By Joe Wilkes
It’s the feeling that chills every pet owner. You call your dog’s name and she doesn’t come. You might face an empty backyard, a slipped leash, a left-open front door. Your dog could be anywhere, but the one thing you know is she’s not where she belongs—home with you. The important thing is not to panic. Take a deep breath and start going through the steps below. If you’re calm, methodical, and thorough, you’ll be reunited with your pet in no time.
Phase I: As soon as you notice your pet is gone
As anyone who’s a fan of crime shows on TV can tell you, the most critical time in a missing-persons case is the first 24 hours. The same goes for missing dogs. If your dog has decided to go on an off-leash adventure, the sooner you start looking, the sooner you’ll find him. The longer your dog has to go free, the larger the perimeter you’re going to have to search will be. So as soon as you ascertain that the dog truly is gone (not sleeping behind the couch or hiding in the basement), it’s time to set the wheels in motion.
• Man the phones.
If you’ve been smart enough to put your phone number on your dog’s collar (see How to Prevent Your Dog from Going Missing), you’ll hopefully be getting a call from a neighbor or passerby. If the collar has your cell phone number, make sure you take the phone with you on your search. If the collar has a landline, make sure someone is home to answer the phone in case someone calls. Also, if you put the address on the collar, make sure someone’s home in case your dog gets dropped off by someone or comes home on his own.
The person in charge of waiting at home can also use the opportunity to call local animal shelters, veterinarians, and the police department (check your local phone book—there may be a dedicated animal control number, rather than 911). Make sure you use a different phone than the one on your pet’s ID tag or that you have call waiting turned on so you don’t miss any calls from a finder. And don’t forget to leave your phone number and a description of your dog with the shelters in case he turns up collar-less later.
• Take a picture.
The best timesaver and memory-jogger on your search is a recent picture of your dog. Then you can show potential witnesses the photo and ask if they’ve seen that dog. It’s a lot faster than having to go through a confusing “We think he’s a poodle and a mix of something else and his fur’s different colors but mostly brown…” If you don’t have a picture of your dog, try and print out a picture of the breed he most resembles.
• Bring some bait.
Is there a sound your dog loves to hear? Like the shaking of the treat box or a favorite squeak toy? If so, bring that item on the search and make a little noise. That, along with the tone of your voice, can let your pet know you’re not angry and not cause them to hide from you. Hopefully, he’ll come running when he hears his favorite sound.
• Rally the troops.
Bring business cards or a pad of paper where you can write your phone number with you. Give your phone number to your neighbors or anyone you run into on the search, and ask them to call you if they see any sign of your dog. There are also Web sites like PetAmberAlert.com or Craigslist where you can post your dog’s disappearance to get your word out to the concerned citizens in your area. Your local shelter or veterinarian may also be able to recommend good Internet resources for your area.
Phase 2: The next day
You looked everywhere for your dog, canvassed the neighborhood, and finally had to give up for the night. Hope is not lost though. Dogs have excellent homing instincts and may be meandering back toward your area after their big adventure. If they have been stolen, there’s still a good chance that someone has witnessed something that can help locate your dog. What can you do in the meantime?
• Create a poster.
Include a recent picture of your dog (color, if feasible), your phone number, and a short description of where and when the dog was last seen. Include the dog’s name and offer a reward, but don’t specify an amount. If the reward is too low, people might not bother and if it’s too high, they might think the dog is valuable and try to sell it. Also, duplicate the information in newspaper lost-and-found ads.
• Where to post. Try and hit all the public bulletin boards you can think of—community centers, dog parks, grocery stores, and phone poles in your neighborhood. (Be conscious of posting laws in your area. It’ll be a waste of your time if the poster is removed.) Ask local merchants to display your ad in their display window or next to their cash register. Give stacks of flyers to friends and family and have them go door to door. Give the flyers to postal carriers, UPS and Fed Ex delivery people, and anyone else you know who gets around the neighborhood in their daily routines.
• Check lost and found sites. Check online and check the local newspaper to see if anyone has posted a notice that they have found a dog that matches yours. Your messages may have crossed paths.
It’s been a couple of days, and still no sign
Don’t give up. If your dog had proper identification from his collar or a microchip, chances are good you would have been notified if he had been found injured or worse. No news can be good news, so you should assume he’s out there somewhere. Broaden the perimeter of your search, and begin contacting shelters and police stations outside your immediate area. Also make sure you keep your ads current online and in the newspaper. On Craigslist, for example, it’s very easy for your ad to sink to the bottom of the page or onto the next page as other people post.
Also, keep visiting your local shelters and dog parks with current pictures of your dog. You might find someone you haven’t talked to before with information. Also, check where you posted your flyers to make sure they’re still there and haven’t been covered over.
Keep the home fires burning and hopefully your friend will return to you sooner rather than later. We hear inspirational stories all the time about dogs and their owners being reunited after long periods and over great distances. You could be one of those stories. Just be patient and thorough.