A recorded phone message alerted me: A cat was missing in my area. I quickly searched for the website given and then found a variety of options today for seeking a missing pet.
From robocall message services, email, and text alerts to Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, websites, and phone apps, the many methods seem ingenious.
Each has its supporters and success stories. But experts suggest that some basics you can do now will be the biggest advantage if your pet is ever lost. They are:
- Have your pet wear a collar with a visible ID 24/7.
Pet ID tags sound obvious enough. Yet many owners aren’t using them. In an ASPCA survey, 80 percent of pet owners contacted said a pet ID tag was "extremely” or "very” important, but only 33 percent reported that their current pet wore one 24/7. That freedom can come at a heavy cost if the pet is lost. Keep the collar on and get a breakaway version if you are concerned about pets getting caught.
"Resist the temptation to buy a cute tag that color coordinates with your pet's collar. Just be sure your pet's tag is easy to read and that the information is current," says Liz Blackman, founder of The Center for Lost Pets.
- Get your pet microchipped, register it, AND keep the contact information up to date.
A microchip provides a unique ID number for your pet in a specific database. If your pet is found and brought to a veterinarian or shelter, his chip can be scanned to find the company database it is in. The American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool checks databases of participating companies to determine which has that chip’s registration information.
However, the chip is only successful when it is registered and when you, the pet owner, keep contact information current. A study published in 2009 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that, of the 1,943 animals for which animal shelters contacted a microchip registry, only 1,129—or 58.1 percent—were registered in the database.
Each Aug. 15, AAHA and the American Veterinary Medical Association team up to promote “Check the Chip Day.” It’s a time to remind pet owners to check and update their pet’s microchip registration or to microchip and register pets not already microchipped.
- Have a good photo of your pet.
Most mobile phones today have a camera so there’s no excuse to not have several shots. Skip the cute costumes and go for a few basic photos for easy recognition.
If your pet is missing, experts suggest you cover the basics first:
- Search the area, then search it again.
A study published in Animals magazine in 2012 found that of the pet-owning households surveyed, 75 percent of cats who had been lost were recovered, with 30 percent found in neighborhood searches, and 93 percent of dogs who had been lost were recovered, with 49 percent found in searches.
Sidney Boardman is the director of the USDA Missing Pet Network, which originally started as an attempt to create a central place for people to list their lost animals online and, in the process, give reputable brokers and laboratories a place to check incoming animals against lists of lost pets before animals were sold or used in research.
Boardman says most owners don’t know how to look for a lost pet. They often wait a few days for the pet to come home or else walk up and down their block, calling their name. But owners need to search the area and then search the area again, she says.
“People don't like to do that, but that's what works. Look where you already looked. Animals move around so just because they weren't there yesterday doesn't mean they aren't there today."
- Call and visit local shelters repeatedly.
Some shelters only hold animals for a few days.
- Contact animal control and file a lost pet report.
- Create simple flyers to post or distribute door-to-door.
Keep the text short and large: “Lost dog” (or whatever species the pet is), a phone number, and a photo.
- If the animal is microchipped, contact the microchip company.
Have the chip number flagged.
- After it gets too dark to search, explore the many online services available.
- HomeAgain, a comprehensive pet recovery service, offers a real-time streaming app for android and smartphones with an interactive map displaying lost pets in the area and sends lost pet email alerts to veterinarians, animal shelters, and its volunteer PetRescuers.
- Thecenterforlostpets.com, which aims to be the one central website for lost and found pets, offers a smart technology search engine. According to Blackman, it offers matches based on specific, vital, descriptive data. It also offers advice and links to other pet-finding resources.
- The Craigslist for your area may include pets who have been found. Experts caution pet owners to be aware that some people may use the site to try to sell pets they have found.
- Facebook, Twitter, and websites for missing or found pets abound. Lost Dogs of America, for one, is active in nine states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, and Colorado, and also offers advice.
According to Kirsten Theisen of the Humane Society of the United States, there isn’t, to date, any singular, right way to find lost pets. “Ultimately, the vast majority of pets are reunited because they are either microchipped, wearing collars/tags, were searched for locally in their neighborhood by spreading information through neighbors, or by looking, often at the local shelter. Nothing really replaces looking locally and hands-on for a missing pet.”
Photo credit: iStock images