What to do if a pet goes missing
It’s a pet sitter's worst nightmare – losing a pet. What starts as a completely normal day can quickly turn into a flurry of panic and trying out every possible strategy to find the missing pet.
The truth is, not every case of a missing pet is that bad: some of them (especially cats) tend to return home within a day or two. But some never do, while others can be found after months of searching.
Still, your chances of finding a lost pet are highest when you act quickly, before the pet gets a chance to wander off very far. What steps should you take to make the mission successful?
Steps to take when a pet goes missing
1 - Act fast and search immediate surroundings
Regardless of the location where your pet gets lost, the first step is always to drop everything else and start searching. A study conducted by ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) found that 49% of pet parents who lost their dog found them by searching the neighborhood.
What this means is that most dogs won’t go far away immediately - they are inclined to stay in familiar surroundings.
So, if you notice a pet is gone, start searching immediately.
If this happened while at home, start by thoroughly searching the entire property. Sometimes pets are just scared and might be hiding somewhere in the surroundings. Make sure to check any hidden places like basements, sheds, and vehicles. The animal might be stuck, or injured somewhere and waiting for help.
If it is evident that the pet is gone from the property, move on to the neighborhood or the surrounding area. The same goes for cases where the pet gets lost in the park or anywhere in the public: keep walking around and calling your pet's name. Make sure to return to the place where you last saw the pet in question multiple times, as they will often eventually return to find you.
2 - Talk to neighbors
If your pet is nowhere to be seen, it’s time to take further action. If the pet hasn’t wandered too far away, the neighbors are your best bet.
If there are any neighbors close to the property you are in charge of, make sure they are informed about the lost dog or cat and that they have your number so they can notify you if there is a sighting.
3 - Post on local Facebook groups
In this day and age, there is no reason why you shouldn’t harness the power of social media. Get on there and post about your missing pet (preferably with a good picture) ASAP.
In smaller communities, local Facebook groups can help track down a pet incredibly fast. No matter where you are, get on the most popular local social media - local Facebook groups for the city/area in question, dedicated Lost/Found Pet groups or platforms, Craigslist, Kijiji, Nextdoor (although that one may be hard to access)... Post everywhere - the more people you reach, the higher the chances of finding your pet.
Don’t forget to leave a number where you can be contacted at all times. Also, be reachable and answer any and every call you get. Following leads quickly is the key.
4 - Create lost pet flyers
If you haven’t managed to find the pet using the above methods for a while, it’s time to amp up your efforts. Printing “lost pet” flyers and sticking them around the neighborhood is the way to go. It might seem old school, but it is the best way to reach everyone in the area and remind them what your pet looks like.
You might also want to drop the flyers off at the local vet offices. They often have bulletin boards, and even if they don’t, they might actually come into contact with your lost charge and be able to recognize them.
5 - Check local animal shelters
If the pet is missing for a day or more, it’s always advisable to start checking local animal shelters. Start local, with the ones closest to you. However, keep in mind that lost pets can often go very far - we’ve all heard at least one of those stories. So, if the pet isn’t found, it’s worth checking animal shelters in a larger radius.
Calling the shelters is an option, but it’s better to visit in person.
Tips for catching a lost pet
Finding a lost pet is only part of the story. These animals are often scared and enter panic mode. They might not simply run into your arms once you find them. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t chase the pet. I know, this sounds silly, how could you not chase something you’ve been searching for? Well, once you locate the pet do your best to remain calm. This goes for both cats and dogs (and probably most other animals): try to get them to come to you. Chasing can trigger the animal to start running again.
- Send calming signals. Instead of chasing after the pet, try sitting on the ground and softly calling their name.
- Bring the tastiest food you can think of. A smelly dog treat is often all you need to convince a pet to come close to you.
- Leave a familiar scent. If a dog or cat is refusing to come back, try leaving something that smells familiar (like a blanket or a piece of clothing) in the palace where you lost them. Then, return periodically to the spot. Many pet parents report finding their pet patiently waiting once they did this.
In an ideal world, you’ve discussed the possibility of a pet getting lost before starting the house/ pet sit. The owner also disclosed all the important info (some dogs love bolting away more than others, for example). The pet is chipped and the details are up to date (this is the easiest way to find a lost animal), they are probably also wearing a name tag on the collar or similar.
In reality, though, none of this is for granted. That’s why it’s always ideal to have a good talk with the owner at the beginning of the sit about the pet’s character, any potential weird habits, as well as the steps to take if a pet gets lost. For example, in some rural areas “outside dogs” tend to wander off and then come back all the time, but in a big city, losing sight of your pet is a big deal. That's why it's good to know just how the dogs in your charge behave around traffic.
At the end of the day, once it happens - it is what it is. The best you can do is try and stay as calm as possible and act rationally. According to the ASPCA study mentioned before, 85% of lost dogs and cats were recovered, so don’t lose hope.
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Last updated on May 13th, 2023