Lost can be found again: Steps may help get missing pets back home to you

Posted: Sunday, July 26, 2009

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 everyone does get their pet back.

This past week I wrote my second story of the year about a pet owner who lost their dog. In both cases, they were reunited with their pets, but it was only through much hard work on their part after the pet went missing. And, in both cases they were lucky to get their pet back alive.

Outside city limits, and with no boroughwide animal control facility to call for help, dogs frequently are shot by people defending their own pets, children or property. A large number also are hit by vehicles.

Not everyone who loses a pet is irresponsible. Accidents -- like a dog slipping out of a collar -- can, and do, occur. But it is being prepared for these accidents ahead of time that often can make the difference between life and death for a lost pet.

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) can greatly aid in reuniting a lost pet with its owner, as well, especially if they do slip their collar.

It is also very important to have a current photo of your pets that is clear and taken relatively close-up. This will help in finding a missing pet, since it can catch people's eye, directing them to a "lost dog" flier. It also gives them an idea of what the dog looks like, since not everyone may know what a particular breed or cross looks like.

When making a "lost dog" flier, this is your best chance for being reunited with a pet if it doesn't have identification, so make the information accurate and helpful. Be sure to include size, colors, breed and any marks, features or scars that would help identify the pet.

Just as important as the description is the area where the dog was lost. I see half a dozen black Labrador-looking dogs, without tags, every week running through my neighborhood, but if I see a flier that states a black Lab is lost on Cohoe Loop, I am far more inclined to slow down and take a better look or give the person missing the pet a call.

Also, be sure to list your day and evening contact phone numbers, preferably in a tear-away format at the bottom of the flier, so people who think they may have seen it, easily can bring the number home. It never hurts to consider a reward, too, since these often can motivate people in their search.

Distribute the flyers in likely areas where the pet may be, but also outside the immediate vicinity 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 flyers 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 good places.

Don't hesitate to check out found dogs that bare even a slight resemblance to your pet, since descriptions can vary from person to person, and because pets can change color when lost -- such as a white pet turning gray from dirt.

Also, be sure to check out any calls of sightings, since lost pets often are too frightened to approach strangers, but a call providing where it was last seen could help narrow the search.

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, and even though a pet may have been lost outside Kenai or Soldotna, it doesn't mean someone may not have picked it up and taken it into one of these cities. Check shelters by visiting them, since sometimes people may not recognize a lost dog from the description given.

The Clarion offers free classified ads to those who lose or find a pet, as do some local radio stations.

While waiting for calls to come in about your pet, be certain to stay active. Comb your neighborhood during the day and at night. Travel on foot, calling the pet's name and making noise with one of its favorite toys. Make sure all neighbors or people in the vicinity know your pet is missing. Search by car, as well. You can cover more ground that way, and pets often can recognize the sound of their owner's car.

Don't give up hope if your pet doesn't turn up right away. Pets can sometimes be reunited with their owners weeks to months after they are lost. Some people who find pets may hold them 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.

When and if you get your pet back, be certain to take down all flyers, cancel all ads and notify everyone that your pet has been found so they can stop looking. Since there are so many missing pets each week, you don't want to waste anyone's time. They could put those searching efforts toward finding someone else's missing companion.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Clarion. He can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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