If you've lost your pet, don't waste any time. Begin your search as soon as you notice that the animal is missing.
Finding a lost pet
Here are some steps to take:
- Ask everyone: neighbors, children, mail carriers, passersby. Show them a photo of your pet. Even if they have not seen him, they may be willing to keep an eye out for him.
- Create a flyer with your pet’s photo, a brief description and your phone number.
- Distribute the flyers and post them on telephone poles in the area where you lost your pet. If you can afford it, you might consider offering a reward. This website is a great resource for generating lost-pet flyers, and even offers a paid “robo-call” service to help contact folks in your neighborhood.
- Put a lost-pet ad in the local newspapers. Title the ad “Lost Cat” or “Lost Dog” and include your phone number, the date that the animal was lost, where she was last seen, and a clear, brief description containing the animal's name, breed, color, sex, age, and whether she was wearing a collar. (Note: If you're offering a reward, you might want to leave out one detail, such as gender, in order to avoid scam artists.)
- Go to all the shelters in the area — don't just call them. Give them a color photo of your pet with your phone number on it. Ask to see all the animals in the shelter and visit every cage.
- Go back and check all the shelters every day. Shelter employees are often very busy, so you can’t depend on someone remembering that an animal like yours was brought in.
- Call area veterinary clinics and send them a photo of your pet. Ask each of them if any animal fitting your pet’s description has been brought in.
- If you suspect that your pet may have been stolen, report your pet missing to the police. They may know if an animal fitting your pet’s description has been hit by a car (or they may be able to direct you to the department that handles this).
- Read the “found pets” section in each of the local newspapers daily. Many papers run these ads for free. Follow up on any ad that describes an animal similar to yours, since you can’t count on the finder to describe your pet exactly as you would.
- If you are so inclined, you might try the help of a pet psychic or animal communicator. Make sure you use someone who is well-known and reputable.
- If your pet is microchipped, call your microchip company to ensure that your personal information is up to date, and report the pet as missing.
- Join all local pet groups on Facebook and neighborhood groups on Nextdoor.com, and post about your lost pet. Include a good-quality photo, a description, contact information and the last known location of your pet.
- Place a lost-pet ad on your local Craigslist page. Title it “Lost Cat” or “Lost Dog,” and include a brief description, contact information and last known location.
If your lost pet is a dog:
- Search your neighborhood carefully (or wherever your pet was lost).
- Late at night or very early in the morning, go to the place where your dog was lost. Bring his favorite food and a flashlight. Call his name and wait to see if he shows up. Try this repeatedly.
- For more details, check out Lost Dog Behavior.
If your lost pet is a cat:
- Search your neighborhood carefully (or wherever your pet was lost). Cats can wander into a neighbor’s basement or garage, fall asleep and get shut in accidentally.
- Late at night or very early in the morning, go to the place where your cat was lost. Bring his favorite food and a flashlight. Call his name and wait to see if he shows up. Try this repeatedly.
- Borrow a humane trap and set it up (with tasty food inside) in the location where you last saw your cat. Many inside cats become fearful once they’re outdoors and it may take being trapped for them to be reunited with their people.
- For more details check out Lost Cat Behavior.
Creating a flyer
One of the best aids in your search is a good flyer that you can post throughout your neighborhood. Be sure that it includes a good photo of your pet and a thorough description. Paste the flyers to fluorescent poster board, and write "LOST PET" in large black letters at the top. If your pet was lost in an area other than your neighborhood, post the flyers in the area where your pet was lost, as well as the area around your home, since animals often find their way back to their home neighborhood.
A free, easy-to-use flyer-maker program is available at www.petbond.com. This program allows you to enter information about the animal, insert a photo and print the flyer, which you can then post at local businesses and other places in your community. Additional suggestions on how to create effective flyers and where to post them are available at Missing Animal Response Network.
Posting messages online
In addition, you might want to post a message about your lost pet on websites and apps such as Neighbors, Shadow, craiglist.org, nextdoor.com and petamberalert.com. A word of caution: While posting online is an excellent way to advertise lost and found pets, some pet websites and Internet community boards have been used by people attempting to commit fraudulent transactions, so investigate closely all responses you receive from online posting. You may want to set up a separate email address to use just for the "lost pet" posting. Additional information can be found in the article Avoiding Pet Scams.
You might also find some helpful advice on the Missing Animal Response Network, which was created by Kat Albrecht, a former police bloodhound handler and search-and-rescue handler. Kat is dedicated to reuniting lost companion animals with their owners. She has done quite a bit of research into how animals behave when they are separated from their homes, and has discovered that not all lost pet incidents are the same.
Kat has identified the three most common reasons why pets become separated from their families: opportunistic journey, wanderlust and blind panic. She has also identified six major factors that influence the distances that a lost pet will travel: temperament, circumstances, weather, terrain, appearance and population density. For more details on how these factors may have influenced your pet's behavior, check out Lost Dog Behavior and Lost Cat Behavior.
Remember, pets can be amazingly resilient and resourceful, so don't stop looking: We have heard stories of pets being found long after their disappearance. If your pet is frightened, he/she may find a safe place to hide and stay there for several days before venturing out. In addition, it's quite common for people to pick up pets and assume that they are strays rather than lost pets. Make sure you are not only posting "lost pet" flyers, but also checking any "found" or "for adoption" flyers you come across.
Don't give up! Persistence is often the key to finding a lost pet. Some animals have been found after months of being missing.