When it comes to your pet's safety, you need to be proactive, not reactive.
Lost pet recovery work is tough. I’ve been lucky enough to maintain a better than 70% success rate, but there’s still that 30%. It's not a guarantee that a lost pet will be found. And that’s why prevention is so important. There are so few things we can control once a pet is loose in the world, but there are many things we can do to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are ten ways to prevent your worst nightmare from happening. Most of these tips are easy and cost-effective--all it takes is a little effort from you to keep your pet off the missing list.
1. Let go of the “it can’t happen to me” mentality
Nobody expects their pet to wind up missing or stolen. Every case is different and accidents happen all of the time. Simply remember that being attuned to your surroundings and taking preventative measures can save your pet’s life. A lot of us tempt fate, let our guard down, or don’t realize that what we’re doing puts our pets at risk. Do your best to remain conscious and alert at all times. More on this here.
2. Baby gates
Many lost pet cases start when a pet unexpectedly bolts out an open door. Whatever the reason, a pet running through an open door happens in a split second. Put a baby gate across any door that leads outside, and you could virtually completely prevent it. Ideally, you would keep it up permanently, but if you can’t, at least put it up during parties, while gardeners or other workers are at the house, or if you have guests who aren’t accustomed to being safe with doors. (Need tips for a door dashing pup? Click here.)
3. Don’t leave pets unattended
If your pet is outside the home, stay with them--this includes in your yard, car, and out in public. It doesn’t take long for a pet to jump a fence, squeeze through an open car window, or be stolen. A sudden, loud noise like a car backfiring, construction ruckus, or even a human yell can frighten a dog or cat badly enough that they would even bust through an electric or invisible fence.
Not only can pets escape of their own volition, pet theft is on the rise. You may think grabbing that coffee will only take a few minutes, but that’s all a thief needs. Thieves will break a car window, jump a fence and even enter your yard to get your dog.
4. Check your property line/fences/doors/windows & lock gates/fences
Get in the habit of regularly and thoroughly checking your property (inside and out) for any signs of wear and tear or compromised security. Inside, make sure to push on your window screens, jiggle doors, and check vent covers. Outside, walk your property line, check your fence for loose or decaying boards or curling chain link, and examine the ground near the fence for signs of digging--a classic method of escape. Also, ensure lawn furniture and other items are not kept up against the fence--they could provide an inadvertent escape route for your pet.
A fenced-in yard or apartment complex is often your first (possibly only) line of defense against a fleeing pet but it won’t work if the gate’s not latched and locked. Wind or absent-minded humans can easily leave a gate unsecured. Make it part of your routine to always close and lock your gates every time you enter or exit. It might take some practice at first, but eventually, it’ll become second nature.
5. Talk to your pet professionals
We all take our pets to see professionals, even if it’s just the vet. Because these animal care professionals are so experienced and we trust them so much, we rarely imagine that our pet could disappear while under their care. But I’ve heard of cases where pets have gone missing from every type of pet care professional there is.
So how do you combat it? Have a conversation ahead of time. Talk with your provider about your concerns, address any quirks your pet may have, and give them safety tips. If the pet is going to be with the provider for an extended period of time-- especially if you may be unreachable at any point--you might also want to discuss an emergency plan that lays out what the provider should do if your pet does escape.
6. Stay safe during the holidays and parties
Who doesn’t love a party? Many of us enjoy including our pets in the festivities. The thing is, there are lots of factors that make it an ideal time for a pet to escape: the constant in and out, new people in the house, your preoccupation with hosting duties, and the departure from your regular routine. Your pet can easily slip out the door without you even realizing it! To prevent this, think about keeping your pet secured in a room or portion of the house where guests are not allowed. Or, if you’d rather let your pet roam; consider keeping a leash on him. Either way, put those baby gates up across the exterior doorways and be sure to let your guests know ahead of time that you have pets and how to keep them safe.
7. Always use collars, microchips, and GPS units
This is basic, but you might be surprised by how many pets escape without a collar or microchip. First thing’s first--when you adopt a new pet, always make sure he wears a collar with up-to-date info on his ID tags. Check the collar and tags often for wear and tear. Also, consider getting a collar with your phone number embroidered right into it; that way, if the tags ever fall off, a finder has a way to contact you.
Secondly, make sure your pet has a microchip. If your pet already has a chip, get in the habit of asking your vet to scan your pet for it anytime you bring him in. It is very common for chips to migrate or stop functioning altogether.
Finally, consider investing in a GPS unit for your pet. There are all sorts of different brands that are available for very reasonable prices. Think about it this way: if your pet gets lost, you will probably spend hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars to get him back--or worst case, you won’t get him back at all. The price of a GPS unit is nothing compared to the cost of his life. A GPS unit is the most powerful tool we have right now in the fight against missing pets (note: a GPS should NOT replace an ID tag; you should use it in conjunction).
8. Teach a recall command
A recall command is a word that, upon hearing it, causes your pet to come right back to you, 100% of the time, no exceptions. Typically, people train dogs on this type of command, but there’s nothing that says you can’t try it with cats too. A properly used recall command should stop a pet dead in his tracks and call him right back to your side. There are many ways to do this--you can hire a trainer or try it yourself using a long leash and lots of treats! Having a command that you only use for this purpose can keep him from getting lost and keep him safe in off-leash situations.
9. Backup system
Dogs slip out of their collars on walks a lot. Many a client has watched helplessly as their pet runs at full speed away from them, and then we have to launch a full-scale operation to get them back. A great way to combat this is to use a backup system. There are several ways to do it, but the basic idea is to make sure you’ve got your leash clipped to two different pieces, whether that’s a collar and a harness or two different collars. Sometimes, for extra tricky dogs, people use two separate leashes, each clipped to its own piece. There are also some versions where people use carabiners or couplers. Whatever your preference, the point is to make sure you devise something that will catch your dog if the first set of equipment fails. Here’s a video to show you just what I’m talking about.
Another common time for pets to go missing is when gardeners, landscapers, or other workers are at the house, leaving gates and doors open or unlocked. It happens a lot--and the scary thing is, it often happens when people are not even at home to notice. Luckily, there are things you can do. For starters, stay at home if you have workers there. Keep your pets inside, behind a closed door or baby gate, while the workers are working. Do not let them out until after the workers have left and you’ve done a full check of all doors and gates to make sure they are closed and locked.
Special note about newly adopted or skittish pets (or pets who have escaped before):
New pets, skittish pets, and pets with a history of escape are a particularly high flight risk and should be treated as such. If you have a pet that fits into one of these categories, you should automatically assume that your pet is actively and constantly seeking ways to escape. It takes a long time for pets to get used to a new place, sounds, people, and routine. It’s important that you employ every prevention method you can and go extra slowly with your new, skittish, or escape-artist pet. Make rules for you and your family to follow that keep your pet safe, and always follow them. Be overly cautious. Go beyond what you think is needed--one day, your commitment will be just the thing that saves your pet’s life.
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