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The best form of Lost Pet Rescue is preventing them from going missing in the first place. One of my biggest frustrations is that I’m working so hard to help all these people, and so many animals are at risk and suffering, in some cases dying, and almost all of it was preventable. My web page gets more than 70,000 views per year. Over half of those are people looking at the guide for lost cats, a quarter look at the guide for lost dogs, and roughly zero percent look at my pages on loss prevention. I have loss prevention for dogs in a long document, in a shorter, shareable document. I have loss prevention for cats. Loss prevention when leaving your dog with a pet sitter. Zero hits. I need to find a way to make people listen to me, but I haven’t found it yet. I can make you listen because you signed up for this course. I hope you will help me spread the gospel of loss prevention. A good time to do this is after you help someone get their pet back. They are somewhat receptive at this point, and you can go over the precautions they can take to avoid a similar occurrence. Knowing how much grief and suffering they went through, many people are open to making changes at that point.
Below are several articles about loss prevention. Although some of the information is redundant, I hope you will take the time to read each one just so you can have an idea of the different ways you could talk to people about loss prevention.
Loss prevention for cats.
Millions of cats go missing each year, and millions of cats end up in shelters, unclaimed. During 9 years of helping lost cats, I have always been amazed that so many people are looking for their lost cats, but the found cats waiting in the shelters are not the ones being sought. This is a mystery I have yet to solve. The best theory I have for why so many lost cats aren’t found, and so many found cats aren’t claimed, is that lost cats don’t make it to the shelter right away, and they may not go to the shelter with jurisdiction for the area they were lost in. If someone sees a cat sitting in a yard, they assume he lives there. It could take months for a cat to get someone’s attention and finally be taken to a shelter, by which time, the owners may have given up checking the shelters. However, one solution to both problems, which is easy and cheap, is implanting a microchip in your cat. With a microchip, your cat can be returned to you months or years later. If all those cats in the shelters had chips, well, the shelters would be empty. If your cat does not have a microchip, get this done before the end of the week. The cost is minimal, your cat won’t even notice he has a microchip, and it could very likely be the key difference whether you get your cat back if he is lost. Please do this one thing for your cat, if you do nothing else in this article. Get your cat chipped, now.
Other than a microchip, what else can you do to prevent your cat becoming lost, or ensure a speedy recovery? This article is broken into three sections. Part One covers tips for all cats. Part Two addresses indoor-only cats, and Part Three is for outdoor-access cats.
General tips for all cats:
All cats should be indoor-only, with the exception of feral cat colonies that are managed by Trap-Neuter-Release nonprofit groups. Keeping your cat indoors is good for your cat and good for the environment. Indoor cats live two or three times as long as outdoor access cats. Also, outdoor cats kill 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion songbirds each year. That’s billions. Keeping your pet cat indoors will greatly reduce the environmental impact, and reduce your cat’s exposure to disease or injury. Indoor only cats can sometimes escape outdoors and become lost, but there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of escape. At one time, we had six cats, with outdoor access. When we lost one of them, the remaining five became indoor only for the rest of their lives. They weren’t upset about the change, and after about a week, it was completely normal for them to be indoor only. They didn’t even ask to go outside. Of course, managing a litter box can be a challenge and a chore, especially with multiple cats, but it is a small price to pay for the huge increase in safety for your cat.
All cats should have microchips. There is simply no reason why a cat wouldn’t have a microchip. It can be done at the same time as the annual exam or vaccinations. It is relatively cheap. Chips are completely safe, and pose no health hazard to your cat. Once your cat is chipped, be sure to follow up with the microchip company to make sure they have your correct contact information. At your cat’s annual exam, have them scan the chip to make sure it is still working, and to see if it may have migrated to some other part of the body, which may happen in rare occasions. Be sure to update the microchip company’s records if you move or change phone numbers. It drives me crazy to see dozens of cats show up at local shelters every week, knowing that all those cats could have been returned home if they just had microchips.
Collars usually don’t work for most cats. They lose them frequently, and there is the risk that the collar will become caught on something, creating a hazard for the cat. If you do use a collar, make sure it is a breakaway collar that will release if it gets snagged. Test the clasp by pulling on the collar, to make sure it doesn’t release too easy, or doesn’t fail to release under moderate force. If you have a cat that tolerates a collar, and doesn’t lose it too often by catching it on things, then that’s great! Do keep a breakaway collar on that cat, with a proper ID tag. You may wish to use a collar with the phone number embroidered into the fabric.
If your cat tolerates a collar and doesn’t lose it too often, you may wish to attach a GPS tracking unit. So far, GPS trackers are bulky and not very reliable. It’s better than nothing, if your cat will wear one. Many companies are promising improvements to GPS tracking units, and I hope that within five years they will become reliable, small, light, and affordable.
Please create a Scent Article for your cat. This would be used by a trained scent trailing dog, if one is available in your area. A scent trailing dog is only useful for finding a lost cat in a limited number of situations, so such a dog may not be available or appropriate for all lost cats. However, creating a scent article is easy and cheap, so there is no reason not to do it. You will need a sterile gauze pad, a plastic sandwich bag, and a permanent maker. Rub the gauze pad all over your cat, from head to tail. Be sure to rub around the mouth and ears. If your cat sheds easily, try to pull out some fur with the gauze pad. Place the gauze pad in the plastic bag and mark the outside with your cat’s name and the date the scent article was created. These scent articles are useful for up to three years, but I recommend creating a new one every six months or so.
Take lots of pictures of your cat. If a cat is found, and there’s no microchip, a good, sharp photograph may be vital. I recently found a black cat, and I’m trying to reunite him with his family. There are an alarming number of black cats lost and found every week, and it can be hard to tell them apart. Unless your cat has a very unusual pattern or color, chances are that there are many thousands of cats who look almost identical. Having a clear, detailed picture can be really helpful. One person who thinks the black cat I found could be hers sent me a picture of her cat. (It's not.) This photo was blurry because the camera moved, and her cat is wearing a Santa suit that covers his entire body, and a hat that covers a quarter of his face. For the purposes of identifying her cat, this picture was not useful. Plus, the cat looked highly annoyed. All cats are beautiful, so why wouldn’t you take pictures of them? And everyone has a camera on their phone these days, or knows someone with a high resolution camera. Take pictures of your cat doing cute things, of course, but also take some very simple, well-lit, direct pictures that show any distinguishing features of your cat. You may also wish to take a few against a white or light background, in case you need to print out hundreds of Lost Cat fliers. Having a white background makes your cat easier to distinguish, and also can save a ton of ink.
If you go on vacation, be sure that the people caring for your cat or cats understand how important they are, and give clear, precise instructions for your cat’s care. Make certain they know to reach you immediately if a cat goes missing, and not to wait until you get home, for fear of ruining your vacation. When a cat goes missing, many ways of finding a cat are best implemented right away. Be sure your cat’s caretaker has a way to reach you in an emergency, and provide backup contact numbers. Make sure your cat is microchipped before you go on vacation, have a scent article stored, and go over some of the tips in this article with the pet sitter, just to be on the safe side.
Tips for Indoor-only cats
Create an “Air lock” for your main entry. This can be simple or elaborate. I would like to see every home with a cat have an extra front door, as you might have with covered porch, but you don’t have to go to that much expense and effort to create a second barrier to prevent cats from bolting. Another way is to go in and out through a second room that can be isolated, such as going through the garage, the laundry room, or the kitchen. If that is not an option, or not convenient, you can at least install a baby gate at least three feet away from the front door. Sure, most cats can get over a baby gate, but it will prevent the most common way that cats sneak out the front door, low and hugging the wall.
Post a small sign near an entrance that a guest or a maintenance worker might use. This would alert them that there is a cat in the house, and to be careful when going in or out, and not leave the door open. If I were making such a sign, I might include an additional sentence, warning visitors that I would bust their kneecaps if they lost my cat, but that’s optional.
When you take your cat to the vet for an annual checkup, or vaccines, or especially for some medical emergency, be sure to use a secure pet carrier. Double check to make sure the door is securely fastened. Do not take your cat to the vet simply by carrying him in your arms, even if your cat has the most friendly, calm, unflappable personality. There could be some strange noise, or you could trip, and your cat could fall out of your arms. A cat lost in an urban setting, near a veterinary office, can be challenging to find, and a cat lost in such an environment would be in unfamiliar surroundings, and possibly come into conflict with cats who have established territories in that area. I have personally witnessed several people who said, “There’s no way this cat can get out of my arms,” right before the cat escaped from their arms.
If you’re like me, the whole purpose of having walls and fences and landscaping is so you don’t have to know too much about your neighbors. That’s the thing I like most about cats and dogs: they aren’t people. However, if your cat does go missing, knowing your neighbors is a huge advantage. Neighbors can keep an eye out, and they can be a good source of information. They can also spread disinformation, such as the urban myth that almost every lost cat was killed by a coyote, when in reality less than ten percent of lost cats were the victims of predators. So, as you get to know your neighbors, you can work on getting better information circulating, and stop the rumors and myths. If your neighbors are your friends, they may help you look for a lost pet. If your neighbors at least don’t hate you, they may allow you to look on their property for your cat. Social media, such as Facebook and NextDoor.com, can help you keep in touch with your neighbors.
Security cameras are becoming increasingly affordable and reliable. I especially like the kind that will send an alert to your phone when it senses movement, and you can review the recording of what happened during and before that movement. Ideally, you would have at least two for your cat or cats. One camera could watch the interior, so you can see what your cat is up to. The other would watch the main approach to the house, in case your cat escapes, so you can see which way he went. Also, an exterior camera might show you if someone broke in and accidentally released your cat. If your cat is lost, exterior cameras can tell you if your cat is coming back to the house in the middle of the night, and also tell you if some neighborhood cat is hanging around, preventing your cat from coming home.
If your indoor-only cat escapes, please consider using a humane trap. Indoor-only cats usually don’t go far, and traps have a good chance of success in these cases. If you catch some other cat, don’t just automatically release it. See if you can figure out where this cat lives, and ask the owners if they can keep their cat indoors for a few days. Neighborhood cats claiming territory with their scent are the main reason lost cats don’t simply come back home. Humane traps can be very safe and effective. Please see this article for more information on the correct use of a trap.
Don’t put your cat’s dirty litter box outside in hopes of luring him back home. Every once in a while, a meme circulates around the internet, promising to find your lost pet quickly with one simple trick. Currently, it is the litter box lure meme getting all the attention. In my records of over 2200 cases of lost cats, not one of them reported that the dirty litter box trick was what brought their cat home, even though about 20% of the cat owners in these cases did try this. What some people have reported is that the dirty litter box attracted other neighborhood cats, and occasionally coyotes. If your indoor-only cat is lost, please see this Guide to Finding Your Lost Cat, and don’t try the litter box trick.
If your indoor-only cat escapes and hides, a scent trailing dog may be useful in the first few days. Ideally, the scent trailing dog would start looking for an indoor-only cat within the first 24 hours because a fresh scent is easier to follow, and because your cat probably traveled less distance in a shorter time. Depending on the circumstances, I probably wouldn’t recommend the scent trailing dog for finding a lost cat after three days, but the cat-detection dog has been useful in a window from 1 day to 21 days. See below.
Tips for Outdoor-access cats
Get to know your neighbors and your neighborhood. If your cat goes outside every day, know what he is getting into. How far does he usually roam? Does he get along with other cats in the neighborhood? Is there any particular cat that he fights with? If you get to know the owners of the other cats that roam the neighborhood, you can be a resource for each other if there are new hazards in the area or if one of the cats should go missing. Ideally, you should create a Cat Map of your area for 500 feet in all directions. This map would indicate which cat lives where. Other things you might make note of are things like, who is feeding birds. Bird feeders can attract neighborhood cats, and some bird lovers are not fond of outdoor cats. Also make note of who is setting out poison for rats. Usually, this takes the form of a black box, about the size of a shoe box, near the foundation of a house. A cat can’t, or won’t, get into the black box to eat the poison, but a cat might bite into a mouse that has eaten the poison. Usually, this won’t kill a cat, but it could make him sick, causing him to hide in silence for 7 to 10 days. If I had an outdoor cat, I would also make note of any owls in the area, and I would look for coyote scat. Coyotes tend to leave their poop in the middle of a trail or pathway, and you can always tell what a coyote has been eating because they ingest fur and bones. Usually, you will find that 95% of coyotes have been eating rabbits, rodents, occasionally fruit or nuts, and also garbage. If you start noticing coyote scat containing fur from domestic animals, such as orange fur, or pure white or pure black fur, then you need to be especially alert because at least one coyote has started to prey on domestic animals. If poking around in coyote poop doesn’t sound like fun to you, please consider transitioning your outdoor cat to indoors.
Many times, people who have lost outdoor access cats have told me they are keeping their other cats indoors from now on. That’s what I did when I lost my favorite cat. Actually, it was the third attempt at making them all indoor-only. One cat, Charlie, was just miserable unless he could go out on adventures all day. You may have a cat who is addicted to the outdoors. If that’s the case, please try using a catio--an outdoor space attached to the house, which is totally enclosed by fencing or wire mesh. Most cats will be fine with becoming indoor only. I know of owners of lost cats who have spent hundreds of hours looking for their lost cats, not to mention the heartache and worry. Transitioning most outdoor cats to indoor-only is easier than searching for them when they are gone.
For an outdoor-access cat that will tolerate a collar, a GPS tracker can be a real lifesaver. Even it the collar pops off once in awhile, you can probably find the tracking unit because, well, it’s a tracking unit. You should be able to narrow down the area where it popped off, within five feet or so, and then poke around in the bushes until you find it. If you do put a GPS tracker on your outdoor cat, use it to make a map of all the places he usually goes. He will most likely have a routine, a series of places he likes to visit every day. Knowing where he likes to go will help you track him down if he goes missing, or perhaps lead you to evidence or clues to where he went and what might have happened to him. Also, please use a permanent marker to write your phone number on the tracking unit in case someone finds it after the battery has died.
Outdoor security cameras are beneficial for your family’s safety, and you can keep an eye on your cat, and any intruder cats or predators that might come into your yard. If your cat goes missing, video footage might give you an important clue to what happened or which way he went. The expense of security cameras is relatively small compared to the $5,000 to $15,000 you might spend on your cat’s food and veterinary care over the course of his life.
As stated above, you can make a scent article for your cat so a search dog can track him if he goes missing. It certainly won’t hurt to do this for your outdoor cat, but a scent trailing dog probably won’t be able to follow the specific scent of your outdoor access cat because there would normally be scent trails all over the place. A scent trailing dog wouldn’t usually be able to discriminate Tuesday’s scent trail from Monday’s, especially if they crossed and overlapped, as you would expect with an outdoor cat. Because that is often a problem with outdoor cats, some dogs, like Komu, have been trained to search for any cat they can find, and he isn’t hindered by the lack of a discrete scent trail. A cat-detection dog methodically scours the areas of highest probability, searching for the lost cat, or any cat he can find. Cat-detection dogs also find evidence of a cat fight or a predator attack. So if you have an outdoor cat that can’t be converted to an indoor cat, go ahead and make a scent article because it is easy and cheap. There may be certain circumstances where a scent-trailing dog may be used to follow an outdoor cat, but in most cases, you would need a cat-detection dog.
Setting aside the fact that you love your cat, and he or she is a member of the family, a cat is an investment. On average, most people would spend at least $3,000 on regular care and feeding over a lifetime. If you count the couch he destroyed, the cost goes up. I hope your cat is healthy for his entire life, but many cats face serious illnesses and disorders with old age, and it’s not uncommon to spend $15,000 or more caring for a cat over his lifetime. Just as you would get vaccines to protect your cat from certain illnesses, and you might buy vet insurance for your cat to protect against huge medical bills, it makes sense to protect your cat against going missing. Most of the steps provided here are simple, easy, and affordable. Especially the microchip. If you do nothing else to protect against the loss of your cat, definitely get your cat chipped. Do it now.
Here is the shareable version of loss prevention for dogs. I will just share the link here because I like the way it is set up with pictures on the web page. [http://www.3retrievers.com/loss-prevention-for-dogs.html]
Loss Prevention for Dogs
More than 3 million dogs go missing every year in the US, according to various studies. It might never happen to you, but it can be devastating when it does happen. While I earn my living by helping people find their lost pets, I would be very happy if there was no longer a need for my services. You can take precautions to reduce the chances your dog will go missing. You can also prepare, so that if your dog is lost, then you will get him back as soon as possible. Although there are 23 items on this list, you can certainly do most of them without too much time and trouble. Just doing one or two things on the list could greatly increase your chances of preventing a lost dog. The first step is simply to be aware that it can happen. Since 2008, I've spent thousands of hours learning everything there is to know about how dogs go missing, and how to get them back. Still, I’ve lost my little poodle, Fozzie, about 8 times. Fozzie loves to run free. After the first time he jumped past me through an open door, I got him a GPS collar. During five of his escapes, I tracked him on my iPhone as he explored the neighborhood, recovering him in less than five minutes each time. One time he escaped, I didn’t even know he was missing until someone called me a few minutes later, from the number engraved on his tag. I thought he was in the car, but he had rolled down the window, apparently. The last two times he bolted out the door, he came back on his own before the GPS could even pinpoint him. Now that he is approaching six years of age, hopefully his days of running wild are coming to an end. Knowing Fozzie is likely to escape, I have taken precautions to prevent escapes, and to recovery him as quickly as possible. I would be devastated if he disappeared permanently. I have five dogs. I love them more than any possessions, and I take measures to protect them.
1. First, be aware that it can happen a variety of ways. I have assisted with the search for about 2500 missing dogs since 2008. The most common reasons dogs run away are: They are in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar people; they are startled by unexpected noises or events, like fireworks or thunder; a door or a gate was left open by someone who didn’t know the dog was in the yard or room; the dog backed out of a collar; the dog chased a critter and then got lost; attack by another dog; the dog is a known runner (like Fozzie) who takes advantage of an opportunity. Much rarer are instances of predation by coyotes or outright theft from a secure location. Even though theft and predation are rare, I definitely take measures to reduce the risk for my 13-pound poodle. I don’t leave him in the car alone. I have a special backpack he fits in, so he goes into the grocery store with me. I don’t leave him in the yard alone. When he goes out, even in my yard, he is on a leash, attended at all times. In fact, most days, Fozzie is never out of my sight for a second.
2. ID tags. One simple thing—proper ID tags—would probably put me out of business. It is so simple and basic, and it is just stunning how this obvious loss-prevention tool is ignored. Every day, my local shelter shows pictures of five or ten new dogs that have ended up there. Every one of them could be back home if they just had tags. If you don’t like the jingling of tags, or they keep you awake at night, then you can get a collar with the ID embroidered. My working dogs have embroidered collars so they won’t have noisy jingling tags while they are working missing pet cases. Sky and Viktor, my two dogs most likely to escape, have noisy jingling tags specifically to make them easier to find by sound. Sky’s tag is big and thick, and clanks in a distinctive way. Make sure your dog’s tags are updated with your current number, and make sure the numbers aren’t worn away. Use a good quality ring to attach the tag to the collar, one that won’t break easily. Another easy way to ID your dog is to write your number on the inside of the collar with a permanent marker. It won’t be the first place someone looks, but chances are someone would find the number there eventually. Fozzie has his ID tag with his name and my cell phone number, and he also has his city license, so he could be returned to me either way. Dogs may also be reunited through a rabies tag.
3. Martingale collar. Fozzie wears a Martingale collar and a harness. A Martingale type collar is one that tightens up when the dog pulls away from you. A loop of fabric runs through two rings on the ends of the collar, and when tension increases, the loop pulling away from the dog draws the rings toward each other, tightening the collar. Two keys to the proper use of a Martingale collar are that you have to adjust it properly, and you have to be sure to hook the leash to the middle ring. The collar should be adjusted so that when the dog pulls away hard, the two rings just meet each other. You don’t want the rings far apart when under tension, because that means you could be choking your dog. You don’t want the rings to meet under slight tension because that means the dog could slip out of the collar. Some Martingale collars have three rings that look quite similar, and you need to pay attention that you are actually attaching the leash to the middle ring. A good Martingale collar has oblong metal rings attaching the loop to the collar, so you can’t mistake which metal ring you are supposed to attach the leash to. If a dog is new to me, or if a dog is known to try to escape, I fit the dog with a Martingale collar and a harness, and walk the dog with two leashes at once. There’s no way that puppy is getting out of both of them.
4. GPS collars, affordable and useful. I can’t really think of a reason not to have a GPS device on your dog’s collar if there is any chance he would escape. The cost is minimal, compared to other expenses you would face as a dog owner. The purchase price and an entire year of monitoring cost less than a single vet visit. I’m sure prices will come down farther as the technology improves. Valentino, my youngest dog, is currently using a Whistle 3. It's not perfect, but it works. It is very likely that Fozzie’s GPS collar saved his life on more than one occasion, allowing me to track him down quickly, typically in less than five minutes, before he could be hit by a car or something. Unlike most people, I have a scent tracking dog who could find any of my dogs if they were lost. I would much rather use the GPS tracker, if possible, to find him quickly.
5. Microchip. A microchip is another basic tool to help your dog get back to you quickly. The rumor that microchips cause cancer is simply not supported by facts. Even if it was true that some small minority of dogs developed cancer associated with the microchip, the benefits of having a chip would far outweigh the slight risk. All those dogs in the shelter every day would also be returned home if they had microchips, even if their collars fell off. Not only do all five of my dogs have microchips, but I also carry a microchip scanner with me wherever I go, in case I find a dog. On many occasions, I have scanned a dog and found a chip number, only to have the microchip company tell me the owner never provided their current information. I can still track down an owner, usually, by calling the vet or the shelter that implanted the chip, but it would be so much easier if people kept their information current. Check with your microchip company to make sure your personal data is current. Also, the next time you take your dog to the vet, have them scan the chip to make sure it is working, and to make sure it is in the expected place at the back of the neck. In some dogs, the chip could migrate to some other part of the body, making it harder to find with the scanner.
6. Photographs. I am surprised how many people call me for help finding their dogs, and yet they can’t provide a clear photo. I have over thirty thousand pictures of my dogs, just because they are beautiful. All dogs are beautiful in their own way, so why wouldn’t you have lots of pictures? Even if you don’t want pictures of your cute dog, at least take a few in case he goes missing. Take pictures of your dogs doing cute and funny things, of course, but also take a few pictures that are just very clear, straightforward, and simple. Imagine that your dog is lost, and you need to create missing dog posters: is the picture clear enough that people could easily identify your dog? Be sure to include distinct identifying traits in some of the pictures, to distinguish your dog from similar dogs. if possible, try to take some pictures against a plain background, such as a white wall, so the dog is very easy to distinguish. Once you have good pictures, share them with friends and family, in case your phone is stolen or your computer crashes. There are people who make a living just photographing dogs, and I highly recommend that as well, if it’s in your budget. You’d be surprised at what a professional photographer could do with your ordinary dog.
7. Scent article. In my freezer, there are scent articles for about 25 dogs, stored in individual plastic bags. I have my five dogs’ scent stored there, of course, plus my brother’s cat’s scent, plus the scents of many dogs that stayed with me for a short time. When I find a stray dog, creating a scent article is one of the first steps I take, in case the dog escapes from me. A scent article is only really useful if there is a dog in your area specifically trained to find lost pets. Missing Pet Partnership has a national directory of trained scent-trailing dogs. Most metropolitan areas are covered, and some scent dog handlers are willing to travel with their dogs. It costs almost nothing and takes less than two minutes to create a scent article, so why wouldn’t you? To make the scent article, you need a sterile gauze pad, rubber gloves, a Ziploc bag, and a permanent marker. You could do it without the rubber gloves if you absolutely can’t get any. You pet your dog anyway, so he would have a little of your scent, most likely. To make the scent article, put on the gloves, open the wrapper for the gauze pad, and wipe the gauze all over your dog, from head to toe. By sure to wipe around the mouth and ears. If your dog will let you, wipe the pad between his toes, as dogs have special oil glands there. Put the gauze in the plastic bag and seal it tight. Write on the outside of the bag the dog’s name and the date. Do this for each of your dogs, and also for any dog that you are watching temporarily. The 25 dog scents stored in my freezer take up very little room. You should make a new scent article for each of your dogs every six months, although frozen scent articles three years old have been proven viable in training exercises. Make scent articles for your cats, too, just in case.
8. Know of resources before you lose your dog, like shelters, pet finding services, volunteer groups. You should know about lost pet organizations in your area even if your dog isn’t missing. A third of all dogs go missing at some point in their lives, so even if your dog never goes missing, your friend’s dog or your neighbor’s dog will be missing at some point. Do you know which shelter serves your area? That isn’t always easy to figure out, so do a little research. The Seattle Humane Society does not serve the city of Seattle, for example. Dogs found in Federal Way, just blocks from the King County animal shelter in Kent, are transported to the Pierce County shelter, miles away. I once found a dog who was wandering in an area, and he wandered through three jurisdictions before I was able to pick him up. Which shelter should he go to? I reported him to all three shelters. Does your area have a search dog specifically trained to find lost dogs? Don’t wait until you have an emergency to learn these things. Chances are that there is a Facebook page dedicated to lost pets in your geographic region. Join that group and ask what the resources are for finding lost pets. Even if you never, ever lose your pets, you will eventually know someone who will benefit from that knowledge.
9. Human Animal Bond. Of the approximately 2500 missing dog cases I have worked on so far, about 75% of those families got their dogs back eventually, one way or another, not always because of my actions or advice. In my experience, the biggest factor in whether or not you will get your dog back is the Human Animal Bond. That is your relationship with your dog, how important he is to you, and how you interact with your dog. I have about 30,000 pictures of my dogs. I am with them all day, every day. I work with my dogs. They are my business partners. They are my family. They are my life. I would die for them. Not everyone is so involved with their dogs. To some people, the family dog is a nuisance they put up with. Perhaps you got stuck with the dog when a relative died, and you never really wanted a dog in the first place. Maybe a dog is just a theft deterrent, out in the yard on the end of a chain. Whatever your relationship to your dog, you can take steps to improve your bond. If you don’t feel bonded with your dog because he has behavioral issues, please enlist the services of a professional behaviorist who can help you get past this problem. Yes, it is an expense, but it will be well worth it when you don’t have to deal with this same problem day after day. When I got my first dog, Porter, I did not intend for him to be the center of my life. I got him for a stupid reason: I wanted to deter a burglar who had targeted our rural home repeatedly over the years. Since I first got a dog 17 years ago, our house has never been robbed again. However, the only things in my house I particularly care about losing these days are my dogs. Perhaps your bond with your dog will strengthen without you even trying, the way Porter became the center of my life even if that wasn’t my intention. You can involve yourself in activities that strengthen your bond. Find something you both like to do. Most dogs love to watch TV, not because they watch the TV, but just because they like to hang out with you. Take your dog hiking, if you can do so safely. Take your dog to the off-leash park, if it has a secure fence. Go for walks, take your dog’s picture, spend time with a friend who has a dog compatible with yours. Find your dog’s particular skills, like finding treats with his nose. Go to an obedience class. Take a hundred pictures of your dog with 100 fruits and vegetables on his head. (Google “100 Fruits & Vegetables on Dog's Head in 100 Seconds” and watch the YouTube video. It’s great.) Teach your dog to get you a beer out of the fridge. A stronger bond is rewarding to you and your dog.
10. Recall command, and other obedience. My dogs aren’t big on obedience. A good search dog has an independent spirit, and can be mischievous. One thing I’ve worked on with all my dogs is the recall command—I say Come and they come to me, usually. We work on this command by first teaching them to sit and stay. Then I walk away from them, and they are straining to come to me. When I give the command, that releases them from the sit/stay and they get to do what they wanted to do anyway, come to me. If your dog escapes and runs loose for any amount of time, chances are that this command won’t work. However, it could make the difference in a situation that has the potential to turn into an escape. For example, if you accidentally dropped the leash, your dog might be hesitating, trying to decide if he is going to go on a romp around the neighborhood or come back to you. A practiced recall command could make the difference. One of my dogs, Sky, will likely never make a good search dog, so I am working on obedience commands with her. Basic obedience can make your dog easier to approach by a Good Samaritan who is trying to help your dog get back home. It can also strengthen your Human Animal Bond, decreasing the chances of an escape.
11. Some basic socialization. Teaching your dog to be friendly around strangers will increase the chances of a Good Samaritan being able to lure your dog to safety. The downside to that might be that if your dog is too friendly, someone might be tempted to keep him. Just how friendly you want your dog to be is debatable, and you have to make that decision based on other factors in your life, such as how often your dog has to interact with the public. At a minimum, you want your dog to at least not be deathly afraid of strangers. If your dog is just going to run from every human he sees, that is going to make it very hard for him to find help if he is lost.
12. Update and share information. Create an information sheet about your dog, such as whom to contact in an emergency if you aren’t available. Include pictures, basic description, and any health precautions someone would need to know about if they found your dog. Include several ways of contacting you, such as phone and email. Share this information with a few family members or friends that you can rely on in an emergency. If you were to be incapacitated in a car accident, and your dog escaped, would friends and family have the necessary information to recover your dog while you were in the hospital?
13. Be aware of predators. Statistically, being taken by a predator is one of the least likely things that could happen to your dog, especially if your dog weighs more than 15 pounds. In more than 3,000 lost dog cases, only one dog over 15 pounds was ever taken by a predator, that I’m aware of. Still, take precautions, especially if you are hiking in the wilderness. Give your dog a noisy ID tag, so he doesn’t accidentally sneak up on a bear. Keep your dog on a leash while hiking, if possible. Dogs have been known to chase after a bear, make the bear angry, and then run back toward you. The dog can outrun the bear, probably, but you definitely cannot. If you have a small dog, keep him in sight even in your back yard. Although it happens very rarely, I do know of at least thirty instances where the small dog was in the back yard not far from the owner, and a coyote took the dog in a stealth attack without the owner even being aware what happened. I always keep my Fozzie on a leash outside. If I had a really securely fenced yard and I let him out off-leash, I would keep myself between Fozzie and the forest as much as possible. Predators aren’t something you should worry about too much, but just take a few simple precautions.
14. Avoid leaving your dog in your car. As much as possible, avoid situations where you would need to leave your dog unattended in a car. Especially small dogs. I have a backpack Fozzie fits in, and I take him into the grocery store with me. Try to plan your trips so that your dogs will be safe at home when you have to go inside a business. If I absolutely had to stop somewhere on my way home, and I had to leave my dogs in the car for a few minutes, I would try to park where a security camera was aimed at the car. I know of at least a dozen instances where a dog was stolen from a car, or the car was stolen with the dog in it.
15. Do not leave your dog tied up outside a business. You might think you live in a neighborhood where everyone is friendly and everyone watches out for everyone else. That may be mostly true, but it only takes one person to ruin your day. Even if you can see your dog from inside the business, leaving her tied up outside is still a bad idea. Besides outright theft, your dog could be frightened by an unexpected loud noise, and either back out of her collar or chew through the leash. A few dogs tied to outdoor furniture have been startled by something, then startled when the chair or table moves, and then they have run in blind panic while the furniture chases them down the street.
16. Fenced yard, safety check, reinforcement. Before I take a dog to a foster home or send a dog to a new home where he is being adopted, I go there and check how well the backyard is fenced. In most cases where the person thought their yard was secure, I found several places where a dog could escape, by forcing a board out, climbing on a wood pile, going through a gap beneath the fence, or finding a low spot. Different dogs require different fences. My Komu, for example, can jump a seven foot fence with little effort. Fortunately, he is not one to try to escape. Make sure your gate latches are secure and reliable. Electric fences, relying on units on the dogs’ collars, will fail for a variety of reasons, and I don’t recommend them. Invisible fences also won’t keep predators or stray dogs out of your yard. If you have a fence, make sure it is solid, tall, secure, with good gates and no weak spots. An ineffective fence is worse than no fence at all.
17. Know your neighbors. If your dog should go missing, friendly neighbors who know your dog could be the key difference in making sure your dog doesn’t get too far. Also, they may be a good source of information about which way your dog went, and when. If you have a frosty relationship with some of your neighbors, that will make it harder to ask for their assistance if your dog is missing. If everyone on the block knows and loves your dog, they will watch out for him if he gets loose, and probably help you with the search effort. Also, in a neighborhood where all the residents know each other, a thief specifically targeting dogs is less likely to go unnoticed.
18. Cameras and security. I know of several instances where surveillance cameras provided clues as to what happened to the missing dog. It wouldn’t be high on my list of priorities, but if you’ve done everything else on this list and want to do even more to keep your dogs safe, security cameras couldn’t hurt. A web cam is also a nice way to check in on your dogs when you aren’t home, and see what they are up to.
19. Vacations. Perhaps 15% of my lost dog cases involve the owners being on vacation. I simply won’t go on vacation without taking my dogs with me. If you do go on vacation without your dogs, make sure they are staying with someone reliable. If you are taking them to a “Spa” or “Resort”, ask to tour the facility before you let your dog stay there. If they say customers aren’t allowed in the back, go somewhere else. If I absolutely had to leave my dogs at a kennel or spa, I would choose one with web cams that allowed me to check in on my dogs. If you are leaving your dog with friends or relatives, make sure they understand how important your dogs are to you, and you will be very upset if anything happens to your dogs. I know of many instances where the dog escaped and the people watching the dog didn’t tell the owners because they didn’t want to ruin their vacation. Make sure whoever is watching your dogs knows they are to call you immediately if anything at all goes wrong. Give them alternate contact information as well. Before you go on vacation, make sure you have a scent article stored in the freezer, as described above. Make sure the microchip and ID tag are correct and current. Or, better yet, just plan a staycation and visit some local attractions with your dog.
20. If an escape does happen:
a. Don’t chase. In most cases where people witnessed a dog escaping, they made matters worse by chasing the dog and freaking him out. One time, my Fozzie leapt out of the car door at the post office, near a semi-busy street. I grabbed at his leash and missed. I didn’t panic, though, and I didn’t chase him. Instead, I walked away from him toward the post office, away from the street, and got him to follow me. Then I could grab his leash in a casual way, without lunging for it. Some people panic with a dog near a street, lunge at him, and actually drive him into the street. A better way to approach such a situation would be to get yourself between the dog and the street, so that if he did bolt, it would be away from the street. Chasing a dog may be your first instinct, but it almost never works. The more you chase, the more the dog panics. The tiniest dog can outrun the fastest human. Instead of chasing, use calming signals.
b. Don’t call the dog’s name. If a dog is panicking, or if he has had some frightening experiences, calling his name will likely just cause him to run and hide. Instead, don’t look at your dog—basically act like you are ignoring him—and let him hear your calm voice. A good way to do it is to turn your back to the dog and either call someone on your cell phone or pretend to call someone. Don’t address your conversation to the dog. Talk about anything mundane, like stopping at the store to pick up milk on the way home or something. Another technique you can use if your dog is too far away to hear a normal conversation is to turn facing to the side of the dog, 90 degrees, and call the name of some dog your dog knows and hopefully likes. This has worked on many occasions. I know of hundreds of cases where the owner of a lost dog saw their dog, called the dog’s name, and the dog ran farther away. Perhaps it could work to call your dog’s name in some cases, but the chances are too great that it will have the opposite effect.
c. Calming signals. Dogs use calming signals to communicate with each other. They often try calming signals on humans, although most people are unaware of it. Turid Rugaas has put out books and DVDs on the subject, so please seek out her works. If you encounter your lost dog in the street, and your dog is anything but happy to see you, pretend you don’t see your dog. Walk to a point 50 feet to the side of your dog, as though you are going to walk right by, unaware your dog is there. Then walk by your dog again, maybe 30 feet to the side this time. If there is wind at all, walk to the point that will best carry your scent toward your dog. Sit down on the ground—don’t crouch or squat—with your shoulder toward your dog so he can see your face but you aren’t looking at him. Yawn and lick your lips. Get treats out of your pocket and pretend to eat them, or if you don’t have any treats, get a crinkly wrapper or paper out of your pocket and pretend to eat something. If you have treats, accidentally drop some on the ground. Let your dog come to you in his own time. Very likely, once he relaxes and gets a good whiff of your scent, he will come right up to you, wiggly and happy. Don’t lunge at him, but let him come all the way to you.
d. Get help soon. Don’t wait too long to get help. If you can’t locate your dog within half an hour of an escape, enlist the help of neighbors, friends, family, animal control, volunteer groups, or professional pet finders. You can always cancel your request for help. Many times, I have schedule my search dogs to come out in the morning, and I have been happy to learn that the search is cancelled because the dog came home or was found. If you wait days before you ask for help, it will be harder for people to help you. There are many more things you can do to find a lost dog, as I have described in my book, Three Retrievers’ Guide to Finding Your Lost Dog. You can even download this book to your smart phone and have it handy just in case you need it. If you never need it for your dog, eventually someone you know will need this information.
Pet Sitter Precautions
Before you hand over your cat or dog to a pet sitter, please take a moment to consider some common sense precautions. Most pets in the care of a pet sitter will be well taken care of, and there shouldn’t be any problem. However, a significant percentage of the people requesting help from Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue start off by saying, “The pet sitter lost my pet!” When your cat or dog is in the care of a pet sitter, your pet may be anxious that you are gone, routines can change, maybe the pet sitter isn’t aware that the back door doesn’t always latch tight, or some other idiosyncratic detail. Whatever the reason, pets do go missing from pet sitters far more often than necessary. Whether the pet sitter is watching your cat or dog at your home or in their home, please take certain precautions before you go on your trip, and be sure to ask the pet sitter some basic questions.
You can and should take all of these loss prevention measures at any time, even if you aren’t leaving your dog with a pet sitter.
—Make sure your dog has a microchip, and be certain the information is up to date with the microchip company.
—Make sure your dog has a reliable collar and a legible tag.
—Take many photos that are clear and simple, and show any distinguishing marks on your dog. These may be needed for a Lost Dog poster, or to post on social media. These pictures should be available to the pet sitter and a friend or relative near your home.
—For each dog, create a scent article, in case the services of a tracking dog are needed to help locate your dog. This is made by rubbing a sterile gauze pad all over your dog and storing it in the freezer in a sealed plastic bag. Make a separate scent article for each dog or cat in your home, and write the name and date on the outside of the plastic bag before sticking it in the freezer. Make sure this scent article can be made available while you are out of town.
—The pet sitter should have plenty of ways to contact you or your vet or a friend or relative. Be certain to have a clear understanding, preferably in writing, that if your dog should go missing for any reason, the pet sitter should notify you or your representative immediately. If you live in the Seattle area, you can tell them to contact Three Retrievers right away, 206-552-0304.
—If there is any chance at all that your dog might get spooked or try to back out of a collar or harness, buy a collar and a harness that fit your dog perfectly, and two leashes, and make clear that your dog is to be walked with two leashes, one to the collar and one to the harness.
—Consider getting a GPS tracking unit for your dog’s collar, and verify that it is working properly before you leave on your trip.
Take a tour of your house and yard, looking for ways your dog could escape if he wanted to, such as a gap under the gate or a loose board in the fence. Keep in mind that just because your dog hasn’t gotten out, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t. Fix any weaknesses.
—If the pet sitter is watching your dog in your home, you may want to invest in security cameras that connect to WiFi and watch your home inside and out.
—If a dog goes missing, this guide details the best methods of finding a lost dog. Make sure the pet sitter reads the whole thing before taking your dog. If the pet sitter is not willing to read this guide ahead of time, find a different pet sitter.
Questions to ask a pet sitter before handing over your dog.
—Have you ever lost a dog that was in your care? More than one?
—Did you read the Guide to Finding a Lost Dog?
—Are we clear that I will be inordinately upset if you lose my dog?
—You understand you are to call me or the designated contact right away if my dog goes missing?
—If anyone else besides you has access to my dogs, they would need to answer these questions and agree to these rules.
—If your dog will be staying somewhere other than your home, ask to see the facility before handing over your dog. If a tour is not offered, get someone else to watch your dog.
You can and should take all of these loss prevention measures at any time, even if you aren’t leaving your cat with a pet sitter.
—Make sure your cat has a microchip, and be certain the information is up to date with the microchip company.
—Consider a breakaway collar and tag for your cat. Not all cats will wear a collar, but if possible, have him wear one at least while you are on your trip.
—Take many photos that are clear and simple, and show any distinguishing marks on your cat. These may be needed for a Lost Cat poster, or to post on social media. These pictures should be available to the pet sitter and a friend or relative near your home.
—For each cat, create a scent article, in case the services of a tracking dog are needed to help locate your cat. This is made by rubbing a sterile gauze pad all over your cat and storing it in the freezer in a sealed plastic bag. Make a separate scent article for each dog or cat in your home, and write the name and date on the outside of the plastic bag before sticking it in the freezer. Make sure this scent article can be made available while you are out of town.
—The pet sitter should have plenty of ways to contact you or your vet or a friend or relative. Be certain to have a clear understanding, preferably in writing, that if your cat should go missing for any reason, the pet sitter should notify you or your representative immediately. If you live in the Seattle area, you can tell them to contact Three Retrievers right away, 206-552-0304.
—Consider getting a GPS tracking unit for your cat’s collar, and verify that it is working properly before you leave on your trip.
—Take a tour of your house and/or yard, (depending on whether your cat is indoor only or outdoor access) looking for ways your cat could escape if he wanted to, such as a sliding window or a door that doesn’t always latch tight. Keep in mind that just because your cat hasn’t gotten out, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t. Fix any weaknesses.
—If the pet sitter is watching your cat in your home, you may want to invest in security cameras that connect to WiFi and watch your home inside and out.
—If your cat will be transported to another location, your cat absolutely must be in a carrier that is strong and secure.
—If a cat goes missing, this guide details the best methods of finding a lost cat. Make sure the pet sitter reads the whole thing before taking your cat. If the pet sitter is not willing to read this guide ahead of time, find a different pet sitter.
Questions to ask a pet sitter before handing over your cat.
—Have you ever lost a cat that was in your care? More than one?
—Did you read the Guide to Finding a Lost Cat?
—Are we clear that I will be inordinately upset if you lose my cat?
—You understand you are to call me or the designated contact right away if my cat goes missing?
—If anyone else besides you has access to my cat, they would need to answer these questions and agree to these rules.
—If your cat will be staying somewhere other than your home, ask to see the facility before handing over your cat. If a tour is not offered, get someone else to watch your cat.