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What Should I Do When My Pet Goes Missing?

You give your pooch lots of love and affection. You make sure he’s getting proper nutrition and exercise. You follow through with regularly scheduled vet care. In short, you’re a loving, responsible pet owner.

But sometimes, accidents happen—your dog jumps a fenced yard, or an untrained pup breaks free of his leash. Discovering your pet is missing is a traumatic, frightening, and nerve-wracking experience. So just what should you do if your beloved pet goes missing?

One of the most asked questions we receive at BCARL is from pet owners asking for help when their pet goes missing.

The good news is that there is a very high recovery rate for missing pets. An ASPCA survey found that 74 percent of lost cats and 93 percent of lost dogs were recovered. Of course, the key to a speedy recovery is a speedy response when your pet goes missing. So where should you start and what should you do first?

Stay Calm and Plan it Out

As soon as you notice your pet is missing, talk to the rest of the household and ask where they last saw your pet. Search your home carefully in case the animal is hiding or sleeping somewhere. Shaking a food dish or treat jar will sometimes lure animals out of a hiding place. If the pet is still nowhere to be found, remember to stay calm.

Staying calm is one of the most important initial steps you can take to finding your lost pup. Every minute counts, because the longer your pet is gone, the further he or she can travel from the safety of home. If you’re calm, methodical, and thorough, you’ll hopefully be reunited with your pet in no time.

Have you had your dog micro-chipped? If so, that’s the first place you should start. Call your microchip company and let them know immediately that your pet is missing. Most microchip companies offer services to put out a lost pet alert. They can also direct you towards any additional steps to take.

If not, you’ll want to take the following next steps …

Spread the Word

There are many ways to get the word out. Animal control is often the first place people call when they have found a stray pet in their neighborhood, and as such should be the first place you call after discovering your pet is missing. You can ask that they keep a written record of your lost pet in case someone calls in.

Alert the Neighbors

Ask your neighbors to check their yards, garages, etc.—anywhere your pet might be hiding. Alert them to your lost pet and ask that they keep an eye out for any similarly looking animals.

Sweep the Neighborhood

Take a slow ride or walk around your neighborhood. Bring along your cellphone, some treats, a leash, and a recent photo of your pet. Ask neighbors if they’ve seen him or her. Check under porches and shrubs. Shine a flashlight under tires and any dimly lit areas. If you are calling from your car, drive slowly, roll down all the windows, stop and turn your vehicle off frequently to listen.

Treats can help coax or soothe a scared pet. Remember that your pet may be scared and may not react as you’d normally expect—he or she may hide from people and be quick to run. Don’t chase after a lost pet as that will likely scare them more. Instead, sit on the ground nearby and talk in normal tones, repeating his name and familiar phrases over and over again until he starts to relax around you.

Make a Poster

If you’ve scoured the neighborhood and there’s still no sign of your dog (or cat), make a lost pet flyer and include a color photo of your pet. Keep it simple. The words “LOST DOG” or “MISSING CAT” should be bold at the top. Add your pet’s photo and list his or her name, breed, color, weight, including any distinguishing features. Provide your name and phone number. Make dozens of copies of your flyer and post liberally around your neighborhood and town (making sure to ask permission before posting).

Some good places to post flyers include neighborhood trees and stores, local animal shelters, parks, and veterinarian offices, as well as community centers, pet stores, and gas stations. Just be sure to circle back around after your pet has been found to remove the flyers.

Check lost and found sites

Post about your pet on all pet recovery websites and services. These websites are specifically designed to get word out to the community about your missing pet. Apps such as Pet Amber Alert, Finding Rover, The Center for Lost Pets, and Fido Finder enable you to upload a photo of your pet, which is then digitally matched against photos of found pets in the area.

Social Media

After you’ve searched through your neighborhood, posting missing flyers along the way, consider making a similarly designed digital post. Be sure to post on sites like Facebook and Instagram. The power of social media, especially local Facebook groups, can be especially effective in helping spread the word about your missing pet. Many pets are found and returned because someone checked Facebook to see if someone else was missing a dog after discovering a lost pet in the neighborhood.

Visit Local Shelters Immediately and Often

File a lost pet report with every shelter within a 60-mile radius of your home and visit or call the nearest shelters frequently, if at all possible. Bring a good photograph of your pet to leave with the shelter. It is ideal to return to the shelters regularly to look for your missing pet, or call and check in every few days to verify if they’ve received any new animals that match your pet’s description.

Losing a pet can be a scary, stressful experience. Pets are family, and no one wants to think of their beloved sidekick alone and scared in the world. Hopefully, with these helpful tips in hand, your pet will be back home and in your loving arms in no time.

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