Veterinarians and animal shelters receive many calls a day from people who have either lost their pet, or have found a pet and are trying to locate the owner. Many times, with a little luck and hard work, these fractured families can be reunited. Other pets are not so lucky-a quick glance at the Lost and Found Sections in any newspaper across the country, or a visit to an animal shelter or municipal pound, attests to the large numbers of pets that are never reunited with their owners.
REDUCING THE RISK OF LOSING YOUR PET
If you own a pet, there are many things you can do that will help to prevent your pet from becoming lost, and will help you locate him if the unforeseen does happen. Being prepared could save your pet's life.
- Be sure your pet has a current and legible identification tag attached to her collar. If you have an ID tag on the collar, attaching it with an "O" ring (like a key ring) is safer than attaching it with an "S" hook. The ID tag should have your name and phone number on it, including your area code, and your address if there is enough room. If it is handwritten, make sure it is legible and done with permanent ink.
- A rabies tag and a license tag identify that your pet is vaccinated and also registered in your town. Your pet should wear these tags, but be sure to also attach an identification tag. If your pet is missing in the evening or over a weekend when hospitals and town offices may be closed, an identification tag will be extremely helpful.
- Tags are notorious for being chipped, worn down, chewed, broken, or just plain lost. Be sure to check your pet's tags daily-convenient times include putting on the leash or at feeding time.
- If you are vacationing put another tag on your pet's collar with your current contact number. Likewise, if you reside in more than one area, include all contact information on your pet's tags.
- Tags can be purchased at veterinary offices, pet stores, and often at feed stores. There are a variety of styles. Some dog owners prefer the flat tag that is attached directly onto your dog's collar-the advantage of this is that the tag is less likely to be caught on brush etc and fall off.
- Remember that ID tags will only help your pet if the tag is on the collar. It will do no good if the tag is left in a drawer or on a shelf. Please put those tags on your pet's collar before it's too late!
- Microchips are small plastic computer chips, about the size of a grain of rice, that are implanted under your dog's or cat's skin by your veterinarian in a quick, virtually painless process. Each chip has a number in it that shows up when a scanner is run over your pet's body. The chip number is registered with a central office. So if your pet is lost and is taken to a shelter or a veterinary office and scanned, the number will identify you as the owner. Microchips are safe, do not get lost, and are a very important tool to reunite you with your pet. Please speak to your veterinarian about the benefits of microchip implantation
- One way to help insure that your pet will be returned to you if she is missing is to put fliers up (more on that later). It is extremely important to put a picture of your pet on a flier, so be sure you have current good photos of your pet. If your pet is 5 years old, a picture of her as a kitten will do you no good. Likewise if your dog gets clipped regularly, then having pictures of him as a fuzz-ball and "just back from the groomer" will also help. Take a picture of your pet every year at least for your files, and keep it in a safe place, where you can easily find it.
- Be sure that you take a picture of your pet's face, and also of your pet standing up. At the same time, make a note of special markings, scars or other identifying marks that may not show up in a photo. Keep this information, along with your photos, in a safe place.
- One of the best things you can do to help prevent your pet from becoming lost is to make sure your pet is adequately socialized and trained. Dogs that bolt out of front doors or car doors tend to get lost or, sadly, run over. Dogs that are left outside all day long because they are a nuisance in the house, are more likely to escape through a fence hole, or over a fence. Dogs that do not walk quietly on a leash, but instead pull you to chase after other dogs, also get lost-seeing a loose dog dragging a leash is not an uncommon sight.
- It is fairly simple to teach your dog good manners that will make her a pleasure to live with and could also save her life. Having your dog learn to sit while the door is opened, and not bolt out, is a life-saving task that is easy to teach. Start with having your dog learn to sit at the door, with a lead attached. When you open the door, ask your dog to "Stay". If she does, then praise quietly and go out the door first, quietly calling her to you. If she gets up as the door opens, simply shut the door. As soon as she sits down, open the door again, but be prepared to shut it the moment she gets up. After several repetitions your pet will associate sitting down with an open door. Practice daily!
- Teach your dog to sit, as a way to say "please." for anything he wants, including attention. It is much harder to run or jump or bolt if your dog is sitting. Remember that you are working towards your dog doing a relaxed sit, not a dog that can hardly wait for the cue that he can get up and run.
- Teach your dog or cat to come to you when called. Start in the house, which is a safe spot, and start at a short distance, and when your pet is hungry. Use delicious treats to reward him for coming to you. After several repetitions, increase the distance, until you can leave your dog in another room, and have him come to you when called. Once you are comfortable with this work inside, you can try outside, but always use a leash. And remember that the treat is not a bribe---it is a reward for coming to you. Always couple the treat with praise, and eventually fade out the treat so that your dog is only working for the praise. And remember that if your dog does run away to the neighbors, and eventually comes back to you, do not punish him. You want him to feel that being next to you is the safest place in the world.
- You can teach cats to come to you also, and it is easy to do this if you use a noise that the cat associates with food, such as shaking a box of cat treats, or using a whistle that the cat associates with treats. Practice this in the house first, then outside. Again, always remember that you want your cat to feel safe next to you, so no punishment for not coming when called.
D. GENERAL MANAGEMENT:
- Transport your cats in a sturdy, "cat-proof" carrier. Many cats jump out of owners' arms or flimsy cardboard boxes on the way into or out of a veterinary hospital or groomer. Get your cat used to a crate BEFORE you need to use it. Leave it out and throw treats near the crate, so your cat associates the crate with being part of the normal environment. You can even feed your cat near his crate.
- Spay and neuter your pet, as this will reduce roaming, and also help to prevent conditions such as prostate disease or mammary gland tumor.
IF YOUR PET IS MISSING
- Call your veterinarian. Your pet may have been injured and taken to the hospital.
- Put up fliers, on brightly colored paper, using the photos you have made, and write down a description of your missing pet. Include your telephone number and area in which the pet was lost, and information about your pet: breed, age, sex, weight, color, markings, and identification tags. Offer a reward, but do not state the amount, as unscrupulous people may try to make money on your lost pet.
- Put fliers up in places where there is heavy "people traffic"-grocery stores, veterinary hospitals, animal shelters, pet stores, dog parks, police stations, coffee shops, book stores, hairdressers, barber shops, town offices etc.
- Call your local police department. If the police department is not responsible for animal control, they will give you the name of the person that is responsible. If your town does not have a police department, call the closest one that does.
- Look for your pet yourself-do not rely on others to do this for you. Knock on neighbors' doors, speak to your mailman, paper deliverer, UPS driver, school crossing guard, garbage crews, and town Highway Department crews. Give everyone you speak to a flier.
- Walk through the area where your pet was lost, and call his name or shake a box of treats (if that is what your pet will respond to). Look in every dumpster, and abandoned buildings
- Search your own house, especially for cats. Open every cupboard and cabinet door. Check in crawl spaces, and do not forget the roof of the house. Check all outbuildings. .
- Go to your local animal shelter or pound at least every 48 hours and look for your pet. Even though you have sent the shelter or pound a flier, shelters can be very busy places, and it is best for you to go there and look for your pet yourself.
- Put an ad in your local papers, preferably with a picture of your pet. Check the FOUND ads daily.
ONCE YOUR PET IS FOUND
- Notify all those people that were helping you look for your pet. Immediately call your veterinarian and animal shelter, so that your pet will be taken off the "missing" list.
- Remove all posters with your missing pet information.
- Thank everyone involved, and let them share in the joy of knowing that you and your pet have been reunited.
- Evaluate how you can reduce the chance that this will happen again-and implement the plan. You and your pet will be much happier.