Family pet information: How to search for a lost dog or cat

How to find a lost cat or dog

There are few things more stressful to dog or cat owners than losing sight of their animal. What should be a ritual of frantic greetings at the door or a friendly rubbing instead becomes a confusion of broken leashes or open doors, followed by frantic searches and desperate shouting. Your beloved family pet is missing, and finding him or her has now become your first priority. The problem is, where do you begin to look for an animal whose natural instincts are to hide or evade capture? Here are some ideas for organizing a search for a family pet, and some things to avoid doing along the way.

How to search for a lost dog or cat

1. Eliminate the most obvious places first. Could your pet still be inside your home, only covered by some cushions or blocked behind furniture? Many times pet owners will assume the worst and forget to look in traditional hiding places first. If you see an open door or suspect a visitor may have accidentally released the animal while you were away, then you can assume he or she has definitely left the house. If you can’t see any feasible means of escape and your pet is not visible, start with the house first.

2. Check around the next level of barriers. Even if your pet managed to escape the house or was let out accidentally, could they maneuver around the fence or gate? Dogs and cats are both great jumpers, but a missing toy poodle most likely did not scale a four-foot security fence on its own. Look for obvious signs of a compromised barrier- holes under the fencing or a unlatched gate. If the barrier is secure and your pet is not known to be a flight risk, then look under the house or in a tree. Pets sometimes seek shelter in garages or under vehicles.

3. Ask the neighbors. If your pet could have escaped your yard area, then he or she may have been attracted to a neighboring yard. Dogs are pack animals by nature, and sometimes a neighbor’s dog will be a temptation. A neighborhood female dog may also be in heat, which would explain a male dog’s efforts to escape. Cats are solitary explorers by nature, so they may have gone to explore a new smell or another cat intruder. By asking the neighbors if they’ve seen your animal, you can narrow down the possibilities tremendously. Even if they say no, you can still ask about their own pets and the possibility your animal is with them unknowingly.

4. Call the local animal control office ASAP. You might be concerned about violating leash laws or other legal matters, but those are incidental compared to finding a child’s pet. Many times an animal control officer will know if a neighborhood animal is in heat, or if a pack of dogs have been reported to authorities. If your pet has been gone for several hours, there is always a chance he or she has already been picked up by animal control officers. A quick visit to the city pound may save hours of fruitless searching. Situations like this point out the need for proper identification tags or implants for your animal.

5. Start putting up posters and flyers. It’s always a good idea to get the word out about a missing pet, especially if he or she has been lost for days. Good Samaritans may have picked up an injured or ‘stray’ dog and haven’t had time to report their find. Always keep a recent picture of your animal at hand, along with any distinguishing characteristics (injuries, markings, habits) and its name. This may be a good project for younger pet owners- they need something constructive to do in order to get their minds off the possibilities. Offering a monetary reward is optional, but it does get results. Some people will ignore stray animals unless they are obviously someone’s pet and have proper identification. The important thing is to have your pet returned unharmed, so don’t quibble about the costs of a reward- many people turn down the offer anyway.

6. If you can, wait it out. Sometimes the hardest part about a lost pet is the hours and days of uncertainty. Some owners would rather know their pet was fatally injured by a car instead of wandering alone in unfamiliar territory for days. As long as the animal remains missing, there is little sense of closure.

Sometimes the best hope you have is to wait it out and see if your pet returns home on its own after wandering off. Cats and dogs do possess an innate sense of direction, so it’s always possible that a pet was temporarily disoriented and just couldn’t find its way home right away.

7. Invest in a pet locator system. If losing a pet causes too much anxiety, you may want to consider getting a system designed to track whatever is wearing a special collar. These systems aren’t cheap or widely available, but you can use a Lo-Jac style locator to narrow down the search for a pet. Ask your local pet store about these locator systems and see if they might be feasible for your particular pet. Oftentimes a vet can install a microchip under the animal’s skin that can be read by a scanner in another vet’s office. This information can then be accessed by computer and the owner’s name and address should appear. Veterinarians often become the best hope for a successful animal recovery, because people will seek out places that do not practice euthenasia on stray animals.

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