A missing pet is an awful situation, and your instinctual reaction will probably be to panic. But try not to. Staying calm and clear-headed is necessary so that you can follow the right steps to bring your furbaby home safely.
10 steps to follow when your dog is missing
- Don't assume your pet will just come home on her own. Your dog may be unable to find her way home, be trapped somewhere, or be otherwise unable to make her way back to you. Don't sit around and do nothing or simply wait.
- Triple check your surroundings. Particularly if your animal is small or you have places where your animal could be stuck or trapped, do another sweep of your property. Your dog could be scared or hurt, and unable to respond to your calls, so physically check every area.
- Search your neighbourhood. Ideally have someone help you, and cover your neighbourhood in a grid pattern to effectively cover all areas. Speak to anyone you encounter on the way and ask them about your pet - the more people who know about your lost animal, the better.
It may help to take some of your pooch's favourite treats along, but if you do spot them in an unfamiliar place, remember to be careful. Your animal may be frightened and could act differently. Don't startle your pet and risk them running off or darting into traffic. Also be sure to check in with all your neighbours.
- Leave your scent where your dog was last seen. Leave a worn item of clothing (so that your scent is strongest) near where you last saw your dog. If possible, leave some food and water too.
- Start making phone calls. Contact all the vets in your area to report your pet missing, as well as rescue organisations. You should also contact 24-hour emergency vets, even if they aren't in your area, as sometimes people take lost animals there (this makes sense if your dog is found at night or over the weekend).
- Enlist social media. Embarrassing photos spread like wildfire - but so do pleas for lost pets. Post clear images of your dog and as detailed a description as possible. Post in every relevant group and forum, and share as far as wide as you can. Many cities have their own lost-and-found Facebook groups.
- Make posters. Stick these up all the local vets, as well as at any public places near your home, like grocery shops, libraries, and so on.
- Widen and continue the search. Don't assume you know where your dog might be - a scared or injured dog could be anywhere. Get outside and call your pet by name. Ask friends and family to help you. Cover your neighbourhood in all directions, ideally at night and at dawn - these are the best times to call for your pet. Remember, if you're doing this in your car, drive slowly with all the windows rolled down, and stop regularly to listen.
- If you spot your animal, don't make any sudden moves. Dogs move much faster than us, especially when afraid and confused. If you spy your furbaby, stop, sit down, and talk in calm, soothing tones, repeating their name and familiar sentences. Be patient. It could take minutes or hours for them to relax enough to come to you.
- No matter what, keep searching and keep canvassing. The only way to find a lost pet is to keep looking, keep phoning around, and keep spreading the word. Be aggressive in your search and especially in the beginning, don't waste any time in starting your search.
What to do if you find a lost dog
Many of us will encounter a lost dog at least once in our lives. Here's what you should do if it happens to you:
- Approach the animal with caution. Lost dogs may be skittish and react with aggression as a result of being afraid. Sudden movements may cause the animal to attack, or bolt - into the distance or into traffic.
- Let the dog come to you. Be calm, don't look the pooch directly in the eye, and be patient in letting the dog come to you.
- Identify the dog. Once the pooch trusts you, see if she's wearing a collar with identification tags.
- Check for a microchip. If you can’t see any identification, you’ll need to check whether the dog has a microchip. If you can transport him safely in your car (or on foot), get to the closest vet. If the animal is chipped, the vet will be able to contact the owners.
- Publicise. If you're unable to find contact details for the owners, you have a few options available to you. You could take the pet home, leave him at the vet (some vets will keep lost animals for a day or two before sending them to a shelter like the SPCA), or take him to a rescue organisation. Whichever you choose, it's your responsibility to make it known that you have found a lost animal - especially if it appears to be owned. The dog may have been stolen, and/or there may be owners desperately searching for him. As with a lost pet, put up posters at the vet, at nearby public places, and online. Publicise the animal on every possible and relevant Facebook group for lost and found pets.
- Make a decision. If a sufficient amount of time passes and no one has claimed the animal, you may or may not decide to keep her.
As with everything else, prevention is better than cure
As a pet owner, you have a responsibility to your animal to keep it safe, secure, and protected from getting lost (or stolen) - at least to the best of your ability. Read our seven tips on how to stop your dog from getting lost (or stolen), so that hopefully you'll never have to find yourself in this situation.
Disclaimer: Always consult your vet for professional advice. The Zuki.co.za blog is provided as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose illness or treat an animal.