It’s really hard to consider, but every year in the U.S. 10 million dogs and cats are lost to their owners. 10 million! That means 1 out of 3 pets will go missing in their lifetime. The numbers are staggering, and very hard to think about when you consider it being your furry family member. But with numbers like these, its also crucial to think about how to prevent your dog from becoming lost, what to do if they are lost and what steps to take if you find a lost dog that isn’t yours. With the right plan in place, we can reduce the number of dogs that become statistics.
Prevention is Always The Best Medicine
The absolute best way to keep your dog from being lost is to prevent them from ever having the chance. And no, the answer is not to just keep your dog tied up for the rest of their lives, but you do want to be smart about the environments you let them off-leash or without supervision. If you know your dog isn’t good off-leash in certain environments, make sure to keep them on. This goes doubly for unfamiliar environments or environments with a lot of distractions. A busy, unfamiliar neighborhood or even dog park can be over-stimulating for your dog and they may find something they just HAVE to chase after, only to be lost when they later look up.
It also helps to get to know your neighbors before you have a lost dog emergency. If your neighbors are familiar with you and your dog, they can alert you in case they see your dog off on his own, or in someplace he maybe shouldn’t be. If your dog does ever become lost, they’ll be able to keep a better eye out as they go about their day and neighborhood if they’re more familiar with your dog than just a glance at a picture.
If he isn’t already, consider getting your dog micro-chipped. Regardless of micro-chipping, make sure your dog has clear, easy to read tags with your current phone number. Active, outdoorsy dogs are masters at losing their dog tags, so be sure to check periodically to make sure they still have them.
If YOUR dog is lost:
Above all, don’t panic! The calmer you stay, the better chance you have at staying alert and finding your dog. First, contact your close neighbors or anyone in the area where your dog was last seen. If your dog is skittish and wary of strangers, be sure to tell people that so that they don’t try to approach or grab your dog, only to scare them and chase them further away. Make sure they have a good contact number for you in case they catch sight of him.
In general, it’s not appropriate to call 911 when your dog is lost. But, you can call the office number at your local police station and give them a description of your dog. If anyone calls the police station to report a lost dog, the station will be able to match up the description you gave with the report. You should also call your local animal shelter(s) and give the same description. When giving information about your dog, be sure to include a basic description of appearance, where they were last seen and how long they have been missing. Include any behavioral information that is important as well, like how your dog responds to strangers or what motivates him to come (food, sticks, etc.).
There are plenty of lost dog groups on Facebook, but try and find a local one if possible. The more local the group, the better chance the members of that group are from your area and may have seen your dog. Include a full-body picture of your dog and, again, include where they were last seen and how long they have been missing.
If you find a lost dog:
If you see or find a dog you think may be lost, it is VERY important that you only approach the dog if it is safe to do so. If you see a dog on the side of the road, for example, you don’t want to endanger yourself and other drivers by suddenly stopping. You also don’t want to endanger the dog by potentially chasing it into traffic. The dog may also be incredibly scared, or not used to/friendly with people, making it more likely to lash out. If the environment or the dog itself seems un-safe,
it is better to call and report the dog to your local shelter and monitor the situation from a safe location. If the dog you see runs off and you’re unable to follow, alert your local shelter with a description of the dog and its last known location. They may already have a description from a worried owner that matches the dog you saw!
If the environment is safe and the dog is friendly, approach the dog and look for any identifying information. Hopefully, the dog has tags with information to contact the owner. If the dog doesn’t have tags or any way to contact the owner, call your local animal shelter and ask for instructions. They may have you bring the dog to them if they feel it’s appropriate, or they may send someone to pick up the dog themselves.
Pay it forward
If you were one of the fortunate ones that found your lost dog: CELEBRATE! Give your dog lots of kisses and praise! Revel in the fact that you’re back together again!
After all the celebration is done, consider paying it forward. If an animal shelter or non-profit organization helped you find your lost dog, consider making a donation or volunteering some of your time. If we want to make sure that all the dogs of this world get the love and care they deserve, we need to value and support the people that dedicate their lives to them. So, if you meet someone who works with lost dogs, at the very least give them a big high five and tell them you appreciate what they do.