What to do when your pet goes missing

Has Fluffy or Fido suddenly gone missing? You’re worried and don’t know what to do next. But, as hard as it might be, when your family pet runs off, it’s important to try to remain calm.

Last year, Monadnock Humane Society had a reunification rate of approximately 78% for our stray canine friends and almost 11% for our stray feline friends. These are positive statistics, but how can we increase these rates? Here are some guidelines using a recent cat recovery story with many important lessons and a very happy ending.

Where do you begin? Start your search by contacting neighbors, ask them to be on the lookout, and to notify you immediately if they see your pet. Then, contact your local animal control officer, your local veterinary hospitals, and animal shelters as well. If your pet is lost somewhere within Cheshire county, call Monadnock Humane Society and submit a lost pet report. Granite State Dog Recovery is another wonderful resource for your missing pooch, and of course if your animal is microchipped, contact the microchip company. Additionally, social media outlets such as Facebook can also play a big role because lost pet posts can be easily shared throughout the community and beyond. After completing the items on this list, post the information regarding your lost pet on local “lost and found” websites. Tenthousandeyes.org is one of these tools and can also be of great assistance. It allows you to post a picture of your pet and other detailed information (type of pet, name, color, weight, location lost, etc.) where it can be easily viewed by all visitors to the website.

It’s important to know that many animals will remain close to where they’ve gone missing. Cats will usually stay within a 200-yard radius of their home during the first 48-72 hours of getting lost. Most house cats, who have never been outside, will often be scared and confused. They’ll try to find a quiet location, such as under a shed or deck, to crawl into or huddle under. Along with checking small spaces, check nearby trees as the feline may have climbed up to find safety. It is also a best-practice to leave their litter box outside as well as some of their favorite food (but make sure that a wild animal cannot get to it!) If you have access to a trail cam, you can set it up in the area. This will allow you to see your pet if they visit for food or use of the litter box...even at night. If you notice that your pet is returning to the same spot, at the same time every night, you could set up a “Have-a-Heart” trap to safely lure it inside and secure him/her until you can get there and recover them.

Here is the story of Django, an indoor/outdoor cat, who has lived with his family for 17 years but still ran off. He knew his territory well and would usually stay close to home. But, when a family member came to visit with their active dog, they noticed that Django was not around like he usually was. They assumed he was staying clear of the home because of the dog, but after he was missing for a few days, they began to worry. The owners checked with their neighbors about any sightings and they also went looking in the woods where Django would sometimes roam. They checked MHS’s website, but didn’t see him listed there. After three weeks, they began to give up hope and thought that because of his age, he had wandered away to find a quiet spot to pass away. Little did they know, a Good Samaritan spotted Django, picked him up and brought him to MHS. When he was not reclaimed quickly, the MHS veterinary staff gave him a medical exam and treated him for a fatty lump on his chin. After his mass was surgically removed and he had healed, he was put up for adoption. Once again, the family was browsing the MHS adoption page for a new cat and that’s when they saw him…Django, their missing cat!!! They came to MHS that same day and reclaimed him, happy to know he was still alive, and happy to see his lump had been removed!

The lesson here is to never give up your search or assume that your pet has wandered away to die or even something worse-- like being attacked by a wild animal. Most of the stray cats that come into MHS are never reclaimed by their owners. Remember to always check (and keep checking) with any animal welfare organizations in your area to see if your pet is eventually brought in.

In the case of a missing dog, it’s important not to chase them. Even a casual walk during the search can push them further away from home. Lost pets usually stay pretty close to where they’ve gone missing, however they can potentially end up at great distances due to well-intended people attempting to catch them. When loose, even the best trained dog can become highly excitable and very distracted. Their fight or flight instinct takes over and that is when their pursuer can be viewed as a predator. This behavior is hard for an owner, in this situation, to understand. When an owner is trying to catch their loose dog, work from a distance, don’t move abruptly, approach quickly, nor have your back turned; and don’t speak until the dog is interested in approaching on their own terms. Social, confident dogs are easier to recover versus those that are shy, anxious, and frightened.

Another, somewhat unknown challenge that exists is when a dog has not been crate trained. This is because they do not recognize the trap (which closely resembles a crate) as a safe space. Crate training is recommended for this (and other) reasons…even if, under normal conditions in your home, they will never use it. Dogs tend to build routines very quickly, they will try to find shelter and water, and then food as needed. They often travel between dusk and dawn because there are fewer people around. Remember to respect their space and monitor for new, emerging routines. Once a routine is established and identified, a feeding station can be set up and a camera can be added to the area. If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable handling this on your own, seek the help of a professional pet tracker.

To assist with recovering your pet, it is important to make sure to document as much information as you can. Remember to note the day and time they went missing, what caused the animal to run off, and how they were acting at that moment. Other tips to use as you work to bring your pet home include leaving a piece of bedding outside in the area where your pet was last seen and keeping a shed or garage door open wide enough for your pet to access. Especially during colder months, providing a warm area for them to retreat to will help them get out of the elements and retain body heat. Always listen for random barking; some disoriented dogs will bark to try and get housemate dogs to bark back. Housemate dogs can also help in recovering a lost pet by spreading scent around.

Lastly, microchip your cat or dog. Microchips don’t operate like a GPS and can’t tell you your pet’s whereabouts but if a Good Samaritan brings a stray animal to a shelter or a vet hospital, they will scan for a microchip. This increases the chances of being quickly reunited with your missing pet. If your animal is microchipped, make sure to keep your registration information current and accessible in case they do get lost.

Let’s all work together to increase our reunification statistics! Some of us are very familiar with that anxious feeling we get when a pet goes missing and then conversely, the tremendous relief we feel when they are back home with family!

Check out our online database for missing pets – www.tenthousandeyes.org