had your dog escape the yard because someone left a gate open? If so, was it someone you hired ir maybe a family member? Has it happened to you and what happened with your dog?

Sunny – A dog lost for 96 days in a Minnesota winter and now home

March 31, 2013 16 comments

IMG_0197For those of you who follow me on my Facebook page or follow the Lost Shelties MN page, you already know the good news. Sunny, the Sheltie lost in Maple Grove, Minnesota, is now safely home in Ohio. After 96 days and 23 miles, he was reunited with his dad on Friday evening. It was a very special moment and one I am sure Sunny’s dad and family won’t forget.

For those of you who don’t know the story, I think you will find this worth reading. It is a good example of how important it is to get the word out… AND just how to do it.

Before I share Sunny’s story from beginning to end (My thanks to Cindy from Lost Shelties MN and Mary McTie for letting me share this!), I would like to thank all of the people who helped in his successful return. I would love to name each and every one of you here, but there were so many of you that I am afraid I would forget someone!

Instead, let me just share some of the things you did to bring Sunny home:

  • Offered support to Sunny’s family and coordinated the handing out of flyers (including updating the flyer map on numerous occasions so we knew where to go next).
  • Updated the missing dog flyers so the latest information could be handed out in neighborhoods and posted in store windows.
  • Placed, checked and moved traps in the frigid cold and deep snow – more times than we even know. (Trust me when I say this is hard work.)
  • Managed the incoming calls with sightings of Sunny and handled inquiries from the general public (both on Facebook and over the phone).
  • Made calls to local shelters, police departments and city managers in cities where Sunny was sighted.
  • Monitored all the places that help lost dogs – AHS website, Lost Dogs – MN, Craigslist, in case Sunny was brought in as a stray.
  • Called radio stations to ask them to ask the public to keep an eye out for Sunny.
  • Handed out flyers over and over and over again – and then did it once again (many times in frigid cold).
  • Contacted local newspapers and online news media outlets to alert them to Sunny’s story and the search for him.
  • Placed ads in newspapers and posted info on Craigslist.
  • Made signs to be placed in areas he was sighted.
  • Kept all of the volunteers motivated week after week after week (you know who you are!).
  • Shared Sunny’s picture and story on Facebook and asked friends to share.
  • Prayed, sent good thoughts and hoped that Sunny would be reunited with his family.
  • Called and reported each and every sighting, no matter when that sighting occurred.

A very special thanks to Patti and her husband for reporting that one final set of sightings that brought Sunny home and to Cindy from Lost Shelties MN who handled so much more than we know with absolute grace and charm.

So, without further ado, here is Sunny’s story as it was shared on the Lost Shelties MN Facebook page in Sunday. It still brings tears to my eyes.

Hi Everyone…This is long…I apologize…but it’s been a long journey for Sunny, his family and the rest of us. This is a story worth telling. Thank you all for EVERYTHING you have done to help this precious boy. A lot of hard work by all…but so very rewarding. Grab some coffee and enjoy. And please share this also, as I’m sure through the 96 days that Sunny was gone, there were a lot of people who have seen your likes & shares. Thank you…from the bottom of my heart.

(First, how Sunny was finally caught.) On March 20th, Sunny’s owner called to tell us he got a call from a lady who had seen Sunny. Her name is Patti and she lives in Vadnais Heights. Patti feeds stray cats and she and her husband have a live feed video camera near the bowls. They started to see a Sheltie come around about 11pm, he had been eating at the bowls at least eight times in the last week and a half. Patti checked Craigslist and was sure that dog was Sunny. We were cautiously optimistic. Almost 23 miles (via Interstate 694) from where Sunny went missing on Christmas Eve. If this was Sunny…he was heading for Ohio!

Minnesota Sheltie Rescue (MNSR) volunteers brought a live trap over that night. Patti had a huge bowl of cut up hot dogs, another big bowl of chicken, along with cat kibble and a heated bowl for milk. We set up the trap with the chicken and hot dogs inside. We left the kibble and milk outside – usually we don’t want to leave food outside the trap but a big tomcat was watching the whole time and we figured we would probably catch him multiple times if we didn’t leave something out for him.

The first night, Patti’s husband stayed up til 2 a.m. watching the video…no dog! We set up a motion-activated camera. We thought if we at least saw him come around again, then we would put the word out for flyers in the area. But the dog stopped coming by (or at least he did not appear on the love camera or when anyone was watching the live feed). More days passed and no dog. We started thinking it must have been a neighbor dog, who was sometimes let out to stroll late at night. It started to seem like nothing was going to happen here.

March 28th – Patti called to say they caught a raccoon in the trap! Not good, but there’s always the thought that you have to catch something else before you catch the dog.

6:30 a.m. on March 29th – Patti calls to say they have the dog in the trap! What dog…must be a neighbor dog…some other dog that needs our help? Could it possibly be Sunny? Patti and her husband knew not to open the trap but they offered to bring it inside their garage until our volunteer Pat (another MNSR volunteer) could get there.

Pat and her granddaughter arrived, along with Sunny’s owners’ in-laws. The markings looked right, the size looked right, but there was that tiny bit of doubt that it was another Sheltie that looked a lot like Sunny. The dog sort of wagged his tail at the father-in-law. He was matted and full of burrs, but otherwise didn’t look too bad. They sent pictures to Sunny’s owner in Ohio, and he was on the road by mid-morning.

Sunny went to Karen’s for the day. Pat’s granddaughter spent some time picking burrs out of his coat and he was amazingly relaxed. He got a good nap for the rest of the morning.

At noon on Friday, March 29th, Sunny went to MNSR’s vet, he was checked out and overall opinion was that he is in pretty good shape (blood work results will take a day or two), not thin but obviously he was tired.

Sunny had to meet some more MNSR volunteers later in the afternoon, and he was quite calm for that too. He didn’t approach us, but he didn’t hide or cower. Maybe still somewhat in shock and maybe relief that he didn’t have to run anymore.

Friday evening about 7:00 p.m., Sunny’s owner, Dick, arrives at Karen’s. Sunny looked at him, walked over and sniffed him, and then his tail started to wag a little. He never left Dick after that. Dick sat on the step and talked and Sunny looked at him and listened. Dick would say familiar words and his ears would perk up. He relaxed and laid down at his feet for a while.  We could tell that all was well in Sunny’s world again.

Sunny left Karen’s equipped with a Minnesota Sheltie Rescue (MNSR collar), a harness and was double leashed! After all that, Dick carried him out to the car anyway. Sunny and Dick are driving back to Ohio Saturday morning and should be back home by evening. (Update: Sunny is now home and his overall blood work was good.)

Thank you to everyone who helped in this 96 day search to get Sunny back home. The flyers, the Craigslist ads, the Maple Grove Patch and the City of Brooklyn Park, the sharing on Facebook, twitter and other social media. Thank you to Patti and her husband for feeding such good food to stray cats and a lost Sheltie from Ohio.

Sunny – you captured our hearts. Safe travels home, Sunny and Dick!

*    *    *    *    *    *

Chronology of the search for Sunny

December 24 – Sunny, a Sheltie visiting with his family from Ohio, goes missing.

December 26th – Volunteers hit the streets of Maple Grove flyering the neighborhoods.

January 5th – Sunny sighting south of 85th, by Fleet Farm. Other Sunny sightings. (Major snowstorm January 4th.)

January 13th – Sunny sighting on the west side of the Coon Rapids Dam. Volunteers look on both sides of the dam, the area is heavily flyered.

January 15th – Three Rivers Park (Coon Rapids) police report seeing Sunny near West River Road and chase him into the park. MNSR live traps are set, something is eating the food out of the traps, but nothing is ever caught.

Mid- January – We get a couple reports of a Sheltie near highway 610 and also in Coon Rapids. (Temps the week of January 21st ranged from -30 to -20 degrees with -30 to -40 degree windchill.)

January 26th – A Sheltie is reported in Ham Lake near Constance and Urbank. Volunteers place signs in the area. The traps at the dam are still being checked.

Early February – We start to get multiple sightings in Blaine. Volunteers flyer the Blaine neighborhoods. People see us posting signs and tell us they got the flyer and are watching.

February 13th – Sighting back in Brooklyn Park at 104th and Douglas Drive. Volunteers are back distributing flyers in that neighborhood.

February 14th – 16th – Multiple reports of a Sheltie near Bunker Hills Golf Course. Volunteers flyer a large area in Blaine and Coon Rapids.

February 18th – A woman in Blaine catches the Sheltie in a garage. He is extremely underweight, tired and scared. He’s not Sunny, but he definitely needed us.

February 24th – A man calls to say he saw a flyer but that he saw the dog laying on the side of northbound highway 169. It was at least 2 weeks after he had the sighting. Karen from MNSR drives and walks the area, looking for the dog. Mary goes out March 2 to take one more look before the next big snowstorm. No sign of a dog.

March 11 – Another report of a sighting at 93rd and Noble in Brooklyn Park. Volunteers flyer the area.

March 19th – A sighting in Andover. A live trap is set in the backyard. (Major snowstorm March 18th.)

March 20th – A sighting in Vadnais Heights. A live trap is set next to the house.

March 27th – A report about a dead animal in Blaine. Started thinking the Vadnais Heights dog wasn’t Sunny.

March 28th – A racoon is caught in the Vadnais Heights trap.

March 29th – A dog is in the Vadnais Heights trap. A happy ending to a 96 day search for a lost Sheltie from Ohio.

Two more updates: Rumor has it that Sunny’s story may be featured on the John Williams radio show on WCCO on Monday between 3-6 p.m. and he is once again featured on the Maple Grove Patch (the first time was when he was still missing).

Sunny’s Path:

Cindy from Lost Shelties MN says hello to Sunny

Cindy from Lost Shelties MN says hello to Sunny

Sunny smiles at dad. He is clearly very happy to see him.

Sunny smiles at dad. He is clearly very happy to see him.

Sunny and Dad before the head home.

Sunny and Dad before the head home.

Extolling the Virtues of a Martingale Collar

March 28, 2013 47 comments
Martingale collar from Pink Puppy Designs

Martingale collar from Pink Puppy Designs

The first time I ever saw a Martingale collar was at the dog park. It was worn by a Greyhound that was new to the park.

I probably never even would have noticed the mechanics of the collar if I hadn’t noticed the beautiful coloring of it first. The collar was made of a bright and colorful fabric mixed with a swirl of blues and green and purple. It stood out.

I remember asking the dog’s mom where she had gotten it and her telling me all about the collar, where she had purchased it and why she had it. I was fascinated. Having a dog who regularly slipped her collar (Daisy), I loved the idea that I could purchase a collar that she couldn’t slip out of.

If you have never seen one before, a Martingale collar has two loops instead of one. Most dog collars you see these days are the simple ones that go around the dog’s neck (and hopefully, stay on them) and clip into a buckle. The Martingale collar is different. It is designed to prevent dogs from easily slipping out of their collars.  The beauty of the design is that it does this without cutting off dog’s airflow, as those old choker chains did when I was a kid.

The Martingale is often seen on Greyhounds because a regular collar does not work on them. Why? Because, like Shelties, a Greyhound’s head is smaller than their neck, which means a regular collar can easily slip off their neck, over their head, and they can be off and running before you can catch them. A Martingale allows the collar to tighten around the dogs’ neck without hurting them. The idea here is to keep your dog safe and in your control.

So why am I extolling the virtues of a Martingale collar today? Because I want dog owners to be aware of what is available to them, especially if they have a fearful or skittish dog (or just a dog who regularly slips their collar). Is your dog frightened by loud noises and looks for a place to run and hide? Get a Martingale collar. Does your dog like to chase runners like Jasper does? Get a Martingale collar.

Over the past few months, I have seen WAY too many Lost Sheltie signs and I have seen WAY too many dogs lost because they slipped their collar or weren’t properly leashed. I know it’s selfish, but I am tired of crying over someone’s dog who died because they slipped their collar and got hit by a car. If you have a dog that slips their collar, please consider getting a Martingale (and a harness wouldn’t be a bad idea either). Let’s keep them safe and in our control. I don’t want to read about another dead dog. I’m sure you don’t either.

If you are looking for some great Martingale collars, check out Pink Puppy Designs. They are colorful and fun and safe.

Also check out Classic Hound! They have some really stylish and cool collars for your hound, like the one pictured below. Seriously cool stuff!

Martingale collar

Do you know what to do if your pet goes missing?

January 21, 2013 22 comments

IMG_6554Having a lost dog can be a scary thing for any pet owner. Knowing what to do as soon as they go missing is so very important. It can make all the difference in getting your dog back safely to you.

However, it’s not just the dog owner who needs to know what to do when a dog goes missing. Those who want to help in the search need to know what to do as well. Often the most well-meaning dog searcher can hinder a search by what they do and say. Some have even caused a dog to go missing longer because they were trying to “help” and inadvertently ended up hurting the search.

I thought I would put together a list DO’s and DON’Ts for both owners and those who want to help them. Please feel free to share.

Owner of a Lost Dog

DO

  • Tell everyone you know that your dog is missing. Call all local shelters, animal control facilities, vet clinics and local police to let them know.
  • Make a flyer with the most pertinent information – dog’s picture, coloring and weight, where lost, contact information (i.e., phone number). If you have a shy dog, make sure you also add DO NOT CHASE to the flyer.
  • Place flyers at all local vet clinics, animal shelters, stores and local businesses. Also, start canvasing the area your dog was lost and handing the flyers out to people walking their dogs.
  • Leave a flyer in each residence’s newspaper box (It is illegal to place in mailboxes.) or inside their screen door.
  • Place an ad on Craigslist.
  • Ask for help from friends and family. Ask them to help spread the word or pass out flyers.
  • Share information on Facebook and Twitter – If you have a Lost Dogs Facebook group for your state, share there. There are quite a few that have been created, including ones in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Texas, Minnesota and Illinois.
  • Create signs that you can place in strategic locations so drivers can see them as they drive past. Keep the sign simple (e.g., Lost Sheltie and a phone number) so people can read it quickly.
  • Pay attention to where your dog is sighted. Generally, a dog will establish a pattern of places they visit or hang out. Once you have a pattern, set up feeding stations so he/she stays in the area. When you are certain that they have gotten used to feeding at these stations, set up a trap or traps at those locations and move the food inside the trap.
  • Consider utilizing one of the many services out there to help spread the word – like FindToto.com, etc.
  • Send positive thoughts to your dog. Tell them to go into the trap or to seek out a person for help. It may seem silly, but it does work.
  • Place an article of your clothing or your dog’s bedding in a crate or trap near the location they were lost so they are drawn in by the scent. If your dog went missing from your home, place it in your backyard or in an area they could enter it.
  • Carry smelly treats with you that you can toss to your dog if sighted. Make sure you sit down facing away from your dog or sideways to them and sit quietly with your head down. Don’t speak right away. Just toss the treats towards your dog. (Cupcake was lost for 12 days and by the time I found her she was in survival mode. She didn’t recognize me by sight or sound. It was only when I sat down and allowed her to safely approach me that she was able to smell me. That is when she recognized me.)

DON’T

  • Give up hope. Dogs and cats are much more resilient than we think. They can and do find food and shelter. Princessa’s Story is good example of how dogs can survive the cold of winter.
  • Share trap locations with more than a couple of people you trust. The more people who know about the trap locations, the more the risk you will have too many people monitoring the traps and this could scare your dog away. Make a plan for who will know the trap locations and who will check them and when.
  • Drive around assuming you will see your lost dog somewhere. Utilize flyers and get more eyes looking for your dog immediately.

Lost Dog Searchers

DO

  • Offer to hand out flyers and spread the word. (It was a stranger who offered to hand out flyers that led to me getting Cupcake back. Flyers really do work.)
  • Offer encouragement and hope to the owner of the lost pet. One of the reasons a lost pet is not found is because the owner gives up hope. Help to keep that hope going.
  • Share the lost dog’s story and information on Facebook and Twitter. Most people don’t share because they assume that people don’t live in the area and don’t care, but this is not the case. (When my Cupcake was missing people shared across the globe. One of the people to see her story lived in New York. His parents just happened to live a few blocks from me. They became instrumental in my search for Cupcake and her eventual capture.  People know people who live near where the dog was lost. Never assume they don’t. It can make all the difference.)
  • Call in sightings to the owner ASAP.
  • If you see the lost dog, sit down facing away from them or sideways to them and bow your head and toss tasty treats their way. Don’t talk to them, but do call the owner immediately. The objective is to keep them there until the owner can come to get them.
  • Send positive thoughts to the missing dog and encourage them to enter the trap or seek help from a human. Negative thoughts do not help the dog or owner.

DON’T

  • Add to a lost pet owner’s fears by talking about the chance their dog could be killed by coyotes or cars or cold weather. They already know this and your sharing this information is not helpful.
  • Try to catch the lost dog yourself. Most dogs go into survival mode and will run away from all people, including their owner, because they are afraid. I wrote about this a couple of months ago. Please read it – Why your lost dog may not run back to you.
  • Chase the lost dog. You only risk scaring them further away from the location. We want them to STAY in the area.
  • Ask the owner to call you when the dog is found. (I had many a well-meaning person contact me to find out if Cupcake had been found. When informed she had not, most of them asked that I call them back after she was found. I am sorry, but the last thing on a lost pet owner’s mind is keeping you informed on the status of the missing dog. They are too busy looking for their lost dog.)
  • Assume that the owner hasn’t tried everything to get their lost dog back or make derogatory remarks about how they lost their dog. Under the right circumstances, every single one of us could face this situation with our own dogs. To assume your dog could never get lost goes against all the statistics that say otherwise.
  • Assume that you will be the one to find the lost dog. Offer to help where you can, but  realize that what really finds lost dogs is not someone chasing the dog down. What works is getting flyers and signs out there so more eyes are watching for the dog and an call the owner as soon as there is a sighting.
  • Go looking for the traps after they have been placed. The owner’s scent should be the one that is near the trap not yours. You could inadvertently scare a dog away from the trap by hanging out near it or traipsing around in the area surrounding it and end up leaving your scent behind instead of the owner’s.

Losing a dog is such a heartbreaking and terrifying experience, but knowing what to do can make all the difference. Those who help them need to know what to do too. I hope this helps.

Lost Dogs trap locations

Reflecting on my past year with Cupcake

December 29, 2012 22 comments

IMG_4222The other day I heard one of the radio DJs refer to this week, the week between Christmas and New Years, as the “lost week.” I suppose in some cases this is true. So many people take this week off from work that not much really gets done in terms of “real” work.

But for me, this week is a time to reflect. A time to look back on the year that has passed and to think about what is to come in the year ahead. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I have been doing a lot of reflecting on one particular dog this year – Cupcake, my sweet little Sheltie girl.

My how far she has come in this past year.

Last year, she had just returned home after being lost for 12 days. I was just happy to have her back home again. It was such a relief to know she was safe and not lost in Eagan or someplace beyond.

But this year, I find myself reflecting on her amazing progress.

Is she still a fearful dog? Yes. But, she is not the shy fearful dog I had a year ago. She has grown so much more confident  this past year.IMG_6554

I can still remember the very first day she came to stay with me (as a foster dog). She was so scared and uncertain, both of me and her new home. I remember her standing at the gate watching her former foster mom get into her car to leave and how she ran along the length of the fence, trying to find a way out, to follow her. Dawn had been such a rock in her life up until then. How sad and scared she must have been as she watched her leave.

But that Cupcake is long gone now. The one that has replaced her is so much more confident, happy and secure, not only in herself, but also in others.

IMG_7700The old Cupcake was afraid of all strangers and never would have even considered approaching someone other than me. Over this past year, I have watched her approach people she has come to know as friends (or those she deems as “safe”) as well as strangers. It seems she has learned that some of our dog park friends carry treats, and because she is treat-motivated, she will approach them to get one. At first it was only come close enough to have tit tossed to her, but now she will take them right from the person’s hands. She even approaches people she doesn’t know, if she suspects they have treats.

IMG_7726The new Cupcake also loves to play, and will tear around the house with her brother, Jasper, as they wrestle and growl and act like silly pups. (She has even been known to play a game of tug with her sister, Daisy!)

She also plays with some of the dogs at our dog park, especially Duncan, another young Sheltie, who seems to have caught her eye. She will twirl and jump and dance just to get his attention.

Watching her playful side come out has been such a joy.

IMG_2076The new Cupcake also knows the commands “sit”, “down”, “come”, “drop it” and “watch me”, and is quite good at solving some of the most difficult doggie puzzles. (She also is quite good at stealing the cat’s food, but we won’t mention that one will we?)

In the past year, she has also had the chance to experience new things, like a hike in the woods, putting her toes in a lake, walking along a beach and chasing more  squirrels and rabbits than one can count.

She has also learned to share my attention, doggie bones and her toys with her siblings. She is still the first to corner me in the bathroom, but she doesn’t mind sharing the space with Jasper if he wants to join her.

IMG_7589There is nothing that makes me smile quicker than seeing her little tail wag as she looks up at me.

I love that she will now put her paws up on the edge of the couch and paw at me to let me know she wants some attention. I love that her preferred sleeping space is right next to my bed (or on my bed) and that she wants to be where I am because that is where she feels safe.

I love that she feels safe and happy and curious and confident in her new home. I love that she knows this is her home. (I think she knew it before I did.)

The dog I adopted a year ago has turned into quite an amazing little dog. I never could have guessed she would have come this far in just a year. It makes me wonder… what will she do in the next year?

IMG_3483

Why your lost dog may not run back to you

November 18, 2012 151 comments

Cupcake’s first day home after being lost for 12 days

I was reminded once again this past weekend how much we dog owners don’t know about missing pets. That’s not a judgement in any way,  just an observation. So few of us really know or understand what happens to a pet when they become lost.

This past weekend someone asked me why any lost dog would not just go to their owner once they saw them. It’s a good question. I think most of us just assume that our own dogs would come running to us as soon as they saw us. After all, we’ve cared for them, fed them, cuddled with them and loved them. But, sadly that is not the case for every lost dog – even your lost dog.

I first read this story (Dog Lost for Four Months Recognizes Family by Whistle)  on Life With Dogs back in October. It’s a good example of how a lost dog can become confused and disoriented when they are lost for several days or months. Luna, the dog in the story, was missing for four months. When her family finally found her again, she didn’t recognize them, and even walked away from them when they arrived to be reunited with her. It took two days, six visits and a distinctive whistle by the owner, for her to realize it was them. What had been a puzzling circumstance finally resulted in a happy reunion for all.

She was “crying and yipping the whole way,” said Julia. Luna jumped into Bruno’s arms and began licking his face.

As many of us already know, not all dogs are created equal (if they were our lives would be pretty boring!). Some dogs are happy-go-lucky, love people and other dogs, while others are much more wary and unsure. Puppy mill dogs are especially wary of strangers. They’re also more skittish. They are less likely to stick around and see if the human approaching them is “their” human or someone intending to harm them. As a result, they are much harder to catch and usually have to be trapped.

But a dog does not have to be a puppy mill dog to react this way. Many lost dogs tend to go into “survival mode”. They are frightened, unsure, hungry, tired (exhausted) and on constant alert. In many cases, they are fending for their lives. The longer they live in this state the less likely they are to recognize their owner on sight – and in fact, they are less likely to stick around and wait to see if the person approaching them is their owner.

A year ago this week, my foster dog, Cupcake, was missing. As a lost dog and owner, Cupcake and I had a lot going against us finding one another again – she was a puppy mill dog, had only been with me a little over a month, and was frightened of strangers. She was dodging traffic, coyotes and people in the twelve days she was missing. Talk about being in survival mode – she was definitely in it.

When we finally were able to see each other again it was at a warehouse loading dock. Even as people blocked all her avenues of escape, she continued to run back and forth, trying to find a way out. I was standing right there and she didn’t even recognize me. I called her name and she kept running. I asked if she wanted to go home to see Daisy and Jasper (my other two dogs) and she stopped for a second, then kept running – she was in survival mode, searching for a way out.

It wasn’t until I sat down with my body turned sideways from her, with my head bowed down and avoided eye contact with her, that she came close enough to smell me. I still remember the moment she started to realize it was me. She lifted her nose to the air and sniffed me. Then she moved closer and sniffed again. When she finally got close enough to really sniff me, and to hear my voice, she sighed. It was at that very moment she realized it was me. She leaned into me. She finally knew she was safe.

11/30/2011 – The day Cupcake was found. That’s me in back carrying her.

All lost dogs act differently. As owners, we need to know that before our pet goes missing.

We need to know that chasing a lost dog is one of the worst things we can do. It only reaffirms to the dog that people should be avoided.

So what should you do when you encounter a lost dog or your own lost dog?

  • Sit down.
  • Turn your body so your back or side is to the dog.
  • Keep your eyes averted and bow your head so as to look non-threatening.
  • Toss tasty treats (hot dogs, chicken, smelly cheese, etc.) behind you or to the side of you.
  • Don’t talk.
  • Wait patiently for the dog to approach you. Don’t make any sudden movements, but continue to toss treats.
  • Don’t grab the dog when they get close, but wait patiently and build trust.
  • Speak softly, but if they back away, stop talking and just continue to toss treats until they trust you enough to come closer.

As a dog owner, it pays to know what to do if your dog becomes lost. Below are some sites with some great tips on what to do. I really encourage you to check them out.

Lost Dog Tips

Lost Dogs-MN – Tips and Ideas

How to find a lost Sheltie – Minnesota Sheltie Rescue

How to Find Your Lost Dog (PetFinder)

Lost Dog Quick Action Plan from Granite State Dog Recovery

Cupcake – Happy to be back home.

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