By Carol McCarthy
Every dog parent has experienced the heart-pounding panic of discovering their dog is missing. In most cases, you find him a few minutes later happily “watering” a tree in your neighbor’s yard, but your relief is tempered by the scary realization that he could have been gone for good.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to minimize your dog’s chance of going astray and to ensure his safe return if he does. Stephanie Flower, dog program coordinator at the Providence Animal Rescue League in Providence, R.I., and Dr. Neil Marrinan of the Old Lyme Veterinary Hospital in Old Lyme, Conn., share their advice.
As soon as you realize your dog has gotten loose, determine his last known location and the time. If he slipped out of your home or yard, put a bowl of food at the door he regularly uses and start calling him, Marrinan says.
Head out the door and ask your neighbors to be on the lookout for your dog and to alert you immediately if they see him. “It is always best to go out and physically look for your dog when you realize they are lost before taking any other action,” Flower says.
It also helps to have several people looking for him, Marrinan says. Enlist friends and family in a search party, fanning out in an organized way from the last location your dog was seen.
Bring food to entice him, hand out extra leashes to search party members and refrain from chasing him from afar, which might cause him to run farther away, Marrinan says. And keep your own safety in mind, as you are likely to feel frantic, he advises. Be cautious around busy streets and use flashlights if you are out at night.
If your dog is micro-chipped, call your vet to to get the microchip number if you don’t have it handy and ask him or her to alert the microchip registry, Marrinan says.
Call your local dog officer as well as animal control officers in surrounding communities. Flowers also suggests contacting local animal shelters, rescue groups and pet-related businesses who can help get the word out to other animal lovers. Your local public works and highway departments should be alerted as well, as their staffs might be likely to spot a stray dog as they go about their work.
Flower’s organization suggests making posters with a photo of your dog, his name, where and when he was last seen and your contact information. Put them on telephone poles, at your local grocery store, coffee shops, etc., and post to Craigslist and other online resources for lost pets. Remember to check these resources frequently to see if someone has found your dog.
To help improve the chances of a quick and happy reunion, be sure your dog is never without a collar and ID tag that includes your name, current address and phone, and preferably, your vet’s name and number, Marrinan and Flower agree. “An identifying collar tag is still ideal for every pet that goes outdoors, every time,” Marrinan says.
Tags and collars can get lost, so Marrinan and Flower strongly advise having your dog micro-chipped as a backup. This means taking your dog to the vet to have a tiny chip inserted under the skin between his shoulder blades. You will be given a microchip tag for his collar that includes a toll-free phone number and your dog’s microchip ID number. This number corresponds to your dog’s name, your name and contact information and as well as your vet’s. Whoever finds your dog can call the number on the tag to locate you.
If the tag is lost, “the (embedded) microchip will allow any vet, shelter, etc. with a microchip scanner to trace the chip back to you,” Flower says. Getting your dog a microchip can cost up to $100, depending on where you live.
Newer devices on the market include wearable tracking device, typically fitted to a collar, that use GPS technology to keep tabs on your pet. Expect to pay at least $80 for one of these devices.
If your dog has had all his shots, he will not need additional vaccinations once he is found. “The vaccines protect against just the sort of exposures the dog on a walkabout will face,” Marrinan says, such as animals with parasites or even rabies.
Examine your dog to see if he has any visible injuries, cuts or scrapes on paws or tender spots. Walk him around on his leash to determine if he is moving and acting normally, Marrinan says.
“If they are missing for a significant amount of time, it may be a good idea to take them to your vet for a checkup, but it’s probably not an emergency unless they have obvious injuries or symptoms of illness,” Flower says.
When your dog returns home, he might be hungry and thirsty. “A normal meal is perfectly fine,” Flower says. “But if you feed them an excessive amount, they may eat too much and make themselves sick.”
“The best scenario is, of course, to never lose your pet in the first place, but it happens. It can happen to anyone,” Flower says.
If your dog spends time unsupervised in your yard, regularly check that the fence is secure, that gates are latched, and there are no openings where he can escape, Marrinan says. “No identification method is better than a working fence or a leash.”
While dogs do love to run free, keeping him leashed during walks will keep him safe. Let him run around in a safely enclosed yard or dog park instead. And once your pup is returned home, be sure to remove all the posters you put up around town and update website listings to let people know he is safe and sound. Everyone loves a story that ends with a happy tail wag.