Losing a dog or a cat is like losing a member of the family, and that's scary. You'll worry, you'll fear for their well being and you'll turn over every rock until you find them. If your cat or dog is missing, this guide will help you get your furry friend home safe and sound, as quickly as possible.
Alert Your Neighbours and Call Local Animal Control
As soon as you know your pet is missing, immediately search the areas around your home first. There's a chance your cat is just munching on some grass in the yard, or your dog is sniffing around your porch. If you don't spot them, go door to door and let your neighbours know so they can keep an eye out for them. It's possible they already found your pet without knowing it was yours.
If your pet has an ID microchip (and they absolutely should), call the chip company and let them know your pet is missing. That way if your pet gets picked up by a shelter or rescue, they will know the animal belongs to someone. Whether your pet has a chip or not, the ASPCA recommends you call all of the local animal control agencies within a couple hours of when you noticed them being gone. Check with shelters, rescue groups, veterinary hospitals and maybe even police stations if you live in a rural area. Give them a description of your pet over the phone, and offer to bring in photos. And don't hesitate to check the shelters yourself on a daily basis. The people there will do their best to identify animals, but they can only do so much. As you knock on your neighbours' doors and make some phone calls, begin to search around the neighbourhood.
Scour the Neighbourhood
After you've made your calls and notified your neighbours, form a search party and create an attack plan as soon as possible. The longer you wait the further your pet can stray. Alan Grosbard at PetFinder suggests you establish a search radius around your home, and think about how far your pet could have gone. Once you have your search radius established, think about all the places within that circle where your pet might go. Note all obvious hiding places for cats -- under porches, trees, bushes or thickets, swingsets, parked cars and so on -- and think about where a dog would wander in search of company, comfort and food.
Now, make sure everyone has a torch (for looking in dark hiding spots) and fan out. As you search, talk to everyone you see: Postmen, delivery drivers, yard workers, TV technicians, people walking their dogs and even kids playing in a yard. You never know who might have seen a dog or cat running around. If you can, PETA suggests you also search at night when it's quiet -- especially when it's really late/super early. Your pet is more likely to hear you when you call its name, and you'll be able to hear the sounds it makes more easily. And depending on what kind of pet you've lost, there are few other things you should consider.
- Keep in mind that if your cat is a housecat, it will likely be overwhelmed by the outside. It will probably hide nearby, smelling all the new things close to home.
- If your cat is both an outdoor and indoor cat, it's probably OK. You don't need to be too concerned until it's at least been 24 hours.
- It will probably be spooked, so try not to do anything that will startle or scare it even more. Call the cat calmly as you search for it -- don't shout.
- Carry a box of treats and shake it as you walk, or tap the top of a wet food can. Familiar noises that mean "snack time" will draw it out.
- If you see your cat hiding somewhere you can't reach, Mary Anne Miller at Pet360 recommends you put out a soiled litter box, sprinkle some of the litter from the hiding spot to the box, and set out some food and water nearby. The familiar smells can guide it home. In the same vein, you can set out an old T-shirt or pair of sneakers to do the same thing.
- If your dog is friendly, it probably went in search of attention from other dogs or other people. Check neighbours' yards, public parks and anywhere nearby where people gather.
- If your dog is shy or older, it might try to hide in bushes, under cars or in someone's yard.
- Dogs will go much farther than cats. A small dog might only go exploring for 1-1.5km, but a large, young dog could go running for 8km or more -- just not in a straight line. Most dogs are recovered within a few kilometres of home.
If possible, don't stray too far from home, or have someone stationed there as you search. Lost pets will usually try to return home when they realise there's nothing familiar around them, but often get distracted or confused. Even so, have someone around just in case they come back on their own.
Make 'Lost Pet' Flyers and Put Them Up Everywhere
If your initial searches didn't turn anything up, it's time to make a flyer. Here's what you should have on yours:
- "Lost Pet" or "Lost Cat/Dog" in huge letters.
- A large, clear photo of the animal in colour. If you don't have a good photo, find one on the internet that looks close enough.
- A description of the pet: Size, colour, traits, name it answers to.
- Your contact information. Include a phone number (use a burner if you want) and an email address you don't care about.
- The word "Reward" in huge letters, and a dollar amount. Money talks so don't skimp here.
- Suggest people to take a picture of the flyer with their smartphones.
Your flyer needs to be colourful and eye-catching. If you're in a bilingual neighbourhood, make versions in both languages. And if weather is an issue in your area, laminate some of the flyers so they will last longer against rain and wind.
Once you have your flyers made, hang them up everywhere you're allowed to. Telephone poles on street corners, parks, vet offices, animal shelters, grocery stores, community centres, pet supply stores, bus stops, coffee shops and anywhere else nearby. You should also pass out flyers to people you know live in the area. Now stay near your phone and be prepared to answer calls from numbers you don't recognise. PETA also recommends you update your voicemail with an opening line about your missing pet so callers know they have reached the right number.
Take the Search Online
Posting about your lost pet on social media can help as well, especially if you have friends or family in the area. Post a quick update with a photo on Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Twitter. Neighbourhood social networks are also a good place to post notices and check for any lost pet updates. You can also check to see if your neighbourhood or apartment building has a community mailing list where you can advertise. And if it's been a day or more, consider putting out ads on Gumtree and in the lost and found section of local newspapers.
There are also some web sites that specialise in finding lost pets, like Lost Pet Finders and Lost and Found Pets Australia. You can post about your missing pets there and send out mass alerts to people in the neighbourhood.
Take Precautions for Next Time
The ASPCA say it's a good idea to have your pets wear a collar with a tag that has your name, phone number and other relevant contact information. And if your pets don't have Microchip IDs, you should definitely consider it. They definitely increase the chances of finding your pets as long as you keep the registry information up to date.
And if your pets have gotten out before, figure out how it happened so they don't get out again. Check along your fence for holes, see if any windows have a hole in their screen and make sure everyone in the household knows the rules regarding pet privileges. The more preventative measures you take, the lower the chance you'll have to go searching for them again.