Finding a missing animal

Don’t push the panic button if your animal companion goes missing. Instead, follow these suggestions to help him get back safe and sound.

Over the years, your perfect pooch or kitty has wiggled his way into your home and your heart, earning himself a starring role on your family tree. And then the unthinkable happens. He escapes through an open door, jumps a fence, or takes off after a squirrel – and before you know it, he’s missing, despite your frantic searching and calling.

“Most people believe their animals would never go missing, when, in fact, statistics show that one in three will go missing in their lifetime,” says Landa Coldiron, animal detective and owner of Lost Pet Detection. “Many times when people call me, they feel they have done everything possible, when they have not even scratched the surface of what needs to be done.”

If your companion ever goes astray, don’t despair. Follow these seven steps to help bring him safely home again.

1. Plan, don’t panic

It’s easy to panic and imagine all kinds of horrible scenarios when your animal gets lost. You may even be experiencing some of the stages of grief. Hold it right there! He’s missing; he’s out there somewhere, perhaps frightened and seeking your comforting presence. Wasting precious time and energy worrying and speculating is not helping. Planning will help – and put you on the fast track to a successful recovery.

“Just running around, calling for your animal and trying random things at random times and locations can be a huge waste of time,” says Annalisa Berns, animal detective and owner of Pet Search and Rescue. “A plan helps you focus on what you are doing – and what to do next. A plan helps you prioritize the most effective techniques to try first, and what can be put off. It also helps you identify what tasks you can ask friends and family to help with.”

2. Ask for help

You may feel like shutting out the world and doing all the search work yourself. This is never a good idea. “People who work alone in their efforts to recover a lost animal are at risk of discouragement and burnout,” says animal detective Kat Albrecht, founder of Missing Pet Partnership and author of The Lost Pet Chronicles and Dog Detectives.

Friends and family serve as a support system. They also add strength to your search, and that could mean the difference between finding your best friend or not. “For most missing animal scenarios, it is a volume game,” says private investigator Karin TarQwyn. “In my experience, 90% of all missing animals are found due to other people’s eyes and ears. The more people who know your animal is missing, the higher the likelihood of recovery. This is no different from a missing person investigation, except there’s no help from outside agencies and community groups.”

3. Pick up the phone

Talking on the phone is probably the last thing you’ll feel like doing when you can’t find your dog or cat. Being out on the street searching may make you feel more productive. But placing a few all-important calls to get the word out about your missing friend is an important step.

Five locations could be beneficial to your search: local animal control, animal-related businesses, animal shelters, veterinary offices and animal rescue groups. Informing local animal workers and employees about your predicament will raise awareness and keep more people on the lookout for your companion.

4. Supersize your search

Posting pint-sized flyers on telephone poles, stop signs and store windows near your home may seem an effective way to get the word out about your missing animal, but to really attract the public’s attention, supersize your search by using huge posters. It’s far more proactive. “Giant neon posters are by far the number one method to recover lost animals and return them to their rightful families,” says Kat. “Follow the 5 + 5 + 55 rule – five words drivers can read within five seconds while driving 55 miles an hour. In our experience, big strategically-placed posters are one of the most successful techniques for recovering a lost animal.”

5. Network online

Social media networks such as Facebook allow you to immediately send a “call to arms” about your search to your nearest and dearest – and give your friends the ability to send the alert to everyone in their network, and so on. With the power of social networking sites, half the United States could know about the quest for your dog or cat in less than 30 minutes!

6. Consult a professional

Consistency is key when you start searching for your animal companion. But if you find you are getting nowhere, change things up and think outside the box. It could be the very thing that helps pinpoint his location and bring him home safe and sound. “If you’ve done everything traditional to find your animal, and you haven’t found him, it’s time to think about other techniques and strategies – and consult a professional,” says Annalisa. An animal detective is specially trained in search and rescue and can employ methods you may not know about or have access to. “Of course some animals return home on their own,” Annalisa adds. “However, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association and the California Veterinary Medical Association, the chances of a lost animal coming home on his own is only 11%. Don’t count on that.”

7. Just say no…to giving up!

You may feel drained, emotionally and physically, but throwing in the towel and giving up too soon, maybe before your search has even truly started, may be the worst mistake you can make. “Most people become disheartened after only a day or two when their animal goes missing,” says Annalisa. “Keep focused and keep searching – and not just for a few hours or days. I strongly suggest that people search for a minimum of two weeks – if not longer.”

Searching for a lost dog or cat is never easy or pleasant. But following these steps will greatly enhance your chances of finding him again. And recovering a missing companion is the most rewarding feeling in the world!