It’s one of the worst feelings imaginable: the panic that sets in when you realize your dog is missing. It happens to someone every two seconds, often when the dog is in someone else’s care, or in an unfamiliar area.
Most pets are back with their family in the first few hours, but the odds of a reunion drop dramatically after that first day. You may not want to even think about it, but the good news is that there are quick, easy, and very effective things you can do right now — when your pet is safe and right next to you — to make sure you’ll always find your way back to each other.
Give Your Dog a Chip and Register It
You probably know a collar with an ID tag is the fastest and easiest way to lose-proof your dog, but getting her microchipped, which your vet can do in minutes for around $50, serves as insurance in case her collar slips off. Smaller than a grain of rice and implanted just underneath the skin, it can be scanned for contact info if your lost pet ends up at a vet or a shelter, even several states away. But studies show only about half of pet owners register their chip afterward, which means the microchip won’t provide contact info when it’s scanned, and many owners don’t update their information when they move. Once your pet is chipped, make sure to also enter your details in the pet registry database — do it now if you forgot — and update everything if things change.
Grab Your Camera
You may have a ton of photos of your four-legged-family member already, but you’ll want to have several different angles that show identifiable marks like unique colorings or spots on her fur. Most people won’t bother contacting you about a sighting unless they’re positive it’s the right one.
Get a Tracking Device
You can now find your dog through a GPS pet tracker, which attaches to the collar and pinpoints her location. It will work only if the battery is charged, and it can be pricey — around $400 and up, plus monthly or annual fees — but that may be well worth it if it helps get your pet home safely. Even if you do take all these precautions ahead of time, you won’t want to just sit and wait for someone to call once your pup goes missing. Go out and search the minute you realize she’s gone; canvass the area and call her name, as she’s more likely to hear than see you, and carry something with her scent, like a favorite toy or blanket, which will help if she’s frightened or disoriented.
If you have another dog at home, bring him along with you, since he’ll be automatically tracking his lost playmate by scent. Most dogs are found within twenty minutes just by searching the neighborhood, but if an hour goes by, you’ll have to take more proactive measures, like these below.
Alert Your Social Networks
Let your Facebook friends and Twitter followers know what’s happening, especially the ones who live in your town and can help in the search. But even those who don’t live nearby can still help by sharing or re-tweeting to get the word out; one worried owner found his dog on Facebook after his post was shared by more than 20,000 people in a single day.
Besides your own friends list, you can post a notice on one of Facebook’s many lost-and-found pet pages (just type in “lost dog” and your city) and on local community pages, or start your own page dedicated to bringing your pet back, with photos and real-time information and sightings. Twitter also provides a lost-and-found service; just use the hashtag #lostdog and your local area.
Make Those Posters Count
Sure, putting up “lost dog” fliers is pretty much a no-brainer, but the more eye-catching, the better. Keep it very simple, with more white space on the page than words. The three most vital things are the words “Lost Dog,” a photo or description, and your contact info.
There are templates on the Web that can give you a professional-looking flier for free, just by entering your dog’s info and uploading a photo (Lostmydoggie.com will even fax it to nearby vets and shelters at no cost).
Print out a minimum of two hundred fliers, and put them everywhere. Hit all the public bulletin boards, ask local merchants to display them, knock on doors, and don’t forget postal carriers and delivery drivers. Offer a reward, but don’t list an exact amount in order to avoid scammers.
Seek Out Dog People
Local pet rescues are usually happy to help out, from notifying their volunteers to be on the lookout to placing a “Lost Dog” alert on their own websites or Petfinder pages.
Alert all veterinarians within a thirty mile radius, increasing that by ten miles every few days she’s not back. A Good Samaritan will often bring a lost dog to a vet instead of to a shelter, injured or not; the vet can also watch for any new patients that fit your dog’s age and description, in case whoever finds her decides to keep her.
Call animal control, your local police department, and highway patrol, which would know of reports of a dog on the loose. Check all the shelters in your area in person rather than relying on the phone; the person who answers may not have updated information.
Try a Virtual Ad
Sites like pets911.com, fidofinder.com, lostadog.com and petfinder.com allow you to place a free lost dog notice online, as well as check a database of found pets in your area. And while Craigslist’s “lost and found” section covers all missing items, including wallets and phones, research shows it’s the most successful way to reunite with your pet online. Even if you don’t find your pet there, it’s routinely checked by local pet rescuers, and they will often volunteer to help with your search. Go to your local “community” section to post a “lost” ad and search the “found” ads each day. Make sure to check all your surrounding cities as well.
Enlist Some Hired Help
Though you’d like to be able to notify every business and talk to every neighbor for miles around, it’s not possible for just one person. That’s why a number of companies offer to do it, alerting every single person within a specified radius — up to 100 miles — of where your pet was last seen.
Starting at around $50, sites like PetAmberAlert.com, GetMyDog.com, LostMyDoggie.com and FindToto.com will make automated phone calls to all homes in the targeted area. They can even make professional fliers that they fax or email to local businesses.
Another option is hiring a pet finder service, which uses CSI-like techniques, tracking equipment, and specially trained search dogs. Fees vary widely, but you can get a phone consultation with a pet detective for around $40 that will help narrow your search based on your local area and your pet’s last sighting. You can find one in your area by going to Missingpetpartnership.org’s National Pet Detective Directory.
How To Make Sure Your Pet Never Goes Missing In The First Place
- Go on walks often. A dog who never gets a chance to explore is likely to bolt out the door at the first opportunity and then won’t have the know-how to find her way back. Make sure to take her on regular walks, so she gets plenty of exercise and won’t have the urge and pent-up energy to explore on her own.
- Keep her safe in the car. When driving with your dog, make sure she’s restrained with a harness or special pet seat belt (you can find them at pet stores). Not only does this keep her safe from injury, it prevents her from running away when she sees an open door — many pets run off at rest stops due to the strange surroundings, or panic after an accident and escape in fear.
- Get the best collar. A dog may try to bolt on a walk when something either spooks her or looks fun to chase, so make sure the collar is tight-fitting enough so she can’t escape (but not so tight that it chokes her). Try a Martingale collar, which is more secure if she tries to slip out of it.
- Check your gate — often. You may have a fenced yard, but not necessarily notice when a slat gets loose or a gopher digs a hole underneath — your dog, however, will. Check your fence periodically to check for wear and tear, since a motivated dog can find its way through even the smallest opening — especially when spooked by a loud noise like thunder.
Enforce the rules. Your family may know to always close the door or back gate behind them, but anyone else who visits — a contractor, babysitter or even a pet sitter — may not pay attention until it’s too late. Make sure visitors know to always keep the gates tightly closed (something that folks without pets don’t routinely worry about). If you’re not there when the landscaper or contractor arrives, leave a note on the gate so they can’t miss it.