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If Your Pet is Missing


Filed in Cats, Dogs, Safety

Every year, several million family dogs and cats are reported missing, and yours could be next. That's the bad news. The good news is there are 10 steps you can take if yours turns up missing.

The 10-step list below comes from Stolen for Profit: The True Story Behind the Disappearance of Millions of America's Beloved Pets, by Judith Reitman. 

Here is Reitman's list -- interspersed with this writer's editorial comments and observations of Gretchen Hersman, director of the Midwest regional office (Iowa) for In Defense of Animals.

  • One. "Look everywhere," throughout your home, in closed cabinets and cupboards, under sinks, in closets, and so forth. Comb through your backyard, searching holes that your dog may have dug up; paw through high grass or ivy; look behind trees and under juniper bushes and behind plants; and check your tool sheds-both top and bottom and the storage areas out back.

    Ailing cats often hide themselves, Hersman indicates. "When cats become ill, with viruses or even with hairball problems, they ... might hole up in clothes closets or kitchen cupboards," she says.

    Hersman adds that "you should expand your search to an area within a two-mile radius of your dwelling. Be sure to check a pet's potential hiding places in the neighborhood, and that might include abandoned buildings and sheds. You might want to check roadsides to make sure your pet has not been run over."

    She also advises pet owners to look into storm sewers for small dogs and cats. Hersman illustrated her point by citing an example from a case in Pennsylvania. "A little pug was found in a storm sewer after a four-day search, so at least the story had a happy ending, even the owner had to enlist the services of Philadelphia city workers to help extricate the little pug from the storm sewer. The elderly lady who owned the dog was so delighted to get her dog back, because the presumption was that the animal had been stolen and abandoned because the pug had been found seven miles from the home of the dog's family."

  • Two. Take a current photo of your missing pet to animal shelters, humane societies and SPCAs. Telephone calls may not be enough; it's better to make in-person visits to such facilities daily for 10 days or more. Hersman says that "you need to go there to see for yourself if your pet is actually there. Most animal shelters are very busy, and those running the facilities may not notice your missing pet is there even if they look."
  • Three. Take out lost animal ads in your local daily and weekly newspapers. Some area newspapers offer lost ads free of charge. Be sure to read the "found animal" sections of your newspaper. Hersman proposed taking out "a bogus 'free to good home' ad, explaining in your advertisement that you need to find a good home for this pet of yours that is actually missing. Your ad might attract the person who stole your pet."

    It probably can't hurt to try to talk a newspaper into doing an article on families going through the nightmarish experience of trying to find a family pet.

  • Four. See if your local radio and television stations would air a "lost and found pet report" segment as a public service.
  • Five. Pepper your neighborhood and beyond with posted missing-pet flyers. I've seen flyers tacked on to telephone poles, on Laundromat bulletin boards, at the local library, grocery stores, animal shelters, veterinary hospitals, etc. Lost flyer posters would include a current picture of the missing pet, along with the owner's name and home phone number. Consider offering a reward of at least $300 for a safe return of your pet, as an incentive to pet thieves.
  • Six Get in touch with emergency veterinary clinics and other veterinary hospitals, because your dog or cat may have been injured and taken there for medical treatment.
  • Seven. Talk to delivery persons who regularly frequent your neighborhood. That would include package delivery drivers, mail carriers, bottled water delivery persons, utility company meter readers, and others. Who knows, one of them may have spotted your pet, or at the very least you can ask them to let you know if they encounter your pet on their routes.
  • Eight. Contact animal departments of universities and hospitals in your region. In some instances, animals may be used in research project. The phone numbers of these research facilities can be found in the Yellow Pages or from officials at your local town hall.

    You could also telephone 1 (800) STOLENPET for names and address of scientific research laboratories that use animals as subjects.

    It's important to describe your missing pet to the laboratory personnel. It makes sense to visit these facilities in person. Bring along a recent picture of your animal to post in laboratory animal departments and in academic departments, which can include animal labs (e.g. psychology and biological science departments).

  • Nine. Turn in a missing pet report with local law enforcement agencies such as the police department or sheriff's office. Promptly file a report if you think your dog or cat has been stolen. You can assume that a police report would come in handy for identification purposes when retrieving your dog or cat and in court proceedings if a suspect is put on trial. Law enforcement officials may be reluctant to prepare the report, so you might try convincing them of the importance by reminding them that under law pets are considered to be valuable property and that theft constitutes either a felony or misdemeanor. Law requires police officers and sheriffs to take action on your request.
  • Ten. display dogged determination with your animal recovery efforts, as you would for any other dear friend or family member. Be advised that in some cases, cats and dogs have been found after several months of searching.

    As a for-instance, Hersman cited a case in Jackson, Miss., where a longhaired Shepard owned by a legal secretary. Two years later, the dog was recovered in a residential neighborhood 40 miles away. "This woman wouldn't give up, and finally she received an anonymous telephone tip as to the dog's location. She had followed up on hundreds of leads that had dead-ended, but the last one proved to be genuine," said Hersman.


  • Look everywhere throughout your home.
  • Make in-person visits daily for at least 10 days to animal shelters, humane societies and SPCAs and bring current photos of missing pet.
  • Take out lost animal ads in your local daily and weekly newspapers.
  • Post missing pet flyers throughout your neighborhood.
  • Contact emergency veterinary clinics and other veterinary hospitals, because your dog or cat may have been injured and taken there for medical treatment.
  • Talk to delivery persons who regularly frequent your neighborhood, such as package delivery drivers and mail carriers.
  • Contact animal departments of universities and hospitals in your region, believing that they might use animals in research projects.

Several dogs and cats share their home in San Rafael, Calif., with the author of this article, free-lance writer Ron Lent, and his wife Stephanie.

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