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Doing it right: finding a lost dog

After a grueling week of searching, Destiny's foster mom has located Destiny and has brought her back home.
Bonnie Metz

After a grueling week of searching, Destiny's foster mom located and brought Destiny home last night. Destiny, the puppy who was rescued in January with her severely emaciated mother, Chocolate, was a challenge to recover, but her foster mom used every method at her disposal to find Destiny. The result was a happy ending for Destiny.

Bringing Destiny home was a challenge because of her emotional state. Destiny, who had been in foster care less than two months, had been severely emotionally traumatized during her puppyhood before she was rescued. She had received little to no socialization, and was to a large degree feral.

Destiny did not know her name, nor did she trust humans enough to approach them or to respond to being called. She didn't even recognize her mother Chocolate a week before when they visited.

When Destiny bolted from her foster home, finding her and getting her back home was a bigger challenge than it would be for most dogs, but the steps to follow are similar.

Remember that every dog is a unique case so take the personality of the missing pup into consideration and modify these ideas as needed.

  • For example, a friendly dog may be picked up by someone passing through the area and taken to a new area. It may end up as that person's pet.
  • A dog that has recently moved to a new home may try to get back to his old home.
  • Don't overlook the possibility that the dog may come home on his own.

In general, these are ideas that have proven successful for others in finding missing dogs.

Where did the dog disappear?

First, try to come up with a rough estimate of where you think the dog is most likely to be so that you can focus your search efforts on that area. Where did the dog disappeared? Which direction was it running in?

Where is the dog most likely to be?

Map the area using a tool like Google Maps. It is difficult to predict how far a dog will wander. A dog in a new home may attempt to get back to his old home, but many dogs will stay in the general area.

Get the word out

Spread the message far and wide that the dog is missing, but focus on the area where you think the dog is most likely to be.

Put up fliers

Put up fliers throughout that area. A good flier has three critical pieces of information, and these should be big enough to read by someone driving through the area. These are:

  • Lost Dog
  • Phone number to call
  • Photo of dog
  • If you're offering a reward, make sure that is in large print

Consider offering a reward

Sometimes well meaning strangers find a dog and decide to keep it. Others strangers might pick up the dog with less well-meaning intentions. They may be looking for a bait to use in dog fighting operations, or they may be looking for a dog to sell on Craigslist. When a reward is offered, it can motivate either class of person to return the dog. The well meaning individual may recognize that the reward means that the dog is a much loved family pet. The chance of a quick profit by returning the dog to its owner may motivate a person with dollar signs in their eyes to return the dog to its owner instead of selling it to someone else.

Use your social network

Use all your social media accounts to post notices that your dog is missing. Include a photo. Ask people to let you know if they see the dog. A sighting can help you know where to focus your efforts. It is especially helpful if the person who sees the dog takes a quick photo of the dog. That will help keep you from wasting time looking for a dog that ultimately turns out not to be yours.

Ask all of your friends and contacts to share the message on their social media accounts.

It is especially helpful to reach out to local rescue groups for two reasons. The first is that they often have extensive contacts on social media. The bottom line is that the more people who are looking for your dog, the better your chances are of finding the dog quickly. The second reason is that someone may find the dog and because they do not want to risk taking the dog to a kill shelter, they may contact a rescue group to see if they will help find the dog a home.

Contact municipal and county animal control

City and county animal control agencies often maintain lost pets listings, so make sure you let them know that your dog is lost. If they will accept a photo of your dog, then provide one. If the dog is microchipped or wearing a rabies tag, provide them with that information. Some will check these listings in case a dog matching the description of your dog is found. A photo helps because not everyone will describe a dog the same way.

Make sure you go visit the shelter and ask to see any recent dogs turned in. In South Carolina, it's a good idea to go in every day the first week; after that, try to go in at least every three days. Shelters in this state are only required to hold strays three days before euthanizing or placing them up for adoption. If your dog is adopted by someone else, it will be almost impossible to get the dog back.

Contact the microchip company

If your dog is microchipped, contact the microchip company. If someone takes the dog to a shelter or a vet's office and scans the dog for a microchip, the company will notify the person scanning the dog, and will also advise you.

Contact local vets including emergency vets

If the dog is injured, or if someone has picked up the dog and decided to adopt him, they may very well take it to a vet for a health check and to get shots. If the vet's office will allow it, put up a flier there too. A high percentage of the traffic in and out of a vet's office area animal lovers. That demographic is likely to let you know if they see your missing dog.

Organize a physical search

Get a group of friends together, and go out and look for the dog. In the case of Destiny, the foster mom found a place where it appeared Destiny had been sleeping. She put out food, a bed that Destiny had used, and kept checking back. After a couple of days, Destiny was sighted in the area. At that point they were able to focus their efforts on that location. Within a couple of days, Destiny was back home.

Use a trap

Some dogs can only be caught using a trap. Some dogs are just not going to come to a person. A frightened dog may have to be trapped. Humane traps in the appropriate size can be borrowed from your local animal control or from many rescue groups. They can advise you on the best way to trap the dog. If you set a trap, it is imperative that you monitor the trap regularly. You do not want to leave a frightened dog in a trap any longer than absolutely necessary.

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