Dogs go missing every day. Maybe someone left the gate open, maybe your dog panicked after a thunderstorm. These steps will help you find your dog as soon as possible, and hopefully will find him safe and sound.
Lost Dog: The First Hours
The first few hours are absolutely vital to recovering your dog. Dogs escape for many reasons, and knowing what happened will help you recover your pet.
First, find a heavily used piece of bedding or clothing that has your scent all over it. Pillows, dirty towels, a jacket worn daily, or dirty sheets work best. Place this near the last place you saw your dog. If your dog panicked over something like a thunderstorm, he may be hiding nearby and will come out to your scent. You may well find him sleeping on your dirty clothes in the morning.
Driving around and calling your dog, especially if you live in a rural area, may work. Dogs that chase cars will chase cars, and I know I recovered our childhood dog several times by driving fast down the road near him, waiting for him to chase the car, and then popping open the door and asking him if he wanted to go for a ride.
However, people who do not know the dog shouldn’t go out hunting for him on the first day. He may be scared, and get even more frightened by people crowding his hiding spot. He is unlikely to trust anyone who doesn’t live in your home. Friends & neighbors driving in cars, with an eye out, shouldn’t spook him so long as they wait for you to approach.
Lost Dog: The First Day
Canvas The Neighborhood
Start by printing enough flyers to hand them out to all businesses in your area, as well as neighbors and friends. Include a good photo of your dog (black & white is fine), and multiple phone numbers. Friends and neighbors that want to help can hand these out, instead of searching the countryside. If your dog is a rare breed, reference both the breed he is, and what he looks like. Most people don’t know what an English Setter looks like, but they will recognize that English Setter as “Golden Retriever & Dalmatian.”
Contact local veterinarians, the police and fire departments, local EMS, and animal control as soon as you know you probably won’t catch him. If he is injured or hit by a car, they will be most likely to see. Cover at least a 20 mile radius. Some dogs run for miles before they slow down, and if your dog is recovered by a well-meaning stranger, they might take him farther in order to help him.
Ask the Internet
Dozens of Facebook groups exist for the sole purpose of reuniting pets with their owners. Post on lost and found groups as well as any other local groups that permit posting lost pets. Make sure to include a recent color photo of your dog, or at least a picture of the breed. Odds are, someone has seen him or will see him, and you want them to know he’s missed.
Any communication you make with the public should include direction to not approach him, but to contact you immediately. People can call him and offer food, but if they chase him he will get more and more lost.
The Second Day
First thing in the morning, check your pile of dirty laundry and see if he’s returned. You can place out food and water as well, but expect wildlife to arrive at the feast.
Continue handing out flyers and talking to friends, neighbors, and strangers about him. Call Animal Control and any Humane Societies in the area daily. Visit, if possible, since often the people answering the phones don’t physically see every dog in the facility.
Repost to Facebook and other social media. Contact breed rescue for his breed, as well as similar breeds. For example, a lost Belgian Tervuren might end up being identified as a German Shepherd cross.
If someone contacts you about sighting your dog, place another dirty laundry pile in the area and check it daily. He may have ran quite far before stopping, and he might return to your scent.
The First Week
Continue keeping him at the forefront of social media, rescues, and humane societies. Refresh your dirty laundry, and try to place multiple piles where you think he might be hiding.
The Second Week
Renew your flyer campaign. By this time, he probably found a new home. Someone might be keeping him, thinking he was abandoned or dumped. Or he might have landed in a shelter or rescue. They may take him to the veterinarian or a groomer, so hit every veterinarian and groomer in your metropolitan area with flyers.
Remember that if someone has your pet, they may not actually be local, or they may take him to a shelter that is miles away. A 60 mile radius is reasonable at this point. In my area, I might not take a stray dog to the animal control in one county, because they have a high kill rate, but might take him 20 miles away in hopes that even if his owner doesn’t find him, someone adopts him.
Following Weeks & Months
The longer your lost dog stays lost, the less likely you are to find him. However, keep handing out flyers every month for at least a year. I personally found a cat after 3 years while volunteering in a shelter. I also know people who have found pets after months, because a groomer still had a flyer. Even BBC has a story about a Chihuahua found after three months, or this story about a senior dog lost for 6 weeks. Do not lose hope.
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