Become a Pet Detective! Learn how a lost dog or lost cat thinks and acts and discover clues that tell you where to find them.
Moxy likes to run—so it can be hard to find a dog like him when he goes missing. Running is just part of what an English springer spaniel does, though, so even though he loves his home and family, he also loves to chase, hunt, and see what might be just over the next hill. When he escapes, his owners need all their dog-finder skills.
One time, Moxy managed to find his way out of the yard after a deliveryman left the gate open. His owners scrambled into pet detective mode and drove around the neighborhood all night looking for him. Finally, after three days of hand-wringing and putting up “lost dog” signs, the county shelter called to say that they had Moxy.
He didn’t have his collar on anymore, but he did have a pet microchip—one of the best ways to find a pet available today—and the shelter workers were able get all of his information by scanning it.
Your window of opportunity to find a dog is fairly narrow, so a few very specific strategies can make a big difference in effectively recovering him.
Your first line of defense against a lost pet is identification. A registered microchip and identification tags make it easier for a rescuer who may find your pet to help reunite you. You can easily register your pet's microchip online with HomeAgain.
“It is widely known that the prospects for reuniting owners with their stray pets without identification are bleak,” said Patricia Sapia, co-author of the award-winning The Complete Guide to Lost Pet Prevention & Recovery (El Jebel Press). “As many as 1.5 million dogs and cats are stolen each year, and the majority is never recovered.”
Every pet should have a registered microchip and I.D. tags.
Whether or not your pet has identification, a smart pet detective acts immediately—time is of the essence when your pet disappears.
“Time is the most critical factor when it comes to recovering a lost pet. Most lost pets that are recovered are found relatively quickly and in close proximity to where they went missing,” said Sapia, citing pet detective Larry Maynard of National Pet Detectives, a lost pet prevention and recovery service located in Pinellas County, Florida.
Maynard claims that, in his experience, 89% of lost pets are recovered if their owners searched actively for them in the first twelve hours after the loss.
If you want to find a dog, think like a dog. Don’t zoom about in a panic—there are places in or near your home, property, and immediate neighborhood that may have always been interesting to your pet. Sometimes, a lost puppy is asleep in a closet or under a bed. Sometimes, you can find a dog just by visiting the neighbors.
“Walk around your neighborhood, talk to the neighbors, delivery people, and the mailman. Show them a picture and post signs with details about your pet. A color photograph helps tremendously,” suggests Betsy McFarland, program director for animal sheltering issues at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington, D.C.
Once you’ve covered your immediate neighborhood, don’t assume your pet won’t go far from home. Dogs have been found many miles from their homes, so even though your dog may still be in the neighborhood, don’t assume that to be the case.
“It is imperative that people extend their search range. Dogs often travel quickly and cover more distance than expected. Good Samaritans may also transport an animal they find to a hospital quite a distance away,” said Mary Anna Labato, DVM, DACVIM, and clinical associate professor in small animal medicine at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.
File a lost pet report with the local police. The police might not call out every squad car just to find a pet, but if you file a report, you have an official claim on record in case you need evidence later to identify your pet—or for the purpose of investigating a pet theft.
Post “lost pet” signs within at least a ten-mile radius, or even farther if you live out in the country. Signs should have a color picture of the pet, offer a reward, and include your phone number. McFarland suggests leaving out one identifying detail about your pet, so you can quiz any callers who might be trying to scam you for the reward money.
When you want to find a dog, don’t forget the places that are set up to help you do just that. Visit all local animal shelters and humane societies that accept pets in your area. Go to the shelter every day, or at least call a couple of times a day and make sure the shelter workers are keeping an eye out for your dog.
Check the newspapers daily for “found pet” ads—many newspapers allow people to take out these ads for free. Take out a “lost pet” ad with information about where you lost your dog and a short description. As with the “lost pet” posters, leave off one identifying characteristic to ward off scam artists looking for reward money.
Several online databases track lost and found pet information and help facilitate reunions. You can also join lost pet message boards and forums to connect with other people who may have lost pets, too.
Sure, you can work these pet detective skills, but you can also hire a pet detective if the usual methods don’t bring your pet back. Skilled professionals have access to resources and contacts that pet owners wouldn't know about and have experience tracking both lost and stolen pets.
Don’t give up hope. Sometimes, pets and owners are reunited months after the pet went missing. Use every resource at your disposal to increase the odds of whether or not you find your dog.
Eve Adamson is an award-winning dog writer and has authored or co-authored over forty books, including Your Outta Control Adopted Dog, Simple Guide to a Healthy Dog, and Adopting a Pet for Dummies. She holds an MFA degree in creative writing from the University of Florida and is a member of the Dog Writer's Association of America and the Cat Writer's Association of America.
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