So now that your pet is microchipped – you are at least partly prepared should they ever stray from home or get lost when you are traveling. At home we certainly have more control over our pets and have the comfort of knowing that they at least have some familiarity with their surroundings. When traveling with a pet and having them stray it is a much tougher situation – this also goes for recent home relocation scenarios. But finding a pet in either situation is entirely possible when you get in touch with the right resources ASAP!
I will use my dog Willie’s North Carolina mountain adventure as an example of what to do to best help your pet when they get lost in unfamiliar territory. Willie’s situation was for all practical purposes, the impossible recovery scenario. As I touched on in the previous post about proper pet identification, Willie ran off while we were hiking at the edge of the Great Smokey Mountain National Forest. It was early evening, around 4pm, snowy, cold and in a very heavily wooded area. He was a few paces ahead of me, caught a scent and took off into the woods before I even had a second to realize that he was gone. It was not a good situation, but we made some smart decisions immediately that made finding Willie possible. I have had everyone I know ask me how in the world we found him in such a location and it was those questions and our ultimate success in finding him that were my inspiration for this post. In the interests of helping anyone and everyone who should ever end up in a similar situation I will share the steps of what we did that worked and it will hopefully help many other pets make it home safely!
#1. Canvas The Area Where Your Pet Was Last Seen Repeatedly
Sometimes pets may be right where you last saw them, as it is common for them to return to the last place they saw you or within a very close range of that area. We canvased about a five mile radius from where Willie ran into the woods everyday until we found him at The Cataloochee Ski Area on the fifth day, nearly five miles from where he was lost on Purchase Knob.
Another good tip that we found online and followed was to leave an item of your clothing and a favorite item of the pet’s along with some food in the area where they ran off. On day two we left his blanket, some cookies and a note at the sight where he ran off. A few days later, after Willie had been sighted a few times at the ski area, I created multiple spots like this around the ski area, with his blankets, food, carrots (Willie’s favorite), familiar toys and my own pieces of clothing. I believe that laying out these items and being regularly present near those areas calling Willie for days may have helped to keep him in that area rather than straying farther – possibly catching both my scent and his own scent on those familiar items.
#2 Talk To Strangers
I know that most people are hesitant to pour their burdens onto strangers, but this tip is key! Talk to absolutely anyone who will listen. This is the primary reason we found Willie. We talked to everyone we saw the first day and had the good fortune of encountering locals who were animal lovers themselves and who became proactively involved in both spreading the word and searching for Willie from day one. The key is that most people like animals and will show an extraordinary amount of compassion when they hear that an animal is in any kind of distress. We had local people reach out to other locals in that immediate area by going door to door, searching the woods, sharing Willie’s picture and story on Facebook, helping us post flyers all over town, and contacting local rescue groups and veterinarians. The response was overwhelming and heartwarming – so make sure you reach out for help! It was the calls that I received of sightings over the 5 days that enabled me to track Willie to the ski area. Without that guidance I would have been blindly wandering the woods with no direction.
#3 Reach Out To All Local Animal Related Resources
Your first call should be to local animal control to give a detailed description of your pet and information about where they were lost so animal control officers will be aware that you are proactively looking and will contact you immediately if they come upon your pet. Your next move should be to call/e-mail and visit in person with a lost poster in hand all local animal rescues and shelters, veterinarians, pet stores, and community boards in other retailers – coffee shops, grocery stores, etc. We even posted Willie’s lost poster on signs and fence posts in the area and at the local post offices. Be sure to ask before posting – as it is polite and also makes store owners/employees aware of the story so they will talk to other people about it.
#4 Post Your Pet On Online Lost Pet Posting Boards
There are a number of online resources that may help you to spread the word about your lost pet. I still recommend getting out there and reaching out locally to resources, but posting to online resources certainly cannot hurt. The following list is a few of the best online lost pet posting sites that I’ve come upon and used myself.
The Center For Lost Pets (http://www.thecenterforlostpets.com/) Operated by The Humane Society of The United States. This website enables you to post information about both lost and found pets. It also has a lot of helpful advice similar to this post about what to do if your pet strays.
FidoFinder Lost Dog Database (http://www.fidofinder.com/) This site enables you to search the sites database of found stray dogs by characteristics – breed, color – and by your local postal code.
Craigslist (http://norfolk.craigslist.org/) You can post photos and a description of your lost pet under the community section, and the category lost+found.
#5 Get Online & Utilize The Power Of Social Media
Willie’s story spread like wildfire once it was posted on Facebook and it brought locals out to search and made other people aware that a stray yellow dog with a red collar wandering the area was ‘Willie’ and that we were desperately searching for him. It gave Willie the stray yellow dog a name, face, story and made people care enough to pay attention and to call us! He became somewhat of a local celebrity.
#6 Don’t Give Up Hope
On day 3 I will be perfectly honest and admit that I was losing any hope that Willie would be found. The area where we lost him was such a wilderness he could have easily wandered off down the wrong side of the mountain into the Great Smokey Mountain National Forest never to be seen again. My advice would be to not let yourself get frantic or entirely overwhelmed and approach the situation pragmatically and proactively. Sitting back and waiting for the telephone to ring is not your best method. Get out there and search and talk to people! Even if you are just wandering around the area where your pet was lost and hollering out their name – it will make you feel far better to be proactive then to sit and wait. I wandered around the ski area for 3 days hollering Willie’s name at the top of my lungs and I found him – So get out there and let your pet know you’re looking!
#7 Be Prepared For When You Find Them
Have a car kit with your pet’s favorite toy(s), food (delicious canned food is best), your pet’s favorite treats, a loop leash or carrier (for a smaller dog/cat) and water. I had canned cat and dog food, a bag of carrots, a box of peanut butter treats, a Tupperware of water, a loop leash (I wasn’t sure if Willie’s collar would be on/in tact), and Willie’s favorite plush squeaky raccoon. Your pet is going to be exhausted, hungry/thirsty and scared when you find them. I believe that the familiar sound of both my voice and the squeaky raccoon where what drew Willie out of the woods to where he could see and recognize me. Make sure you are prepared – the worst thing would be to see your pet, but have them spook or run off again because you did not have proper restraint.
Local Resources For Lost & Found Pets in Hampton Roads
Though I lost Willie in the mountains of North Carolina – the same resources are available here in Hampton Roads. Please see the following list of the local resources that you can and should reach out to ASAP should your pet ever stray locally. I did not list local veterinarians here, but make sure to reach out to all local veterinary hospitals and ask to have them post a photo and description of your lost pet to their facebook pages. At Hickory we are always happy to do this to help lost pets find their way home and we also have a community announcement board in our lobby where lost pet flyers can be posted anytime.
Chesapeake Animal Services
Shelter Location: 2100 S. Military Highway, Chesapeake, VA
Non-Emergency Line: (757) 382-6161, option 2
Chesapeake Humane Society
Shelter Location: 312 N. Battlefield Blvd., Chesapeake, VA 23320
Telephone: (757) 546-5355
Virginia Beach Animal Control & Virginia Beach Care & Adoption Center
Shelter Location: 341 S. Birdneck Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
Telephone: (757) 385-4444
Virginia Beach SPCA
Shelter Location: 3040 Holland Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23453
Telephone: (757) 427-0070
Norfolk Animal Control & Norfolk Animal Care & Adoption Center
Shelter Location: 5585 Sabre Road, Norfolk, VA 23502
Telephone – Animal Control: (757) 664-7387
Telephone – Adoption Center: (757) 441-5505
Shelter Location: 916 Ballentine Blvd., Norfolk, VA
Telephone: (757) 622-3319
Portsmouth Animal Control
Telephone: (757) 393-8430
Portsmouth Humane Society
Shelter Location: 4022 Seaboard Ct., Portsmouth, VA
Telephone: (757) 397-6004
Online Lost Pet Posting Boards on Facebook for Pets Lost in Virginia
Lost & Found Dogs VA (https://www.facebook.com/lostfounddogs.va)
Virginia Lost and Found Cats (https://www.facebook.com/va.lost.found.cats)