What to do – Right away- When your dog is lost

Guest post by Robert Steeg

On June 5, 2017 our 11-month-old mixed-breed, flat-coated retriever escaped from our yard and was gone for 8 days. We got him back on June 13, 2017. He is fine. We were lucky.

Simon looks a lot like a black lab, but he is a little smaller (50 pounds) and a little sleeker. We adopted him from the Louisiana SPCA from Condo #14, which now has a plaque in honor of our previous dog, Allison. Simon is the most friendly, good natured dog you’ll ever meet. Points at squirrels, pounces on lizards, slides across wood floors chasing his toys.

But in the late afternoon on Monday, June 5, I left the gate to the driveway of our home open. Not knowing that, my wife let him out in the yard to go to the bathroom, and instead he just wandered off.

The next 8 days consisted of a very, very intense search. We are fortunate to have Simon back home.

In case this ever happens to you, here is what I learned about how to try to get your dog back when he or she gets lost.

  1. Act as quickly as you can. A dog can travel a long way in a short time. A human can walk 3-4 miles in an hour. A dog can move a lot faster and thus can travel further in a short time. Your dog could easily be 3, 4, or more miles away.Even though Simon had a micro-chip, we didn’t sit back and rely on that, and I recommend that you do the same. (See below for more discussion on micro-chips.) Both St. Charles Avenue and Claiborne Avenue were easily within range of our house in the University area, and we were very worried about that.
  2. Within the first few hours, fan out in all directions. Don’t assume that you know which way your dog went. I was sure Simon followed the path of our usual morning walk. I was wrong. A dog is just following random smells or sights. There’s no way to know where he has gone.
  3. Within the first few hours, if you can, have one person search by car and another person search on foot. The person on foot should walk around the spot where the dog escaped from, in all directions. The person in the car should criss-cross all streets, slowly. Both persons should call the dog’s name and look in every open spot for the dog. If you only have one person, use the car rather than proceeding on foot because you can cover much more territory by car.
  4. When searching by car, start by searching within a 1-mile radius of the place where the dog escaped from. Then move out to 2 miles. Search everywhere within each radius. Remember that barriers to you, a human, are not barriers to your dog. A dog will go places where you couldn’t or wouldn’t. They can cross construction barriers. They can cross big streets. They don’t know if they are going into a terrible neighborhood. They can cross small streams or rivers.We are sure that Simon crossed the concrete and chain-link fence barriers for the drainage and street construction on Jefferson Avenue. We also suspect that he made it all the way across Louisiana Ave., which would have required crossing all the construction barriers there.
  5. If you don’t find your dog quickly, then you have to get systematic about a search process that will last for days. Here are the major components of that process:
    • Small signs
    • Large signs/posters
    • Word of mouth
    • The internet
    • Pet detective/pet finder (if you can afford it)
  6. I think the single most important element of the process is the small signs (flyers). These are on letter-sized paper, 8 ½ by 11 inches. They could be on regular printer paper, or on somewhat thicker paper. You could make your own, or you could use one of the free templates offered on numerous web sites, such as FidoFinder or HelpingLostPets. The important items on the sign are:
    • the announcement that the pet is lost.
    • the name of the pet.
    • a description of the pet.
    • a picture of the pet.
    • a description of any unique identifying features.
    • the phone number for an interested person to call.
    • a statement of the amount of any monetary reward.
  7. In the small sign, be brief. Don’t write a book. You just want to get people’s attention and give them the essential information.
  8. Speaking of “essential,” a reward is a very good idea. There are people who become very motivated by the prospect of a reward. They will be out there, looking for your pet for you, and hoping to help themselves at the same time.
  9. Buy a staple gun, buy extra staples, and buy a jumbo sized roll (or two) of clear packing tape. Then go back to that 1-mile radius. Divide that 1-mile radius into 4 quadrants (NW, NE, SW and SE), and attack each quadrant, one at a time. Drive up and down each street in a quadrant. Place signs at one intersection, then drive 2 or 3 blocks, and put signs at that intersection, and continue that process. Go up and down each street in the quadrant.
  10. Here is my method for putting up the small signs. Pick only ONE pole at an intersection, and put 3 or 4 small signs on that pole, wrapping all the way around it so that the signs form one continuous band with your dog’s picture and information. If the pole is wood, use the staple gun. If it’s metal or concrete, use the tape and wrap it all the way around.
  11. One other important way to use the small signs is to post them at places where people gather in the community, either on the poles outside of the entrances to these places, or inside the places themselves, or both. This would include:
    • coffee houses
    • grocery stores
    • veterinarians
    • convenience stores
    • neighborhood restaurants
    • playgrounds
    • dog parks and other areas where dog-lovers congregate
  12. It may take a while to cover all four quadrants within the 1-mile radius. Once you have finished, move out to the 2-mile radius with your small flyers. This will be a larger area, so instead of posting signs at every second or third intersection, post them at every sixth or seventh intersection. And hit all the community-gathering centers within the 2-mile radius as well.On the intersections of the largest, major streets, blanket at least two poles, and even more if you can. You are trying to reach people who are in their cars while they are driving. You are trying to “tweak” the memory of the person who lives outside of your neighborhood but either happened to pick up your dog or somehow knows someone who did. Remember, sometimes the dog gets into a car with someone who drives even further away. That’s why you want to hit the intersections of major streets.
  13. Do not put flyers in individual mailboxes. I did that, and I shouldn’t have. You simply cannot cover enough territory to make this worthwhile, and it’s very time consuming.
  14. The second most important element of the process is the internet. Once you get the word out on the internet, it will spread. People will send it to their friends. People will post comments to you. People will discuss your situation among themselves and will pass information from one person to the next. It spreads like wildfire.You will be amazed at how many people will hear about your lost dog. I was. We got emails from strangers, with reports of dog sightings or just words of encouragement, all very much appreciated.
  15. There are three aspects of the internet:Web sites devoted to lost dogs. Go to the sites. Post the information about your dog. Here are some of them, but the list will keep changing. HelpingLostPets. FidoFindercom.Neighborhood web sites. The main one we found was NextDoor.com. There are pages on each such site that are devoted to lost pets. A LOT of people go to these sites all the time.

    Facebook. There are “lost pet” pages on Facebook, so make a posting there. And ask your friends to post your information on each of their individual pages, so that their friends will see it and pass it on.

  16. Word-of-mouth is almost as important as the internet, and quite often intersects with it. When people aren’t sharing information on the internet, they are doing it face to face. So, tell people about your dog, giving them full information, so they can pass it on.
  17. One important source of word-of-mouth help are veterinarians and animal shelters, animal control facilities, and the local SPCA. Contact every single one of these, either in person, by phone, or by email. I prefer personal or phone contact, followed up by an email that encloses one of your flyers. Do not limit yourself to the veterinarians and shelters in your neighborhood; contact all of them in your entire metropolitan area. Then they can be on the lookout for your dog. We visited or called all the veterinarians within a 12-mile radius, all the way out into the suburbs, and followed up by sending each of them an email of our flyer.
  18. If your dog has a micro-chip (as ours did), that is a big plus, but you cannot sit back and rely on someone to read the chip and find your dog. The chip could malfunction. It could move around inside your dog’s body so it doesn’t show up when he is scanned. Or the veterinarian or shelter personnel could fail to check for it or could use their equipment in the wrong manner. For these reasons, nothing replaces human contact with the people at the shelters and the veterinarians. Show them your flyer. Leave it with them. Make sure your flyer will get posted in a prominent place so all the intake personnel will be familiar with it. And try to visit the main SPCA and/or other shelters every few days, checking on “new” intakes – dogs they have just received.
  19. As helpful as micro-chips are, many people don’t know about them. So, when they find a dog, they may not know to take it to a veterinarian to scan the micro-chip. That’s another reason why you should be pro-active and not sit back and wait for the chip to bring your dog to you.
  20. I employed a pet finder. I will give her a plug here, since she was so helpful. She is Bonnie Hale, 314-369-2784, wwwLostPetSpecialist.com. She has a bloodhound who will actually track your lost pet, if you contact her soon enough. That service is expensive. She also has a less-expensive service whereby she coaches you in putting up larger signs and gives you her system for working all the leads and phone calls, so that you can narrow your search and hopefully find your dog. I suspect that other pet detectives/pet finders have similar services. Check out their references and make sure they are legitimate, and if you can afford it, they may well be very helpful.
  21. Bonnie has a proprietary system for the large signs, which I employed, so I don’t think it would be fair for me to repeat it here.
  22. The difficulty with this entire process is that the dog could be anywhere. He could be 3 or 4 or 5 miles away, or more. He could have been picked up by a well-intentioned person in a car, and driven to that person’s home many more miles away. He could have traveled those 3 or 4 or 5 miles in a circular route so that he ended up close to your home. Somewhere along the way, he could have been taken in by a person who is trying to “shelter” the dog in that person’s home. Or he could still be on the street (as Simon apparently was).
  23. You need to try to cover all those possibilities. The large signs are intended for major intersections and highways, and are designed to reach people who picked up the dog in their car, and who may drive by those signs and become notified that the owner of the dog they picked up is looking for that dog.
  24. Many people believe that after wandering around for a while, dogs try to make their way back home. If that occurs, they will make it back inside the 1-mile or 2-mile radius. That is what all those smaller signs are for.This is apparently what happened to Simon. The bloodhound tracked him for a route that covered a total of 5 ½ miles, all the way across Louisiana Avenue toward Downtown, then curving back toward our house, to a point due east of my house, about 1 1/4 miles away. Then the bloodhound lost the scent (the trail was 5 days old, and it had rained).Simon was found two days later about 8 blocks from my house, by a person who had seen one of our posted small signs, recognized him, held him, and called us.
  25. Of course, maybe the bloodhound was wrong, and maybe our dog was always that close to our house. He had a wound on his leg, and apparently had been nursing it for several days. That is why you try to cover all the bases, because there are so many possibilities, so you want to cast a wide net.
  26. Another variable is the personality of the dog. Our dog is extremely friendly, and will wag his tail and approach almost anyone. Other dogs are skittish and will run away from people.
  27. Another variable is that some dogs behave differently once they are out, on their own, and can’t find their way home. Sometimes naturally friendly dogs become skittish.
  28. Weather is yet another variable. If there is a thunderstorm, the dog might get scared and run further away. (Or he might seek shelter under a house and travel less.) A steady rain over a long period of time will probably cause the dog to travel less. Very hot weather might have the same effect.
  29. You can read about all of these variables on the internet. There are many web sites that go into much more detail about all of these things. Every piece of data or information that you can gather will get you that much closer.
  30. One suggestion that we adopted from the internet was to put on our front porch some items that might attract our dog back home. We put out several things that smelled like him – his bed and one of his fabric toys. We put out a piece of my clothing so he could perhaps pick up my scent. We also put out some food and water.
  31. One thing we didn’t do, which I wish we had done, was to leave a gate open so that, if the dog had made his way back home, he would have been able to get into the yard. The thought of Simon making it back home, but having no way to get in, and then leaving again, is a really hard one, so I suggest (if it’s safe and if it’s possible) leaving some way for the dog to get back into your yard.

During the eight days that Simon was lost, we Robs Dog Simon for blogtalked to very many people who shared stories of their lost dogs. In most cases, the dog was successfully found – often in unexpected ways, and sometimes after a period of weeks or even months. That’s what happened to us – a return, after 8 days, of a friendly dog who somehow was not taken by anyone, and who survived an injury and survived for 8 days on the streets before being found. So, don’t lose hope.

We immediately took Simon to the veterinarian so he could care for his wound. He had lost 5 pounds – a full 10% of his body weight, in 8 days. He was weak and very hungry. He was in a kennel when I first saw him, lying down. I bent down and gave him a big, long hug. He sat up, wagged his tail very fast, licked me, then laid back down and went to sleep. He needed, and deserved, a lot of rest.

I wish you good luck and the return of your dog.