First, don’t panic, get organized.
It’s much harder to find a small pet than a large one, and even harder to find a cat than a dog. Most likely your pet is scared and hiding for protection. This means that you will most likely keep quiet as well. A dog may bark or whine if it hears you call, but a cat rarely responds. It happens, but it’s rarer.
The first thing to do when you notice your pet is missing is to look closely…inside your house, your yard, your neighborhood. Shout out his name so he knows you’re near. It could come running to you, or it could possibly run home. Be sure to leave a pet door open if you use one, or have someone at home to watch over you and answer the phone in case someone calls.
Check with your neighbors to see if they will allow you to look in garages and outbuildings. I found one of my cats in the garage next door after the neighbor had just taken some things out and didn’t notice a cat running in. On another occasion, I found my cat missing in my own garage. I had forgotten that he had just been there and didn’t notice him running fast behind me.
If you can’t find your pet right away
If you haven’t prepared anything before, go ahead and do it now. Make a poster on your computer, or just paste a current photo on a piece of paper, then write with a marker the pet’s name and description, then your name, address, and phone number. If you are offering a reward, mention that as well. Make copies of this poster and post them around your neighborhood, perhaps on community bulletin boards at the grocery store, laundromat, convenience store, etc.
To make sure everyone has your number, distribute cards or posters as you search. Stick one on your front door, as well as your own car window.
Never put these in people’s mailboxes, as that is illegal. If no one is home, tape it to your door or slide it inside the door any way you can.
Be sure to drop one off at your local police department and animal control agency, if there is one. If your town has a shelter or rescue group, contact them as well, along with your vet. Another great contact to make is your local mail carrier. They know all the homes and often the pets. Also check with other delivery people, as they might see your pet in someone else’s yard. This means the driver for UPS, FedEx, pizza, newspaper and flower delivery people, meter readers, etc.
However, don’t expect your pet to come running to you when you call. Remember, they are scared and out of their comfort zone. They won’t know how to use what we might consider good judgment, choosing to hide and be quiet instead. That’s their instinct in the wild, so that’s what they’ll do now.
If your pet has a tag, much better. Identification is probably the most important thing you can do to help get your pet back. Even indoor pets occasionally escape outside.
Set a trap
If you can, borrow a humane trap from the police department, shelter, or anyone who might have one and place it where the pet was last seen, if possible. Otherwise, place it near your house. You can try to get back home, but you may not know how to get back in.
If you are not reached on the first day, keep in touch with all the agencies you contacted on the first day. If he seems disinterested, don’t get angry, but be persistent. Make sure the police actually take a report. Some agencies don’t take pet loss seriously, even if there are dog fighting clubs in the area. (I know this all too well, but that’s another story…)
Here are other tactics you can use if things go beyond that hectic and unsettling first day:
- Place an ad in the local newspaper.
- Ask the radio station to broadcast it.
- Keep food and water near your house, in case he returns. Don’t worry if other animals are eating it.
- Hang something with your scent outside your house. Dirty laundry works well, and your pet may notice and be attracted to it.
- Post your lost pet on the many websites that provide a lost and found service.
If someone calls you to collect the reward, be careful. Never go home alone, and never send money “in advance” to have your pet sent to you.
Last but not least, many animals get hit by cars too, so you may need to check with the road maintenance folks to make sure yours isn’t one of them.