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

January 21, 2013 24 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

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