Tips on What to Do When You Lose Your Dog — or When You Find Someone Else’s

We get advice from the head of a Humane Society in Georgia, who deals with hundreds each year.

Last Updated on May 13, 2015 by Meghan Lodge

Being a volunteer at my local shelter, I get a lot of inquiries about the animals there — is this one friendly, is that one still available, and so on. I always direct them to the shelter’s website and staff.

So exactly what should you do if you lose your dog — or find someone else’s? I talked to Edward Williams, executive director of the Thomasville-Thomas County Humane Society, a private shelter that also operates animal control.

Williams says that on average, his Humane Society takes in 5,000 homeless animals a year, about half of which are dogs. Of that number, more than 70 percent are “lost pets” who were picked up running at large or dropped off by a good Samaritan. Only about 5 percent of the total intake is reclaimed, meaning their owners came and took them back home, and the vast majority are dogs. Adoptions and rescue transfers account for about another 5 percent.

That’s not a lot of dogs going back home with their owners.

According to Williams, you should consider your dog lost after 12 hours. He says it’s vital to take immediate action, including contacting the microchip company, if your dog has one; your local shelters and/or animal control; and local veterinarians.

Williams says the best lost dog reports have clear descriptions as well as pictures. Remember, what looks like a Jack Russell mix to one person might look like a Beagle to someone else. Don’t get too hung up on the breed description — talk about your dog’s size and build instead.

Take a close look at your dog right now. What makes him stand out? Do you know his eye color? What about his nose? Does he have any freckles? Spots? What color are his claws? If your dog bolted from your home or car, you may also want to describe how she’s shy around strangers, or can be charmed with treats. If your pet needs regular medication, stress that in the report too. Offering a small reward is also an excellent incentive.

Once you’ve filed a lost dog report and contacted local shelters, rescues, veterinarians, animal control units, and/or the microchip company, start walking the streets. It’s a good idea to place fliers around where your dog was lost, as well as throughout your neighborhood. Use social networking to your benefit and post a good description of your dog, along with a clear picture.

It’s also important to regularly visit your local shelter to see if your dog has been brought in, especially if he doesn’t have a lot of defining features. For example, if you lost a black Lab mix, you would still have better success identifying your dog in person.

Although the shelter has had good success with returning dogs to their owners based on lost dog reports, they have had surprisingly little success with microchips. According to Williams, this is due to the fact that “many people don’t bother registering the chip or keeping their contact information up to date.” Microchips are a great tool to identify dogs and reunite them with their owners, especially since they won’t fall off like a collar or tag; however, they are only as good as the information that is registered to them. If you never register your chip or keep your contact information updated, the microchip is rendered useless.

If you find a dog, it’s important to take him/her to a vet or shelter to be scanned for a microchip. Call the local shelters and vets, even ones in nearby towns, to report that you have found the dog and give a good description.

Often you aren’t able to keep the dog safe and secure in your own home while you try to locate the owner. In that case, it’s important to relinquish the dog to your local shelter. Do not try to give the dog away! How would you feel if someone found your dog and gave him/her away instead of trying to find you? That’s why it’s important not to make assumptions about an animal’s history or that of their owner’s, as well. A dog covered in scratches and bite marks wasn’t necessarily a bait dog — a lost dog fighting for food, water, and shelter can obtain lots of battle scars while trying to survive.

So remember, if you’ve lost your dog, it’s important to immediately report it to your local shelters, vets, animal control, and the microchip company. Make sure your microchip is registered and keep your contact information up to date. File a detailed lost dog report with a clear picture, and visit your local shelter in person to see if your dog has been turned in. If you have found a dog, turn him/her over to your local shelter, or at least follow proper protocol to try to find the owners. There’s nothing better than the reunion of an owner and their beloved dog!

Read more on Dogster about lost dogs:

About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of two dogs (one being very dumb) and two cats (one perpetually plotting my demise). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.

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