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Posted on 06-30-2014

When Your Pet Goes AWOL (Absent Without Leash)

For many people, a pet that goes missing can feel like losing a family member. The anxiety of not knowing if they are hurt, hungry or cold can be overwhelming. 

Our dog, Maverick, recently escaped and wandered into Mary Moore Searight Park without his collar. Losing him for 2 days was extremely upsetting. Maverick on the other hand, probably thought he was on vacation when a family found him and took him in. Timing is critical when animals get lost. Here are some tips to help your pet return home, or help you reunite a pet you found with their loved ones.  

BEFORE They Go Missing...

Tags and collars
First, make sure your pet is wearing its collar with identification. Keep the information on your pet’s tags up to date.  Make sure the tags are securely attached. If the noise of them jingling bothers you, tape them together or purchase a “pet tag silencer.” For outdoor pets (especially cats), collars can get hung up on things so make sure they have a collar that will break away if they get tangled up, and replace promptly if they lose it.

Cats, more than dogs, can be notorious for losing collars, so try to keep a collar on them if possible. And if your cat is an indoor-only cat, make sure to have that fact written clearly on their pet tag, like perhaps the words, “Not Allowed Outside.”

Having your pet microchipped is quick, safe and inexpensive. A microchip is a small chip about the size of a grain of rice that is implanted under the skin by a veterinarian. If a pet goes missing and its collar comes off, a veterinarian or shelter can scan the pet for the chip number and contact the chip company that stores the pet owner’s contact information. The chip company will then contact the owner. Make sure to keep your contact information up-to-date with the microchip company, and don’t wait until your pet goes missing. Alert the chip company if your pet is missing; some companies offer lost pet insurance that will cover medical expenses if they get injured while they are lost. For more information, ask your vet about microchips.   

You may have some adorable shots of your pet’s face, but do you have any shots of them from the side? Make sure you have recent pictures of your pet that show the type of view people are likely to recognize from a distance. If they occasionally get groomed, make sure to have pictures of them with short hair and with long hair.  Know where your closest copy center is and their hours.

AFTER They Go Missing...

Missing Pet Signs
It’s hard to say whether your pet has gone near or far, but most are usually found within 5 miles if not on your neighbor’s sofa. Place missing pet signs around where your pet was last seen, as well as at all major intersections in the area. Most missing pet signs can go unnoticed due to small size & poor location, so be mindful of how they appear to motorists. The sign should have the words “Lost Cat/Dog” at the top and “Reward” at the bottom. Place the flyer inside a self-sealing lamination pouch to make them stand up to elements, which you can purchase at any office store. Signs should have an easily-identifiable picture of your pet’s face and body with a brief description such as, “White poodle, blue collar,” and owner contact information in large type. Flyers to hand out should have more detailed information.

Alert your neighbors to be on the look out. A cat could be trapped in a shed or garage. 
Alert local vets and groomers by dropping a flyer by their business. If your pet is found, someone may take them in to a vet or a groomer to get them checked out or cleaned up if they do not have a collar. 

Place ads on http://www.austin.craigslist.org under the sections “Pets” and “Lost and found,” and update your ad often.  Be leery of “pet locater” services that find you via your missing-pet ads and offer to call everyone within your town. If in doubt, check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure they are credible and will do what they say before giving them payment. Some of these services will prey on people who are desperate to find their pet. 

Check the shelter often, as they only keep pets for 3 days before they are adopted out. (Call 311 to find out which shelter serves your area). If your pet is aggressive or scared, the shelter may not be able to scan for a microchip, which is why it’s important to check the shelter often. You have to go to the shelter in person to search, as they cannot search for you over the phone. 

If You FIND a Pet!
Check Craig’s List under the “Pets” and “Lost and found” sections. Go back a few days or weeks in your search, as the pet you found may have been missing for a long time. If you don’t find the owner on Craig’s List, turn the pet over to the shelter. Most owners will go looking for their pet there. If you are concerned about the animal, check back within 3 days. You may also notify the shelter that you have found a pet and are keeping them at your home. Give them a description and send them a picture. Be on the look out for flyers about lost pets in your areas. Lastly, take them in to a local vet if they do not have a collar on, as the pet might have a microchip that can be scanned for identification. 

Most stray animals are owned; please do not keep an animal you find without putting in the effort to find its owner.  No matter the condition of the pet, do not assume that they have not been well-cared for.  If a pet has been missing for several days, they may look terrible when you find them. My dog’s hair is very fine, and is a magnet for burrs, mats easily, and holds mud.  He gets this way after a few minutes of trail hiking, so a few days in the wilderness on his own isn’t pretty.  

Anyone’s pet can go missing. I know first hand how quickly and easily it can happen. (It can happen to an overprotective veterinarian!) Thankfully, my story ended happily and the kid that found him got a handsome reward for his diligence.

Dr. Sandra D. Ontiveros
Manchaca Village Veterinary Care

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