By Jon Bastian
One of the biggest nightmares of every dog lover is to suddenly find their pet gone missing, and the busiest week of the year for missing dogs is around the Fourth of July holiday. Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to improve your chances of recovering your dog should it ever become lost, as well as things you can do to keep the unthinkable from happening.
The key word is “identification.” Your dog cannot tell humans her name or address, so it is up to you to make sure she can be identified if found. At the very least, she should have a legible ID tag with her name and phone number, attached securely to a collar and, if required in your area, an up-to-date dog license. Instead of a hanging ID tag, you should consider the kind that slides into a slot on the collar and is easily visible without someone having to reach under your dog’s mouth to read it – a would-be rescuer may not be able to get that close.
Of course, collars and tags can be lost or removed, so your best bet is to have your dogs microchipped. In this quick and relatively painless procedure, a tiny RFID chip is implanted under your dog’s skin, usually between the shoulder blades. When passed under a scanner, it emits a signal with an ID number that is registered to the owner. Many shelters and veterinarians now stock these scanners as standard equipment, and should your dog wind up at either, having a chip will ensure that she is identified and returned to you.
Something else you should have that people don’t think about are current, color photos of your dog. These should include clear headshots from the front and side, as well as a full-body profile to show markings, posture, and any distinguishing characteristics. Store the originals, digital or print, securely, and take new photos every six months to a year. If your dog is lost, these will be the source for any “Missing” flyers or postings. The better the photos are at capturing what is unique about your dog, the more useful they will be for relocating her.
Finally, before your dog is lost, take steps to make sure he can’t become lost by running away. If you have a yard, it should be secured by fences or walls too tall to be jumped over or climbed. Those boundaries should also be buried deeply enough to make them difficult to dig under, and any weak spots should be reinforced or repaired. Finally, gates should be secured with bolts that can’t easily pop open or latches that can’t be nudged or bumped by free by a curious canine. The same should be true of windows and exterior doors in condos or apartments.
The first thing to consider if your dog is lost is its state of mind at the time. There are three major reasons dog can be lost. Opportunistic: They discover a way to escape, and curiosity leads them away. Exploration: They can actively escape because of the need to explore — commonly seen in intact males and some breeds of hounds. Panic: The most common reason dogs are lost around the Fourth of July but also seen in cases of traumatic events, like natural disasters or car accidents. Opportunistic dogs are the least likely to wander too far and may even return on their own. On the other hand, panicked dogs may run blindly for blocks or miles, and then wander lost for days.
Another factor to consider is your dog’s personality. Sociable dogs, who will approach strangers in a friendly manner, are most likely to be picked up by someone very quickly. Aloof dogs may avoid human contact for a while, until hunger or some other situation makes it necessary to approach. Fearful dogs will travel the farthest, and their frightened demeanor can lead to people assuming that the dog has been abused. The combination of manner of escape and personality of the dog will give you a good indication of how wide you should cast your search net. Opportunistic, sociable dogs are probably close to home or already with a would-be rescuer, while panicked, fearful dogs could be miles away, in hiding.
Remember the photos? Now is the time to put together large posters with picture, description, and your contact information, and start posting them around in the area you might expect your dog to be. You should also print smaller versions of the fliers to distribute in businesses in the area — both dog-oriented and not: veterinarians, pet stores, coffee shops, stores. Meanwhile, locate all of the shelters in your area, and start contacting them. Many now post pictures of found dogs on their websites. Visit local shelters to inquire about recent intakes. Be persistent but focused. If you don’t have the time to do all of this yourself, there are agencies that will handle distributing flyers and mailers for you; you can find them by searching online for pet detectives. Many rescue organizations also offer advice for the search on their websites.
Most importantly of all, do not give up in your search. B.J. Ross of Altoona, Pennsylvania, was recently reunited with her beloved cocker spaniel, which had disappeared during a severe snow storm a year ago, and stories of such long-term reunions are not uncommon. While conducting your search, remember, you are still the pack leader while your dog is probably anxious, scared or confused. You owe it to him or her to remain calm and logical while you search.