Panic. It’s often the first response when a beloved pet disappears. The next may be fear, followed by hopelessness, anger, and then doubt over whether you’ll ever see your buddy again.
Unfortunately, none of these things will help your furry loved one get back to you, and there are critical next steps you must take in order to maximize your chances of seeing your pet again.
We consulted Best Friends Animal Society for their best strategies for finding a lost animal when they’ve been separated from you.
It goes without saying that taking precautions before a cat or dog goes missing is the best way to ensure that every pet owner’s worst nightmare never happens to you.
“Think in advance about escape if you have animals that are fearful or a known flight risk. Of course, any animal may run at some point,” says Sherry Woodard, an animal behavior consultant for Best Friends. “Play recall games with your animals; this includes cats. Games in your house, yard and other safe areas can help your animals practice coming to you. Recall games are fun, and taught with long leashes and harnesses worn when outside for safety; treats and exciting foods are used [as rewards].”
If it’s too late to prevent a pet disappearance, follow these important steps to help bring them home safely.
1. Keep your emotions in check and act fast — your pet needs you!
Now is not the time to curl up in the fetal position and cry. You must get up and get the word out about your missing friend while the details of his or her disappearance are fresh.
Scan the area he or she went missing extremely carefully. Ask yourself if there’s a place nearby where your pet could have gotten trapped, stuck, or opted to take a nap. Best Friends recommends returning to that same place at night or very early in the morning, and bringing his favorite food and a flashlight. Call his name and wait.
If you should spot your pet during your search, you shouldn’t let your emotions get the best of you. “Never scare a loose, possibly scared animal, causing them to run or hide. Never chase!” Woodard adds. “This is where those treat/food sounds and smells come in very handy!”
2. Put the word out by placing calls and pounding pavement.
Everyone you know is now potentially a link to your missing pet, so spread the word. Best Friends suggests reaching out to neighbors, mail carriers, and passersby to ask whether they’ve seen your pet, and making a point to show them a photo — they may recognize his or her face, or know someone else who has seen them. If your pal is registered with a lost-pet organization, call them, stat.
Call area veterinary clinics and ask each of them if any animal fitting your pet’s description has been seen there. Also send them a photo so they can keep an eye out. Best Friends says you should visit all the shelters in the area in person and ask to look in every cage, then give the staff a photo of your pet with your phone number. It is advised to check the shelters every day and call animal control officers in surrounding towns, also send them a photo and visit the pound daily.
If your pet is microchipped, make sure the contact info registered with the company is current and tell them that your pet is actively missing.
If you suspect your pet has been stolen, report it to the police. They may have leads or may know if any animals have been hit by cars in the area.
3. Make a missing pet flyer.
Design a flyer of your own or use a website that generates one (Best Friends likes PetBond.com). It should include a picture, a short description and a phone number to reach you.
It’s important to distribute these flyers widely in the area where your pet went missing (on telephone poles, community bulletin boards, etc). You might consider offering a reward, if you can afford to do so. “I recommend asking family and friends to help from very early on,” Woodard says. “Create a team to post flyers, deliver flyers and check animal hospitals and shelters daily if possible!”
Best Friends advises putting a “lost pet” ad in the local newspaper that includes a description, your phone number, the date the animal was lost, and where they were last seen. Make it a point to check the “pet found” section of the paper, too. You just might get lucky!
4. Share missing pet posts online.
Social media can be an extremely valuable tool in your search. In addition to sharing on your own Facebook page, look for already existing “lost and found pets” Facebook pages for your area. Best Friends likes the pet-locating service Pets Missing in Action and the resources available through the Missing Pet Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to reuniting pet parents with their lost dogs and cats.
To avoid scammers trying to snag a reward, it’s a good idea to set up a separate email account used solely for the purpose of finding your pet and leave out one detail in your description on your flyer or online post, such as gender.
“Caution is recommended when including too much personal information. crime as we know, does exist,” Woodard adds.
5. Don’t give up.
You’ve seen the stories of pets disappearing one day and miraculously turning up years later, hundreds of miles away from home! These reunions do happen, so keep the faith and keep spreading the word about your loved one.
“I [have been] part of reunions where over a year had passed after Hurricane Katrina. Please don’t give up hope!” says Woodard. “Nice people may be helping your animal and may even think he or she has become homeless. They may feed your animal for a while and then think to try catching and scanning for a microchip or taking the animal to a shelter.”
Above all, Woodard stresses, do your best to prevent your pet from going missing. “Build trusting relationships with your animals and socialize them to be comfortable with other people so that if they do need help they can quickly receive help and return to your loving home!” she says.
For more solid advice on finding lost pets, visit BestFriends.org.
Us Weekly articles and content are for informational purposes only. Nothing contained in Us Weekly articles and/or content is or should be considered, or used as a substitute for, veterinary or professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you believe your pet may have a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.
Sign up now for the Us Weekly newsletter to get breaking celebrity news, hot pics and more delivered straight to your inbox!