Recovering a Lost Dog
You’ve taken all the necessary steps to keep your dog safe – you always use a leash when you take the dog off of your property, you have a secure fence, and you’ve trained your dog to come when you call. But what happens when the neighbor kid leaves the fence gate open or when the mailman leaves a package in your screen door so it doesn’t latch shut. If your dog is loves to run, he or she may not be able to resist the temptation to explore.
An ounce of prevention…
As stated above, there are several preventive measures you should take to keep your dog at home. It all starts with training. If you’re not sure your dog will come when called every single time, you have some more training to do. True, there will be times when the dog might get out and you won’t be there to call him or her before the animal gets out of hearing range, but training goes a long ways toward preventing disappearance if you see the escape in progress.
If you will leave your dog out in your yard, you owe it to yourself, your neighbors, and your dog to provide a secure fence. Whether it’s chain link, wood, or even buried electric cables, you need to take measures to keep your dog on your property. Dogs who run free are at risk of not only being lost, but also being run over, kidnapped, or injured by environmental factors such as hot pavement, wild animals, and sharp objects like downed branches.
If you live in the city and don’t have a yard, you will likely take your dog outside on a leash. When was the last time you inspected your leash and collar to make sure there is no fraying or other weak spots? This should be done at least quarterly and probably more often if you have a large, strong dog. The collar or harness should be inspected also for fit. If your dog is a growing puppy, the collar may have become too tight, and if he or she has lost weight, the collar may be so loose that the dog can easily slip out of it.
Establish your dog’s identity
The other key piece in the prevention puzzle is to make sure you can identify your dog if he or she is found, and to make sure that others can find you when or if they find your dog.
The top-of-the-line in identity measures is the microchip. A small computer chip (about the size of a grain of rice) is inserted between your dog’s shoulder blades by means of an injection. You fill out registration information which is then entered into a database.
When the dog is found, nearly every veterinarian and large animal shelter can wave a “magic wand” over the dog’s back and read the chip. The registry database is then contacted and you are reunited with your lost dog. Different registries have different policies as far as payment. For some, you receive lifetime coverage when you implant the chip; others require payment each time the service is used.
Your vet may have a preferred provider, or you can check these services to see which one best meets your needs:
RFID-USA (RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification)
The biggest problem with microchips is that you are solely responsible for keeping the registry database up to date. When you move, you will obviously have a lot on your mind. Will you remember to update the registry with your new address and phone number? If your daughter suddenly becomes allergic to the dog and you transfer ownership to your Aunt Mable, will she remember to update the registry?
The other issue is that John Q. Public will not be able to scan your dog to look for a microchip, so unless the person who finds your dog knows to take him or her to a place with a scanner, you will not be reunited.
The answer? Make sure your dog always wears his or her ID tags in addition to, or in lieu of, having a microchip implanted. At a minimum, your dog’s tags should specify your contact phone number and the dog’s name. If there is more room, you might add your address and any emergency medical information such as “needs insulin” or “epileptic”. Remember that you may very well be out looking for your dog at the time a good Samaritan is calling you, so you’ll probably want to provide your cell number rather than your land line, if possible.
Signs, signs, everywhere are signs
An often-overlooked way of getting your lost dog back is to simply put a sign out in your yard stating that your dog is lost and providing a picture of the animal. If a neighbor is able to capture the dog, they may drive around the area looking for a likely home. With a sign in the yard, there will be no question that the dog’s home has been located.
Of course, if the dog remains gone longer than a day or so, you will likely print up fliers to post around the neighborhood alerting folks to your predicament. Make sure you have a recent photo. Most of us tend to take lots of puppy pictures, but not so many of the dog as he or she ages. It can be hard to identify a mature dog from his or her puppy photo.
In addition to posting signs in your own neighborhood, post them in places where your dog often goes: the vet, the groomers, the dog park, the day care. Your dog may follow a squirrel or another critter a great distance from your home, and then not remember the way back. However, he may find himself near someplace familiar and decide to go there instead.
Post your lost dog flier on the Internet via Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as on any local message boards to which you belong.
Don’t forget to put an “lost” ad in your local newspaper and to check the “found” ads frequently. Be prepared in either case to have to sift through lots of calls before you get the one you want. Many people respond to lost ads with the purpose of getting you to buy a new dog to “take the place of” the one you have lost. Others will call every found ad in the list, trying desperately to locate their dog, even if he or she doesn’t even remotely resemble the description given.
Call your local shelters and even the dog warden to see if anyone has dropped your dog off. Send them a photo and call repeatedly. Employees and volunteers at these offices are often overworked and may not remember to be on the lookout for your precious dog, as the dog is much more important to you than he or she is to them. Also, when the shift changes, you will want the new personnel to know you are looking for a lost family member.
Once you begin posting your ad, particularly if you post on the Internet, you can expect to receive phone calls from people who will offer to help you find the dog. Buyer beware! Only you can decide if the fees charged by these groups are worth it to you. Make sure you know what they are offering to do and how much it will cost before you agree to hire them. In many cases, all they will do is place a robo-call to people in your zip code. You will probably get further with a photographic flier than with this approach.