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How to Get Your Lost Dog Home Safely

If you're a dog owner, you know that "panic" is not too strong a word for the way you feel when you can't find your dog.

The best before-the-fact advice is to make sure your dog is always wearing his license, and get him microchipped. Then, if he's found by a neighbor or the local Humane Society, they'll know how to reach you so you can bring him home.

But what if the person who found him doesn't take him to a vet or shelter that can read the microchip, or if the dog's collar has been lost?

And what if the person who finds him doesn't really want him to be found? No matter how well you think you have identified your dog, I know you won't be able to just sit by the phone and hope someone calls to say they found him.

So what are the best steps to take to make sure Fluffy gets home safely?

  1. Make a visit to the nearest Humane Society and city animal shelter at least once a day. Don't expect the staff to call you if the dog is found and turned over to a shelter. If the collar is lost, or if your phone number has changed since he got his microchip, they won't know your number.

    It may help to contact the local dog pound and give a description of your dog, but if you live in a city where the shelter has lots of dogs and an overworked staff, (which is common), they probably won't call you based simply on a description. Your best bet is to go look for yourself to make sure your best friend isn't sitting there, waiting for you to bail him out.

    This is particularly important if your local animal shelter has a policy of putting a dog down after only a few days if he isn't rescued by his owner, or if your dog might be put up by adoption if you don't find him first. Some shelters keep certain breeds, such as pit bulls, for less time, especially if they are short on room or if they don't think a particular breed or specific dog will be adoptable.

  2. Contact your local veterinarians with a description - just in case your dog was injured by a car or another dog. A good Samaritan may have brought your dog to a vet for treatment, and they may not have been able to call you. Make sure you leave your number in case he's found tomorrow, or next week, and he finds his way to a local vet.
  3. If your dog is a purebred - (or even if he's a mutt but kind of looks like a recognizable breed) - contact the local breed rescue organizations. Some people are more comfortable turning a dog over to a rescue organization than to an animal shelter - and they may not guess the right breed. Try to find a listing of all the breed rescue organizations in your area, and call every one that seems even slightly plausible. Boxers are often mistaken for pit bulls, for instance, by people who aren't familiar with the breed.
  4. For the same reason, look up your local no-kill animal shelters and private shelters, which are operated by individuals or groups. Give them a description of your dog and ask them if they have any 'inmates' that fit that discription, or if they'll call you if someone turns one in.
  5. Dogs are sometimes found a long way from home, either because someone stole him and he then escaped but couldn't find his way home, or because the dog has a strong desire to explore the world. For that reason, you'll want to call as many animal shelters in nearby towns as you can.

    Also remember that the person who finds him may not take your dog to the shelter that's nearest your home - it may not be the one that is most convenient to them. Even if you can't visit every shelter within 100 miles, an impossible task, at least try to call each one.

  6. Lost dogs are often found by someone in the immediate neighborhood, and put in their back yard or home for safe keeping until they find the right owner. These nice folks often put an ad in the paper, but you'll want to beat them to it, especially if your dog is purebred or a popular breed.

    Anyone can answer the "found dog" ad and say your dog belongs to them. It's far better to put an ad in the paper yourself, with a good description of the dog and the phone number where you can be reached. You can also widen the chances of someone seeing your ad if you put up a notice on lamp posts, and ask local businesses to put a flyer in their windows. And don't forget online bulletin boards, like

    Even if you put your own ad in the paper, be sure to read the "found pets" classifieds - the person who finds your dog might not read your ad.

  7. Don't forget the kids in your neighborhood - they tend to pay more attention to interesting things, (like loose dogs wandering around, and a dog living behind a fence where no dog lived before). More than one person has found a lost dog that was "rescued" (or stolen) because they put the word out among the neighborhood kids. Offering a small reward to the first kid to find your dog won't hurt, either.

I do hope you aren't reading this article because your own dog is now missing, but if you are, I hope your poor lost friend comes home safely, and soon.