Homeward Bound

For many pet owners, their worst nightmare is a pet going missing. That brings us to the topic of today’s blog post: if your cherished pet goes missing, what should you do to maximize your chances of bringing her home?

Let’s start by going back in time. There are some steps you can take before your pet went missing to keep them secure that you may not have thought of…

KEEPING YOUR PET SAFE AT HOME

Maximizing Microchipping

Ah, the wonders of modern technology! Many of us know about the benefits of microchipping our pets, and if you have adopted your pet from a rescue organization, they likely came to your home with a microchip already in place. This gives many owners automatic peace of mind that if their pet ever went missing, they would quickly be returned.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy!

First of all, upon adopting your pet or having them microchipped, did you call the company listed in your pet’s paperwork to give them your contact information? This is not automatic, and takes an extra step on the part of the owner.

Is the contact information with the microchip company up to date, and will someone in your family with a working voicemail (who actually checks it) be called?

Believe it or not, microchip companies are not under legal obligation to keep information about who purchases their chips, nor are they required to use source codes with their chips that would be most effective at helping pets get back to their owners. Not all microchip companies are created equal.

I have transported several pets I have found wandering the street to vets to have them scanned for a chip. One cat did not have a chip at all. For the first dog, there was a chip, but no owner was registered to the chip in the company databases (the owner had never called the company to register the chip with their information). For the third dog, the chip was registered to somebody in the Netherlands! They had adopted the dog overseas, and had not updated their contact information once they moved. In each case, it made it very difficult to reunite the pet with its owner. I spent hours on the phone calling various microchip companies. Most animal shelters and veterinarians do not have that kind of time to sleuth out who owns a stray animal if the owner’s information is not correctly registered with the chip company. Furthermore, consider that your pet could be legally adopted out to somebody else if their microchip information is outdated and the finders of your pet are unable to reach you.

Another little known fact is that microchips can occasionally migrate from their correct position between your pet’s shoulder blades. Chips have been known to migrate to other parts of a pet’s body, and if a vet or shelter performs a quick scan in the usual chip location, they could miss your pet’s chip. An easy way to make sure your chip has stayed where it should is to ask your pet’s veterinarian to scan your pet once a year for a chip, and make sure that the correct information pops up on the scanner. If the microchip cannot be detected, a new microchip may be needed.

migrating microchip

This microchip has migrated from between the shoulders to the pet’s shoulder blade. Photo credit: Eagle View Vet Hospital.

Hi, My Name Is…

Many owners feel that since their pet is microchipped, they are all set to go! Actually, I strongly recommend that you also have your pet wear a collar with a tag in addition to microchipping. While tags that say “Oh No, I’m Lost!” may be cute, the best information to include on a tag is your pet’s name, your phone number, and the phrase “Microchipped.” If your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat who sometimes roams, it is also prudent to add “I am not lost” or a similar phrase to indicate that your cat is not a stray for concerned neighbors who happen upon your friendly cat outdoors (of course, a friendly neighbor accidentally kidnapping your kitty is only one of many hazards he may face outdoors; consider the risks carefully before allowing your cat to roam outside).

crap I'm lost

Clever Pet Tags on Etsy.

Not everybody is caught up on technology, and some people are not aware of the wonders of microchips. If a less-informed citizen were to take in your stray dog or cat, they might not ever think to get your pet scanned at the vet for a microchip. Having a collar with tags provides a second way that your pet can find his way home.

Worried about your pet’s collar getting hung up on something? Consider a breakaway collar with a tag.

Pet Management

I have noticed that some people have very high expectations of their pet as far as knowing where they live and the boundaries of their yard. Keep in mind that studies have shown dog cognition to be approximately on par with a human toddler. We would not expect a human toddler to stay on our property unsupervised; therefore, it is somewhat unreasonable to expect a dog to always stay on your property unattended. Even if your dog has boundary training, a squirrel or bicycle is enough to send some dogs with a strong prey drive into a breathless chase. Sometimes, the dog may keep the chase up until she is far away from home, and then not be able to find her way back.

It is also important to consider that a dog need not be far away from home to be stolen or injured. There are well documented cases of coyotes grabbing dogs from yards right in Kirkland. Theft of pets, particularly valuable breeds like bulldogs, is certainly not unheard of. And many pets do not have the sense to stay out of busy roads, particularly if they are chasing after prey.

labs outside

Of course we’ll stay in the yard…until something furry runs by!

For these reasons, all households should have family rules on how to manage your pet and keep her safely at home. Doors left ajar while carrying groceries in or admitting your guests can be a common exit route; consider tethering or baby gating your dog to prevent door dashing. Dogs escaping fenced yards by a gate left open is also a danger. A backyard prowler left our gate open several years ago, allowing our dog to escape the yard. Fortunately, we had done enough training with her that she immediately came to the front door and waited patiently to be let in! If she had seen any rabbits though, we may not have been so lucky. Since then, we keep a lock on our gate to ensure it cannot be left open and our yard is secure.


SO YOUR PET IS MISSING

Sometimes, even with the best management protocols, mistakes happen and pets go missing. What is the best way to get your pet home?

First of all, consider the power of social media. Join Facebook groups like Lost Dogs of King County or Redmond WA Pets to make a posting about your missing dog or cat. Posts on message boards for your neighborhood like Nextdoor or City Neighbors are also wise. Don’t forget to post on Craigslist as well. With your posting, include recent pictures of your pet, their name, where they were last seen, YOUR contact information, and any other pertinent behavioral information (such as “Lassie is shy, do not approach if you see her, please call this number instead”). Consider offering a no-questions-asked cash reward.

cats outside

Stray? Or out for a stroll? With cats, it can be hard to tell.

Not everybody is on social media, so you should also spread the word the old fashioned way. Go door to door and hang posters around your neighborhood.

Sometimes lost pets will end up at city or county animal shelters. Be sure to file a missing animal report with Regional Animal Services of King County and/or check with Kirkland Animal Control. It doesn’t hurt to bring in a flyer to your local animal shelters as well; many times they will have a bulletin board where they keep pictures of missing pets in case any pets that are brought in match your description. Don’t forget to check in with any vets in the area as well, since a vet is where people will most likely bring a found animal to get them scanned for a microchip. Some people even paint the windows of their car to turn it into a rolling billboard. The more you can spread the word, the better!

If you are not fortunate enough to find your pet immediately, remember to continue posting to social media and checking animal shelters. Perhaps somebody found your dog last week and did not see your post on Nextdoor, but will notice if you re-post. Perhaps your kitty was not at the animal shelter when you first checked in there, but is brought in by a Good Samaritan a week later. Animal shelters do their very best to help and re-home a large volume of animals, and sometimes pets whose owners cannot be located are only held for several days before they are assessed behaviorally and put up for adoption. Be sure to check shelters frequently, at least every few days.  Be persistent.

In summary, I hope that you never find yourself in the position of missing your pet. However, if you do, I hope this information helps him find his way home quickly!

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not intended to provide professional dog training advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote understanding and knowledge of various pet-related topics. 

Thank you Pexels.com for the free photos!

 

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