What to do if you lose your pet

Missing! It’s the worst thing that can happen to any parent, regardless of whether your kids have two legs or four. The two most important things to remember when your dog, cat (or child) goes missing is to act quickly and don’t panic. The latter is obviously easier said than done, but you need to act rationally and cover all your bases to increase the chances of finding your missing pet.

According to a study by Emily Weiss, Margaret Slater and Linda Lord, 93% of lost dogs and 75% of lost cats were found and the majority (49% of dogs and 30% of cats) were found by canvassing the neighborhood. ID tags or microchips helped reunite dogs with their families in 15% of cases and 66% of cats were not wearing in form of ID, which may explain why more dogs than cats are found and returned home.

Here are some important steps to follow if your pet is lost or stolen.

Before your pet goes missing (just in case)

These steps won’t stop your pet from getting lost, but they will make the search that much easier.

  1. Make sure your pet is easy to identify. That means a collar with an ID tag that has their name on it, as well as your contact details, and a microchip. And that’s for dogs and cats. Ensure that the details on the microchip register are always up-to-date.
  2. Keep up-to-date pictures of your pet, so that you can print out a bunch quickly and start handing them out. You can use the pictures to create missing posters without delay. The photos should show your pet clearly so that they will be easy to recognise.
  3. Check your property regularly to make sure there are no holes or loose boards in the fence and that the windows close securely so that your dog or cat can’t escape.

When your dog or cat goes missing

As soon as you realise your dog or cat is lost, search the area where they disappeared. Look high and low, so check bushes, under benches, in dark corners, in tree branches, on balconies, etc. Walk the route you came and be just as thorough in your search. Call your pet by name and use all the noises that usually encourage her to come to you.

Talk to everyone you see, if you have pictures on your phone (and who doesn’t) show them and ask them to keep an eye out. Give them your phone number and ask them to call you with any news or information.

When you get home, take the opportunity to get the word out. Phone your friends and family and enlist their help in the search. Contact your local animal control agencies and local SPCA and report your missing pet.

Contact your pet’s microchip registry and report them missing, this will raise a flag if their chip is scanned at any veterinary clinic or shelter. Some registries provide additional support services if your pet goes missing. For example, an app that enables you to send an alert to the registry from your phone, and which also posts alerts on Facebook and animal shelters in your area.

Report lost pets to the police and inform all of the animal shelters in your area and beyond. Don’t forget to call all the veterinarians in area, as well emergency clinics in neighboring areas. Contact boarding kennels and catteries, training schools, behaviorists, dog or cat clubs and even groomers. Sometimes people don’t know who to contact when they find a lost animal and so they call the only animal-related professionals they can think of

When you report your lost dog or cat make sure you can provide their color, age, size, temperament (authorities need to know how to approach your dog or cat if they are found), any form of identification and your details.

Don’t forget about social media. Advertise your missing pet on Facebook and Twitter and list them on websites that specialize in reuniting families. Many of these organisations and shelters have their own lost and found social media pages where they advertise lost or stolen dogs and cats, and they will advertise your pet as well.

Create a poster of your missing pet with a picture, description and your phone number. Leave out one identifying characteristic, so you can qualify people who claim to have found your dog or cat. Don’t include your address and some people say you shouldn’t even include your name. Sadly, there are nasty people out there who will take advantage of that information and either try to scam you, or do something worse. Feel free to offer a reward, but don’t give a value.

Print out a lot of copies – if you don’t have a printer, get to a print shop and make their day with a huge order.

Get a torch and go back to the area where your pet was lost and hand out the flyers. Use your flashlight to check all the obvious and not so obvious places where your pet could hide. No place is too small; even big dogs can make themselves fit into ridiculously tiny crannies. Retrace your route and hand out flyers as you go, using the torch to scan the area thoroughly.

Organise search parties with friends, family and neighbours who are keen to help. Get hold of some maps of the neighborhood and try to be as coordinated and organised as possible. If any volunteers don’t know your pet very well, ask them to phone you if they spot them. If a stranger approaches a frightened animal, it doesn’t matter how ‘soothing’ the voice, they could run for it.

The next day and the day after …

Remember: Don’t panic.

It’s not a total disaster if you don’t find your furkid the same day she goes missing. It may feel like, but it’s not. Many lost dogs and cats are only reunited with their families months after they went missing. And, there are still plenty of things for you to do to keep the search going.

For the next few days you can drive around your neighborhood and neighboring neighborhoods. Drive slowly, call your pet’s name and stop frequently to turn the engine off so you can hear anything promising.

Place an ad in your local newspaper and keep it running until your pet is back at home. Simple classified ads for lost pets are often free, or very cheap, but include a picture if your budget allows. Some local radio stations also report or stolen pets, so it’s worth contacting yours.

Contact your pet insurance company. Many policies offer cover for lost or stolen pets that includes search costs and a reward.

Put up your posters and flyers in as many public places as possible, including supermarket bulletin boards, veterinarians, pet stores, groomers, library bulletin boards, trees, and lampposts – although you may need permission to use lampposts and traffic lights.

Visit animal shelters every day to see if any found pets have been brought in. You can phone the shelters, but often staff don’t always know when a dog or cat has been brought in, or they won’t know what the dog looks like. Even if they do know, they may not recognize your pet from your description. It’s far safer to visit personally.

Keep checking the sites that specialize in lost and found pets to see if your dog or cat has made her way to the found section.

Talk to tradesmen, couriers, postmen and delivery men who frequent your neighborhood; don’t forget to give them a flyer.

Check your own property regularly. Sometimes pets come back but are too traumatised to go back into the house, so they find a safe place to hide. Safe places include in the shed or garage, under bushes (in your neighbours’ sheds and garages and bushes), and in your roof space, etc.

Most importantly, never give up.

Be careful

As desperate as you are to find your dog or cat, don’t let safety slide.

Don’t go out searching at night on your own. If you can, don’t even go out on your own during the day. If you have to go out on your own, don’t carry anything more valuable than your phone and take self-defence spray or a whistle with you.

Don’t let anyone who claims to have found your pet into your home. First verify that it is your pet by asking them to describe the animal they have in detail – it should include the detail that you left off the posters and flyers. If it sounds promising, arrange to meet somewhere public. The police station is a good idea. Ask a friend to accompany you.

Be aware of pet-recovery scams. The most common scam is when someone calls to say they’ve found your pet, but they live out of town and need travel money to meet you or money to transport your cat.

When your pet comes home

Rapturous joy and jollifications!

You may be delirious with happiness, but when you’re rational again there are some loose ends you need to tie up.

Contact al the agencies, shelters, organizations, veterinarians, etc., who have been on the alert and tell them the good news.

Remove your pet from missing pets websites.

Tell all your friends, family, neighbors and anyone else who helped you search. Don’t forget to thank them for their time – a card is nice but a little gift is better.

Remove all the flyers and posters that you’ve put up around town.

Take all necessary precautions to prevent the same thing from happening again.

This website is intended for informational purposes only, and does not replace consulting an animal health or training expert.