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WHAT  TO  DO  IF  YOU  HAVE  LOST  A  PET

This page contains many, many useful suggestions. We have developed it over the years, incorporating numerous tips and techniques submitted by Pet FBI visitors. Please take the time to read it carefully.  

It may seem like a lot to digest, but after reviewing the advice below, you should click the links at the bottom of this page to learn more about the particular psychology and methods for locating missing dogs and missing cats.

GENERAL ADVICE

As soon as you discover your pet is missing, you should take steps to recover it immediately. Do not just wait for the animal to find its way home. We cannot emphasize too strongly that time is critical.

Strays turned over to the local animal shelters are held for only a limited time. Unfortunately, there are just too many strays for the shelters to be able to care for them indefinitely. To improve the chances of recovering your lost companion, you must act quickly and thoroughly and be persistent. It is terrible to have to wonder for the rest of your life what became of a beloved pet.

TWELVE STEPS TO TAKE IN TRACING YOUR LOST PET

  1. Search every nook and cranny of your house and grounds on the chance that your pet has become caught or trapped or is sick or injured and hiding. Do not assume they will meow or bark or come to you. Cats especially are likely to hide. Look in closets, drawers, air ducts, behind appliances, under beds, in the hollow under reclining chairs, behind books in a bookcase, wrapped in the bottom of drapes, in any hidden recesses, basement crawl spaces, in sheds, garages, under decks, in pipes and culverts, dumpsters, garbage cans, etc. Cats also have an unfortunate tendency to explore new places, like the back of pick-up trucks and they often get accidentally carried off.  Consider whether there were any vehicles around that your cat may have hitched a ride on.
  2. Contact your local animal control department sometimes also called the "dog warden". Often this is the first place people call when they have found an animal in their neighborhood. Ask that they keep a written record of your lost  pet. (See the  Dog Wardens  page or the Where to Call  page for your county.)
  3. Comb the neighborhood on foot and by car. Call your pet by name or make some familiar and attractive noise, like whistling, squeezing a squeak toy or shaking a can of treats. Remember that a frightened or injured animal will hide and may not come to you. Pause often and listen for your pet. Look under porches, behind bushes, under cars, etc. Cats may become trapped in neighbors' garages, sheds and on construction sites.  In the case of cats look also in trees and on rooftops. Bring a flashlight to examine dark places. If you live in  a busy urban neighborhood, the best time to look and call is early morning when  there is not much activity. Take along a photograph of your pet to show neighbors and people who know the area: letter carriers, meter readers, school bus drivers, joggers, neighborhood children. Hand out cards or flyers with information on how to contact you. Most cats won't go too far, and are probably hiding close by. Go out after dark with a flashlight. Shine the flashlight into all hidden recesses and look for the distinctive reflection from cats' eyes. 
  4. Consider setting a humane trap.
    Inside cats that "escape" to the outdoors are very likely to be hiding close by. Their instinct when frightened is not to reveal themselves, so they will not meow or come to you. 
    The only way to get them back may be to trap them. Some local humane societies and dog wardens will lend or rent humane traps. They can also be purchased at pet stores, hardware stores and home centers. Bait with some strong-smelling food. Monitor trap often. If left overnight, do not be surprised if you catch a raccoon or someone else's cat!
    Use your other pets to leave a scent trail to and from your house.
    Try to attract your pet back to the house; leave strong scented articles outside like worn clothing with your scent still on it, your pet's bedding or mat or litter box, or some fragrant food, taking care that other animals don't eat it. If you suspect your pet is around but not coming to you, a good trick is to sprinkle flour and check for paw prints.
  5. Visit the shelters immediately and return regularly. Animals surrendered to shelters are held for only a very limited time. By law, in the State of Ohio, dogs turned in to shelters must be held for three days. However, if they are diseased or injured, they may be put down immediately. If they are wearing a current license tag, they must be held for fourteen days. There are no laws requiring shelters to hold cats for any minimum period. They may be euthanized immediately. It is indispensable to visit your local shelters in person to see if your pet has been turned in. Bring a good photograph of your pet to leave with them.  but do not depend on the shelter people to contact you. Often, they are just too overwhelmed to research the huge volume of lost and found reports they are asked to deal with.  You really need  to return to the shelters regularly to look for yourself.  The shelter's log entry may not match your description.( For example, you may call asking if a "tan" dog has been found, while the written record on the animal indicates a "brown" dog.)
    We emphasize that you must not assume that because you have left information about your missing pet that you will automatically be contacted if the animal is turned in. There are too many unwanted animals and too few shelter helpers to do this. It is up to you to check back regularly.
    Do not assume that because your pet was wearing an identification tag, that you will be contacted. Collars may be removed or fall off. For a list of shelters and humane societies in your Ohio county, go to PET FBI's  Shelters  Page
  6. Call your neighborhood veterinarians. People often leave  lost and found reports with them or bring injured strays to them.
  7. Prepare a flyer with a picture or description of the animal, date lost, and how to contact you.  Be sure the letters are large and easily visible from a passing car. For your convenience, we have prepared a flyer template. You can click on this link, key in your information and it will automatically format a printable flyer. Have copies of your flyer made on light, bright colored paper. Include a photo if possible. 
    In addition to printing and posting as many flyers as is practical, we recommend that you make a few special posters to use in the most strategic places. Mount some of your flyers on fluorescent poster board. Use an indelible marker to write LOST DOG/CAT, and put sheet protectors on your flyer. 
    Post the flyers in conspicuous places like utility poles, intersections, nearby schools, laundromats, community bulletin boards, vets offices, etc. Most lost pets are found fairly close to home, but many pets turn up miles away, so it is equally important to post the flyers at some major intersections in other parts of town.  Dogs, especially may travel far on their own. Cats are sometimes  "spirited off".  One experienced  rescuer in Columbus recommends posting hundreds of flyers. (This may be impractical for you personally  so be sure to place your flyers strategically.) It is also a good idea to hang the flyers from doorknobs in your neighborhood. Again, distribute them as widely as practical. (Please note that it is not allowed to put anything other than US mail in mailboxes.
    One Pet FBI user suggests taking copies of your flyer to the local post office to post by the time clock so the carriers in the area can be aware. This may not be possible at all post offices.
  8. Place a classified ad in your local suburban papers and check the "found" ads. Some papers run "Found" ads for free. Keep checking regularly for new ads, and ask how to research ads that have run previously by calling the paper.
  9. Check animal emergency clinics. On the chance that your pet may have been struck by a car and brought for help by some kind person.
  10. Check with animal control businesses. As a last resort, you might ask whether your pet has been trapped by one of the companies that set out live traps to catch strays or wild animals who are creating a nuisance.  You may have to face the possibility that your pet was killed by a car.   Contact the dog warden. In some areas, the dog warden is responsible for picking up dead animals, if not they can tell you whom to call. (See the Dog Wardens page.)
  11. MONITOR THE PET FBI DATABASE REGULARLY. Sometimes it takes many weeks or months before a missing pet "surfaces" and someone tries to trace it. The Pet FBI database may be the only source of information left at that point.
    When you have finished reading this section, be sure to check the "Found" reports on this web site. Submit a  "Lost" report if you have not already done so.  Once you have submitted a report it will  be uploaded instantly.
  12. Check reports on other Internet Lost and Found sites. Go to our Helpful Links page.   

Ideally, there would be a single centralized registry to pool information from all sources about lost and found animals. PET FBI aspires to serve this purpose; still, there are many people who do not know about the Pet FBI database, and many people do not even understand how to use the Internet. Therefore you must seek and spread information about the pet you have lost in as many ways as possible and you must go to the shelters. Only you can identify your pet. 

Pets that are spayed or neutered are much less likely to stray or to be stolen. An added benefit is that they will live a longer, healthier life if they are "fixed".

Be wary of so-called "pet-finding" services that may contact you and offer  to help find your pet for a fee!

Do not arrange to meet people in out-of-the-way places and do not hand over any  reward money unless you have your pet in hand. 

FINALLY, A NOTE OF ENCOURAGEMENT
DO NOT GIVE UP TOO SOON!
Our "Happy Endings" page has many stories of pets reunited after many months. Be thorough and be persistent.

Highly recommended:  learn more about the particular psychology and methods for locating missing dogs and missing cats.

This page last updated October, 2009