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SOS! Lost Pet! How can you bring them back home?

runaway pets

I’m the kind of person that declares a state of emergency if my iPhone (a.k.a. GPS) runs out of battery and I’m more than two miles away from home. Bonus points if I’ve lost my glasses and/or there is inclement weather. Somehow though, while sustaining off of frozen pizzas and a limited handful of hours of sleep, I’ve managed to keep my three cats, two dogs, and dozens of guinea pigs safe - and contained - for more than a decade.

But I’m not perfect.

Last month I invited a non-pet slave friend over to my humble abode for dinner. We pet parents don’t think twice about avoiding certain things, like leaving food on the coffee table, full glasses within tails’ reach, candles with open flames, or LEAVING BACK DOORS WIDE OPEN.

It’s fine, I’m not bitter.

Long story short, my senior, three-legged cat went MIA. We love Pie dearly, but there are three things he is not: 1) Brave 2) Smart 3) Human-friendly. Bad combo for a housecat left to his own devices in the great outdoors for the first time. Don’t worry, I won’t make you wait in suspense. He’s painfully kneading my arm as I write this (so excuse the typos). But in between then and now, I learned a few things I was doing in my efforts to find him that were actually counterproductive. If your pooch (or three-legged antisocial cat) goes missing, keep these tips in mind.


Call your local shelters. But don’t stop there. Go in person to file a lost pet report and walk through the facility yourself and look for a familiar, guilty face.

Get online. Nextdoor, lost & found Facebook groups, Finding Rover, Pawboost, FindToto, and Craigslist are good places to start.

Print old-school flyers. Most lost pets are found nearby during a neighborhood search. I taped flyers on telephone poles, at local parks, coffee shops, nearby veterinarian offices, and in community center common areas, sure. But I also went door to door and handed out flyers with a full-color photo of Pie, a detailed description, my phone number and email address, when and where he was last seen, and instructions to call me rather than approach him if spotted (he bolts from strangers).

Consider a reward. I offered the neighborhood kids $500 if they could find him, which became a weekend-long game of hide-and-seek. You’re welcome, moms and dads.

Put familiar items outside. If you’ve ever spent time with another dog, come home wearing the same clothes, and had to face your dog’s look of utter betrayal, you know how much stronger their sense of smell is than ours. Place your pet’s favorite bed outside along with their food and water and even some of your stinky, worn socks. For missing cats, put their dirty litter box outside and some strong-smelling wet food like canned tuna.


Call your pet. This was the first mistake I made. I wandered around my own property - and the entire neighborhood - wearing my cat lady shirt and yelling. “Pumpkin Pie!” “Pie, where are you?!” “Pumpkin, come to mama!” First of all, he hasn’t gone by Pumpkin in almost 10 years. More importantly, displaced animals rarely behave as they usually would. Pie was frightened, and frightened animals hide. They don’t meow to alert predators to their location. Skittish dogs may behave similarly, but are more likely to stray even farther from home. This doesn’t mean they don’t love you; it’s simply instinctual behavior for a scared, displaced animal.

Develop tunnel vision. Do coyotes snatch up small dogs? Unfortunately, yes. Is this the most likely scenario? Definitely not. Rather than assume your dog has been stolen or your cat has been hit by a car, keep an open mind to all possible scenarios. Your lost dog that wasn’t at the shelter today could be there tomorrow. Your neighbor that hasn’t seen any cats today may have seen one under his rose bush last week, now that you happen to mention it … again. Keep on keeping on.

Give up. Over 90% of missing indoor cats don’t venture beyond a five-house radius. The vast majority of lost pets are found. Usually within 24 hours, but reunions after weeks, months, and even years aren’t uncommon. Pie never left the house to begin with. He hid under the second-story deck until the coast was clear and he got hungry. He was only missing 26 hours. 

Once your pet is found, I highly recommend microchipping. Microchipped dogs are 2-3 times more likely to be returned home. And the return-to-owner rate is 20 times higher for microchipped cats. It took only 15 minutes and $30 to get Pie microchipped after this event. If you have a regular escape artist on your hands, you can even purchase a GPS tracker to keep your four-legged friend safe. If nothing else, be sure the tags on your pet’s collar have your current phone number and address. Lesson learned.

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