It’s every pet parent’s nightmare: you call your pet in from another room or the yard but receive no response. So you call again. Still nothing. Your heart races, your stomach flips, and you fly into a tornado of panic and denial. But your quick lap around your property confirms it: your pet is missing. It’s nearly impossible to think clearly and stay calm when your pet is nowhere to be found, which is why it’s so important to have a plan of action now - before you need it.
Every lost pet case is unique, but there are common, well-proven techniques that I use with all of my Ninjadog Concepts clients to set a solid foundation for a successful recovery campaign. Time and time again, I have seen them work. The trick is, there’s no science to this, which means you can’t just do one or two of these things; you really have to do them all because you never know which effort is going to be the one that brings your pet home.
As soon as you notice that your pet is gone, spring into action. Many pet owners waste valuable recovery time thinking their pet will come home on his own. Even if he’s gotten out and returned of his own accord before, there is no guarantee that will be the case this time. Get signs up in your yard, on your front door, and on your garage door to let people know your pet is missing and this is his home.
Hit The Streets
Next , you’ll start your search and spread the word by hanging flyers around your neighborhood. If you can, take at least one other person with you - that way, one of you can search, while the other hangs flyers and knock on doors.
A few tips for effective flyers:
They should be in full color
Include a large, clear, full-body photo
Include a phone number
Include a few descriptive items (like species/breed, weight, color)
Advertise a reward
If you can’t whip up good-looking, color flyers quickly, it’s okay to put up hand-written ones and replace them with better ones later - but you must remember to go back. The handwritten ones are just to get the word out quickly; you need high-quality flyers to keep people’s attention over the long run.
Start on your own street and work your way out as far as you can. Make sure you hit well-traveled, main intersections (all 4 corners) in addition to quieter neighborhood streets. If your pet has been missing a while and the trail has gone cold, just hit the main intersections- the goal in that scenario is to get the most distance covered versus going for dense coverage.
When searching for your missing pet, take species into consideration. Dogs are more likely to run fast and far, while cats are almost always hiding within a few blocks - even mere houses away - from their escape point. Also think about your pet’s personality. Do a mental inventory as you search and take note of places that might naturally attract or repel your pet.
However, you don’t want to totally rule out any locations based on this; just use it to set some search priorities, hitting the closest and more attractive places first. Your pet’s behavior can change quickly once he’s out on the streets, so leave no stone unturned - literally.
Additionally, visit the closest animal shelters, veterinary offices, groomers, and any other pet-related businesses in your area in person to see if they may have picked your pet up. If not, leave a flyer and continue to check back every few days.
Activate The Larger System
In addition to your neighborhood streets, you need to pound the virtual pavement. Make phone calls and send mass text messages to family and friends notifying them of the situation as you’re searching. Once you get home, take it one step further by building a Facebook page, placing an ad on Craigslist and lost pet websites, and emailing all of your contacts.
Leveraging the Internet is an increasingly important part of lost pet recovery plans. Once you create an online presence for your missing pet, it will literally spread the word for you 24/7. Also, many animal rescuers and advocates spend a lot of time on email and social media sites networking homeless animals, so reaching them is vital - they have the beat on stray animals that could possibly be your missing pet.
Keep Track of the Big Picture
You may be lucky and find your missing pet within hours, but it’s more likely that you’ll be on the hunt for a day or more - maybe even weeks or months. From the beginning, keep all of your information organized and in one place. Keep a notebook and pen handy at all times and start a map where you can plot sightings and keep track of where you’ve put up flyers. Research shows you should aim to search and flyer a 3-mile radius, so be sure to mark that boundary on the map as well.
Staying organized ensures you don’t misplace any important information and also makes it easy for you to delegate responsibilities when people ask what they can do to help. All you have to do is look at your map, tell them which streets need flyers, and send them on their way!
There are so many things you can do to bring attention to your lost pet’s plight! Take stock of who you know and what everyone’s good at to put your connections and skills to work! Try:
Garnering media attention
Turning your car into a billboard
Doing an Intersection Alert
Running newspaper or internet ads
Going door-to-door and leaving letters for the neighbors asking that they search their property and keep their eyes open
Setting and monitoring traps
Managing Tips and Staying In It For the Long Haul
If you don’t find your pet within a few hours, your time is best spent flyering and spreading the word. The chances of you actually seeing your pet while searching are very slim. It’s more likely someone else will see your pet when you’re not there - and when they do, they need to know who to call, so your number one goal is to keep increasing your presence – both on the streets and online.
When you get a lead, your instinct will probably be to run out the door, but you should take time to ask a few questions and write the information down. You want to get everything you can out of the tipster before you lose contact with them, it will save you valuable time and energy. Be sure to:
record the tipster’s name and contact info;
note the date, time, and location of the sighting;
and get any physical descriptors the tipster has to give.
Try to let the tipster do most of the talking, without prompting, so you can get as much genuine information as possible.
Go out to the location of the sighting, but don’t expect to see your pet. Your goal is to get flyers up in that area so that if he does pop up again, you can get another tip.
If the trail goes cold, shift your focus back to your 3-mile radius, and don’t give up. So much of lost pet recovery is about staying tenacious. A lot of times, people think that if they haven’t found their pet within a few weeks, he’s not coming home, but do a web search for “lost pet reunion” and you’ll find stories and see videos of pets coming home after months (even years)! When you get discouraged, you can draw inspiration and support from others who’ve been there.
Finally, remember to stay safe. Unfortunately, there are bad people out there who prey on the vulnerability of this situation, so use your head. If someone says they have your pet, demand a cell phone or email photo as proof. If they say they can’t or won’t do it, that’s a giant red flag. If they really had your pet and really wanted the reward, they would find a way to get you proof. Once you have proof, arrange a meeting place - preferably during daylight hours or in a well-lit public place (like a grocery store parking lot). Take someone with you, and tell someone else where you’re going. If you’re really wary, you can always ask the police for help.
We hope that these tips help to bring a few more lost pets home.