By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind
I lost Sam twice. In 1991 he was stolen from my yard and in 1999 he ran away while my house was burning down. Both times, I got him back.
After Sam was missing for three weeks in 1991, a woman showed up on my doorstep on a Sunday morning with my little Sam, then only 5 months old, in her arms. As she explained, one of the neighborhood (Lakeview in Chicago for those who know that area) gangbangers broke into our very well-locked six foot wooden privacy fenced backyard. From her I learned they saw Sam on walks and targeted him as a very expensive Doberman Pinscher puppy. They were scoping out our yard nightly and waited until he was outside alone.
She explained that she had horrible guilt from seeing the missing pet signs all over the block and wanted to do the right thing. She also shared “my boyfriend is getting frustrated that the puppy isn’t growing and so maybe he ain’t a Doberman after all” (gee, ya think?) So there she was, assuaging her guilt, breaking bad on her cretin of a boyfriend and giving me a second chance at what turned out to be a wonderful dog for me for the next 16 years.
I’ll save the fire story for another time. Now go check on your dog in the yard please.
If I had to make a list of “Top Ten Horrible Things That Can Happen to Pet Owners”, having a pet go missing would be right there at the top (as I obviously know from experience). It’s an awful, awful feeling – Rover slips his collar during a walk, Fluffy wiggles out through a loose screen, or Polly flies away because you forgot she was out of the cage when you answered the door. Lost pet statistics are pretty grim – one in three pets will go missing in his or her lifetime. (And more pets go missing on the 4th of July than at any other time – no surprise there.)
In those first few frantic hours after a pet goes missing, it can be tough to focus on what needs to be done. However, having a plan of action set up in advance will make things a lot easier.
Get a description and photo out on social media as soon as possible. Include the pet’s last known location, your contact info, distinguishing characteristics, and behavior notes (friendly, do not approach, fearful, likes peanuts, etc) in the description. Ask your friends to share far and wide; sometimes the sighting report that comes from the friend of a friend of a colleague five times removed is the info that will bring your pet home.
You can find any number of lost pet flyer templates online. Fill one out in advance for all of your pets, so that you don’t have to search for the right picture after they go missing.
Post info on lost pet boards and apps. There are lots of apps out there for missing pets: ASPCA, Lost Pet USA (and/or your local version of Lost Pet), and various iOS and Android apps. Find one that has good coverage, is easy to use, and that will work on your phone. Stash a photo and important info on your phone (or email it to yourself) so that you can create an alert on the fly.
Apps like PiP and Finding Rover use facial recognition software to help identify lost pets. If your pet is listed with a microchip registration or lost pet service like PetHub*, PetKey, 24PetWatch, HomeAgain, or Figo, activate an alert there as well.
Paper the neighborhood. Don’t discount the effectiveness of old-school paper flyers posted or handed out at dog parks, dog runs, shelters, intersections, vet offices, retail outlets, trees, lamp posts, and schools. Ask your friends and family to help you cover as much territory as possible, spreading out in concentric circles from the last known sighting.
Check with animal control or local shelters. Your pet may picked up as a stray or turned in by someone in the neighborhood. Call or visit all of the shelters or facilities in your area on a daily basis until your pet is found. If there are no shelters or rescues near your home, contact a non-emergency number for your local police.
Ask for help! Pull in all those favors and trot out the emotional blackmail if necessary. You can’t mount a successful search without help; the more people who participate in the search, the more likely it is your pet will make it home.
Gather all of your information in advance and put it in one place.
- Photo, description, microchip and tag info
- A lost pet template, with basic info already included
- List of lost pet websites and apps, with your login info
- Contact info for police, shelters, and animal control facilities
- Contact info for all of the friends who can help you search
- List of places where you can post flyers (vets, stores, dog parks, etc.)
Give all of this info to your dog walking/pet sitting service, along with instructions for deployment in your absence.
Prevention is your best weapon. A good solid recall can save you a lot of heartache. And, yes – cats and birds can be taught recall commands as well! Clicker training is a wonderful thing.
And, most importantly – get your pets microchipped, tagged, and registered, and keep that information up to date at all times.
*The award-winning PetHub is the driving force behind Lost Pet Prevention Month; read their story and register your pets here.