Missing Pet: What To Do If It Happens To You


Last fall, posters started popping up all over my neighborhood featuring a cat who had gone missing. Sheets of paper taped to light posts and stop signs showed a picture of a black and white cat, with a phone number and the word “Reward.” As the weeks passed, more detailed posters went up that included information with the cat’s name, age, breed, etc.

milkcartonMonths went by and updated posters continued to go up. I thought about the missing cat all the time. I looked for her in every alley I passed, and scanned the streets as I walked my dog. I even had a dream that I found her safe and sound.

The last poster I saw was in December, but I still wonder about her often. Did she get home? How are her caregivers handling it? I look at my dog, safely asleep on her bed, and wonder: What would I do if she ever got lost?

Losing a pet is not something anyone wants to imagine, and it’s easy to assume it will never happen to you. However, even if your pet is always by your side, unforeseen circumstances do arise, and any pet can end up missing. Read on to learn what you can do prevent losing your pet, as well as what steps to take if the unthinkable happens.

IDs, Please

Collar, tag, microchip. These three things can make the difference between a pet coming home quickly and safely, or a pet not coming home at all. Collars and tags alone are not enough because they may fall off or become worn out and unreadable. Microchips are not sufficient on their own either, as they’re only useful if your pet ends up in a facility with a universal scanner, and if the information is kept up-to-date.

Next time your pet has a check-up, ask your vet to scan the microchip to ensure it’s in the right place and still working properly. This will also allow you to make sure that all stored information is accurate. Replace and update your pet’s tags if they wear down or any of your contact info changes. If jingling tags bother you, write your information on a piece of paper and adhere it to your pet’s collar with clear packing tape. You can also try tag silencers, products made to cut the noise. Make sure that whatever number you provide on the tag has a working voicemail, and consider including your email address as well.

If Your Pet Goes Missing: Immediate Actions

The more eyes and ears you have looking for your pet the better chance you have of a safe return, so cast a wide net. If you’re in Chicago, the first places to contact are the Animal Welfare League (AnimalWelfareLeague.com) and Animal Care and Control (CityOfChicago.org/AnimalCareControl), which are often the first stops for animals found wandering the streets alone. Also call all surrounding animal control centers, police departments, park districts, humane societies, shelters, rescues, and veterinary clinics. (TailsInc. com has a comprehensive list of many of these places under our Resources tab.) Provide them with your pet’s photo, as well as information on his or her age, breed, size, color, sex, medical needs if applicable, important personality traits, and last known location.

Many rescue organizations maintain lists of found pets, so check their websites or call them directly. Register with online lost pet databases, such as LostFoundPets.us, LostPetUSA.net, TheCenterforLostPets.com, or LostDogsIllinois.org. These sites allow you to enter your pet’s information into a national database, and search among posts of found pets.

Social media is another extremely effective tool. Facebook, Twitter, and photo sharing sites provide centralized methods for spreading the word about your missing pet, and help expand your search party.

The Flyer

Notifying others in your community is just as important as notifying animal care organizations. Flyers should be brightly colored to attract eyes, and should include a recent photo of your pet. Text should be succinct and large enough to read from a distance so that people walking by can quickly read it. Include your pet’s name, breed, and age, as well as information about where he or she was last seen, your contact information (minus your address), and anything else that could be helpful (such as “wearing a blue collar” or “timid around strangers”). Do write “Reward” on the flyer, but avoid specifying an amount to detract scammers.

Post your flyers in high-traffic areas with the most people passing by, such as near schools, grocery stores, gyms, coffee shops, and transportation stops. Take into account how far your pet is likely to have gotten and focus your attention there. Most pets are recovered within a two-mile radius of home, according to Petfinder. However, if your pet is young or very athletic, he may have strayed farther. Aim to cover a two- to five-mile radius.

Check your flyers frequently to make sure they are not damaged or torn down, and be sure to keep extras in your car so you can replace them if needed. It can be helpful to put them in plastic bags or sheet covers to protect them from rain or snow.

To download templates for lost and found pet flyers visit TailsInc.com/LostFoundPets.

Organizing an Effective Search

The more details you can provide about your pet, the better chance you have of locating him or reaching someone who already has. The Missing Pet Partnership (MissingPetPartnership.org), a non-profit organization that provides a variety of resources to people looking for their pets, explains that the methods used to find a pet vary by species, personality, behavior, and temperament. For example, indoor cats are more likely to be hiding somewhere than walking around on the streets. Friendly dogs are more likely than timid dogs to go up to a stranger who calls them.

There are other factors to take into account when planning the best course of action: weather, terrain, and population density all impact how far your pet may have traveled and where they could end up. Nicer weather, less residential terrain, and smaller populations often lead to pets traveling farther from home.

Be aggressive in your search and never give up hope. A 2012 ASPCA survey found that 93 percent of missing dogs and 74 percent of missing cats are eventually recovered, thanks to proper identification, diligent canvassing, and helpful neighbors.

I may never know if the missing cat from last fall ever made it home, but her caregivers’ diligent efforts created awareness so that my neighbors and I were constantly on the lookout, and could take action if we spotted her.

Remember, any pet can get lost. Having a plan before it happens and acting quickly greatly increases your chances of a quick and safe return.

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