What to do when Muffy is missing

Posted: Sunday, March 21, 2004

Few things are as frightening to a pet owner as having an animal run away or get lost. It can be a terrifying experience wondering if you'll ever get your canine companion or feline friend back, and the sad truth is not every one does get their pet back.

All pets should have a collar with tags that have the current phone number and address of their owner. An under-the-skin personal identification transponder (microchip) will greatly aid in reuniting a lost pet with its owner, as well.

However, accidents like a dog slipping out of a collar can occur. Being prepared ahead of time and knowing what to do in an emergency can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

It's very important to have a lost pet package and keep it up to date. The package should include a current photo of the pet that is clear and taken relatively close-up. This will help in finding the pet. Also, have at least one photo with the owner and the pet, to help identify that the pet belongs to you.

Another item to include in the lost pet package is a written description of the animal, made while looking at it. Be sure to include size, colors, breed and any marks, features or scars that would help identify the pet.

Keep the phone numbers of organizations that will need to be called during an emergency. This will save precious time.

Once a pet goes missing, act swiftly. Don't wait days for the pet to come home. The longer you wait, the further the pet could wander. The animal also could be hurt and in need of veterinary care.

Although animal shelters may, depending on circumstances, hold animals for a week to 10 days, they're only obligated to hold pets for 72 hours. So, every minute counts.

Get out the lost pet package and start making calls starting with animal shelters. "We'll document it in our lost and found book, but we'll also then keep an eye out for it," said Bill Godek, chief animal control officer at the Kenai Animal Shelter.

Godek also advised calling television and radio stations that have lost pet programs. Here on the Kenai Peninsula, Radio Kenai KSRM, KWHQ, KKIS and KSLD have for many years run a program called Dog Gone News.

"It's a free service that helps people find lost pets, or they can report pets they've found," said program director Debbie Wells, who has herself been reunited with a lost pet as a result of the program.

People can go online to www.radiokenai.com to report or search for lost and found pets, or they can call 283-8700. "We'll run commercials for the pets throughout the day," she said. Wells added that Dog Gone News has been very successful over the years.

Calling to place an ad in the newspaper can increase the chances of finding a lost pet. Try to run the ad for as long as possible. Newspapers are a good way to announce a found pet, as well.

Don't hesitate to call any found ads that bare even a slight resemblance to a lost pet, since descriptions can vary from person to person, and because pets can change color when lost such a white pet turning gray from dirt.

Once all the calls are made, the next thing to do is start making fliers. Include the pet's photo, the written description, a day and evening contact phone number and the reward amount. Rewards often can motivate people in their search.

Distribute the fliers in likely areas where the pet may be, but also outside the immediate vicinity. This is because people who pick up a lost pet may drive it much further away from your home than the pet would likely get on its own.

Also, try to post fliers where they will be viewed by as many people as possible. Shopping centers, post offices, veterinary clinics, pets stores, animal shelters and local stores and gas stations are all good places to post them.

Don't rule out posting fliers on telephone poles either, since children (or their parents) walking to and from school or the bus stop not only can be very observant, but also are likely to at least notice, if not interact, with loose pets.

In regard to fliers, try to remember the golden rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When you see lost fliers, look at them with the same interest you would want someone to look at the flier if it was your pet that was lost.

Get into the habit of carrying a small note pad and pen to jot down a pet's description and phone number. That way, when you pass a loose animal on the side of the road, you can quickly identify it as being the lost pet or not.

Even if you can't retrieve the pet lost pets often are too frightened to approach strangers a call notifying the owner where it was last seen could help narrow the search.

While waiting for calls to come in about the lost pet, be certain to stay active. Comb your neighbor during the day and at night. Travel on foot, calling the pet's name and making noise with one of its favorite toys. Carry a photo of the pet, make sure all neighbors know the pet is missing and make certain they haven't seen it recently. Let them know there is a reward.

Search by car as well. You can cover more ground that way, and pets often can recognize the sound of their owner's car. Check animal shelters daily by visiting them, since sometimes people may not recognize a lost dog from the description given.

Also, it may sound gruesome, but call shelters or solid waste authorities to inquire about dead animals found on the side of the road. Although it can be horrible to learn of a pet's demise this way, it can at least provide some closure by putting an end to your search and worrying.

However, don't give up hope if your pet doesn't turn up right away. Pets can sometimes be reunited with their owners months after they are lost. Some people who find pets may hold then for a few days until they get a day off work, or they may not be well prepared for how to advertise that they've found a lost animal.

If someone calls saying they have the pet and are looking to collect a reward, always go with someone and not alone, and never send money before you have the pet in hand. If you ever get a ransom demand, call the police immediately.

When and if you get your pet back, be certain to take down all fliers, cancel all ads and and go through the call list to notify everyone that the pet has been found so they can stop looking.

This courtesy should not be overlooked. You wouldn't want people wasting time and effort looking for a pet that has been reunited with its owner, when there still are other lost pets out there that need help.

Also, when you get a pet back, learn from your past mistakes. Fix whatever caused the pet to be lost in the first place. If it chewed through something to get away, replace it with something stronger or more durable. If it was a hole in a fence, repair it. Do whatever it takes to ensure it doesn't happen again, and as already stated, be sure all pets have current identification on them (or in them, in the case of the microchip) at all times.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@alaska.net.

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