Recently I have become consumed by lost pets. Being an animal lover from birth (my mom used to call our dogs “my brothers”), my heart breaks for owners whose dogs have escaped and are wandering on their own. I get anxiety thinking about my sweet little Reggie and Max, who have been spoiled to death since the day they were brought home, out in the cold, dodging traffic or being picked up by someone evil. When I was put to the test IRL Thursday afternoon after encountering a lost black lab, I realized knowing what to do if you lose or find a pet is essential.
IF YOU LOSE YOUR PET
- Spring into action immediately: You have a much better chance of finding your lost pet if you start searching the second you realize he/she is lost. Notify friends, neighbors and social media sites (such as LostPetPR, Lost and Found Pets of Delaware, SPCA, Delaware Humane Society, Faithful Friends, the Lost & Found section of Craiglist, etc.) to spread the word quickly. Most pets are recovered during the first 24-48 hours of being missing.
- Make posters and fliers: Big, neon, clearly labeled posters, and hang them everywhere. Be sure to include identifying information, including breed, color, size and pet’s name, along with owner contact information (either phone or frequently checked email) and a picture of your pet. It’s also a good idea to offer a reward, but don’t specify the amount until you get some real information.
- Start canvassing the area from where your pet became lost. Enlist friends and neighbors to walk the area, looking for tracks and checking in areas that look like good hiding spots. The Zello app works like a walkie talkie system to keep up communication. However, too many people might spook your pet into running further, so keep the search organized and calm.
- Call all animal shelters, animal control centers, veterinary clinics and emergency animal hospitals in your area. Other good resources to notify include groomers, dog training facilities, kennels, highway departments and local law enforcement. Go check shelters frequently, as they have a large intake of animals to keep track of; sometimes pets can look different after a few days on their own, and pictures are not always accurate.
- Issue a Pet Amber Alert through FindToto.com, which will alert users in your area.
- DO NOT GIVE UP! Animals are resilient, and can survive in conditions which we wouldn’t expect them to. There are many stories about animals that were lost for days, weeks, months or even years, and then happily reunited with their families! If your pets are lost, they will be trying to find you, so don’t stop trying to find them!
LostPetPR has wonderful suggestions for lost pet owners, including information on lost cats, which are much different than lost dogs.
IF YOU FIND A LOST PET
- Do Something: In my situation, the dog I saw was so friendly that she ran right to me, jumped in my car and was wearing a collar ready to be hooked up to a spare leash I had. Obviously, this was a best case scenario, and after walking around a few neighborhoods I reunited Abby with her relieved owner. If you see a lost dog and can stop and capture it, that would be ideal. If not, still notify people in the area- residents, kids, even crossing guards-that you saw a wandering animal.
- Safety First: Do not put yourself in harms way when approaching a lost pet. Sudden movements can trigger a pet to run right into traffic, so stay calm, use a sweet voice and try to create some sort of barrier or trap. Call your animal control center for backup if you feel you cannot handle it.
- Be prepared: I happened to have a leash in my car for my own dogs, but after my encounter I will keep it there forever! The Humane Society suggests an emergency prep kit, including
- Phone; phone numbers of local animal control, a shelter, and a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic
- Cat carrier or cardboard box
- Collars and strong leashes for dogs
- Heavy blanket; water bowls and water
- Strong-smelling foods, such as canned tuna or dried liver
- An animal first-aid kit.
- Know Who to Call: In Delaware, the First State Animal Control facility does animal control for ALL THREE COUNTIES. My first instinct was to take the dog home, but in retrospect realized that could have created more problems for myself and the frantic owners. Shelters often get a bad rap, but they have resources to help with these situations, and can assist in scanning for a microchip or providing medical attention for injuries.
- First State Animal Control:
32 Shelter Circle
Camden, Delaware 19934
Phone: (302) 698 – 3006
- Ask for proof of ownership: If you are able to foster a lost dog, make sure the person who claims it is legitimate. Owners should be able to provide identifying information, such as appearance or vet records, about the found pet before claiming it.
THINK PREVENTION FOR PROTECTION
- Have a good picture of your pet: Not one where he is under the covers, or rolling around, but a picture that shows your pet from multiple angles, and any identifying features.
- Check your fences regularly: It takes about 5 minutes to walk around your property to look for holes, loose boards or dug out spots that your pet can escape from. Make sure to check your fence especially after high wind storms.
- Always keep a collar with dog tag on your pet: If someone finds them, they have easy access to all of your contact information, and could easily hook a leash to them.
- MICROCHIP: While a microchip, like the one offered by HomeAgain, DOES NOT work like a GPS, it does help vets and animal shelters determine ownership. Get your pet chipped, and take the second step of registering it online!
- Know who is caring for your animal: In a recent heartbreaking story, a trusted dog-walker lost a woman’s beloved pit bull under bizarre circumstances. Although a freak occurrence, and in no way the owners’ fault, it made me think twice before hiring a random college student to dog-sit for me. Interview dog-walkers, pet sitters and boarding kennels intensely, ask for multiple references, and detail a plan of what to do if your pet does become lost. (Note: the search for Sugar is still ongoing, and could use your help! Check out the Facebook or Twitter on ways to volunteer.)
- In the famous words of Bob Barker, spay and neuter your pets! So many abandoned animals are the result of random breeding between lost or stray animals. Taking the time to fix your pets can help prevent the ever-expanding pet population!
Whether you lose or find a pet, action makes all the difference. As I frequently remind my students, no one can do everything, but everyone can do one thing, and that one thing might change someone’s life.
Some information obtained through: