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Missing

Missing

Missing

You have been doing chores around the house, you need a break, and it is time to give some attention to your pet, Fluffy.  You call her but she does not come.  You check her favorite places but she is not there.  Maybe she is hiding or asleep and did not hear you so you quickly search the house again.  She is not there but you find an open door.  Fluffy is missing.

Americans love their pets.  As of 2020, it is estimated that there are about 42.7 million cats and 89.7 million dogs living with families in the United States.  It is estimated that in a single year, about 14 percent of pets will go missing but only around 7 percent of the missing animals will be found.  Dogs are most often among the missing but cats and other animals such as rabbits, turtles, and birds may go missing as well. 

Pets go missing for many reasons. Frequently, someone left a door or gate open and the animal took advantage of the human error.  A pet might dig a hole under the fence or climb over it to follow an interesting scent or check out activities outside of their yard.  Maybe there was an accidental escape when a pet climbed in an open moving van or workman’s truck and they were unintentionally taken away from their home.  A few pets escape, possible far away from home, as a result of a traffic accident.

While it is possible that Fluffy will come home on her own, do not assume that it will be the case.  She may have been chased out of familiar territory by a dog, cat, person, or a vehicle.  Some animals have that ability to find their way home but many pets will be too afraid to take action.  They are relying on you to find them and take them home.

Fluffy is missing.  Now what?  Stop.  Take a few deep breaths and try to calm yourself.  Panic will only result in poor decision making.  Start by going outside and checking around your yard.  Check the shed and the garage in case Fluffy was accidently closed up inside and cannot get out.  Generally, cats will stay within five houses of their own home.  They like to get in and under things.  Dogs have a tendency to wander, possibly up to five miles away from home.  If afraid, dogs and cats may remain silent even when you are nearby and call their name.  That is why actually seeing them is so important to their recovery.  Fluffy is still missing so expand your search into nearby areas.  Talk to the neighbors and ask if they have seen her.  Then ask permission to check their yards, including under decks and in sheds.  If Fluffy has a favorite friend, human or animal, that lives nearby, check their yards too.  Take a walk or slow drive around the neighborhood to check your animal’s usual walking route and nearby parks.  Talk to any people along the way and ask them to watch out for Fluffy.

If you do not locate Fluffy during your initial search, it is time to enlarge the search area and recruit helpers to join the search:  

• Contact all local animal shelters, in person if possible.  Drop off a picture of Fluffy along with your contact information.  Keep a record of who you contacted and when.  Contact the shelters every day as new animals arrive daily.  

• Contact the microchip registry (Home Again, Save This Life, Avid, etc.) if the pet is microchipped.   The animal may be scanned for a chip at a veterinarian’s office or shelter.  Then the facility will contact the microchip registry in an attempt to locate you.  So it is extremely important to keep your contact information updated otherwise Fluffy may not get returned to you.

• Get the word out on social media that Fluffy is missing.  Social media reaches out to multitudes of people very quickly.  Having more eyes looking out of a missing pet is a very good thing.

• Create a poster or two to put up in your neighborhood.  Posters should be large, colorful, and waterproof/laminated.  Include a clear picture of your pet.  If you do not have one, find a picture on the internet that strongly resembles your pet and use it.  Include a contact telephone number.  Also, include a description of the pet but omit one key feature or behavior that can be used to verify that someone has found your pet.  

• Flyers are similar to posters but smaller, usually 8.5 x 11 inches, and they do not have to be waterproof.  Hand out flyers to shelters, veterinarian offices, neighbors, and people who are helping you to find your pet.

• Do not give up.  Searching for missing a pet takes time and effort.  Some pets may be found very quickly while other pets might not be found for days, weeks or longer.  Systematically continue searching your neighborhood and surrounding areas.  Follow up on every reported sighting even if you do not think that your pet would be in that area.  When a person calls and claims that they found your pet, have them describe your pet, including the omitted descriptor as a tool to weed out bogus claims.  

After lots of worry, many phone calls, and visits to shelters, Fluffy is found and back at home.  Now what can you do for the future?  Keep pet collar tags and the microchip registry contact information current.  Keep a good quality current (annual) photo of each pet in the household.  Keep pets on a leash during all walks.  Keep pets in a crate or belt them in when riding in a vehicle.  Train pets to wait at gates and doors until you tell them that it is okay for them to go through them.  

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