Earlier this summer, one of our beloved and adopted Reservoir Dogs got loose from his new home. Bringing him back took a community effort, but we could not be more proud of the role played by our volunteers whose hard work went beyond social media and keeping watch to putting boots on the ground to get it done. And so it was that a Homeward Bound volunteer spotted our Cooper – scared, tired and hiding in an alleyway – at 5:30 in the morning four days after he went missing.

What to do when your pet goes missing.

In first hour:

Begin your search in the direction you typically walk your dog. Involve as many people as possible right away. Gradually expand your search up to a 3-mile radius. Search parks, alleys, places where dogs might hide.
Make sure someone is manning the phone listed on your dog’s id tag/collar/microchip.
Bring a leash, your dog’s favorite squeaky toy and a high value treat. If your dog has a sibling or dog friend – have it accompany you. If you see your dog – don’t chase them. They may be frightened from their experience and run away.

In first day:

While you are searching, have someone make calls to vets, shelters and rescues. If your dog is a Homeward Bound dog – notify us. We can share with our network.
Create signs with your dog’s picture and vital info. Make at least 200 copies – preferably in color. Leave off at least one unique identifier and be careful about scammers (see below.) Post everywhere; provide to letter carriers, neighbors, people you encounter, area vets and shelters, playgrounds, dog parks, gas stations and local stores.
Post a free ad to Craigslist and the newspaper.

  • Be specific but brief: “LOST: (Dog’s Name) a brown dog with white face and paws, SPAYED female; 60#, got loose from yard on DATE. LOCATION WHERE LOST, near LANDMARK around TIME. Wearing a pink collar with rabies tag and license. Is on anti-seizure medication. Family pet. REWARD. Call (610) 555-0000.”
  • A reward tends to motivate people, but don’t mention an amount. A too large reward can work against you.
  • Always say a female is spayed to protect the dog from those who might see a breeding opportunity. The same logic applies to a medical problem or genetic defect. Mentioning a medical condition also adds urgency.
  • If the dog is friendly, say “Please try and coax her into your garage or fenced yard and call us.” If the dog is not friendly or could be a fear biter say, “Don’t attempt to corner her. Simply call us with her location ASAP.”
  • Depending on where you live, consider adding a second language.

In second day:

Expand the radius of your search area by several miles. Call shelters and rescues even beyond the area you think your dog could have reached.
Continue to check daily with shelters by phone. Visit animal shelters and rescues to look for your pet every other day. Don’t expect volunteers to recognize one brown dog from another. Ask if there is a quarantine area or an area where injured animals are kept in case your dog is separated from those shown to the public.
Check the “found” ads on Craigslist and the newspaper each day that your pet is lost. Check online databases of lost and found dogs.

As time goes on:

Continue your search efforts and stay positive. Dogs have been re-united with their owners even after a year or more. Keep going back to the shelters showing pictures of your dog. Refresh your ‘lost dog’ ads on Craigslist and newspaper. Be persistent and do not give up until a reliable conclusion has been made.

Words of Warning:

Take “found” calls with a grain of salt. At this devastating time, you are vulnerable to unethical people who may try to take advantage. If someone calls and describes your dog from your ad, ask: “Does she have a black mark inside her right leg?” If they say “yes” and your dog does not, hang up.
If someone tries to blackmail you into a higher reward before returning your dog, try to make sure they have the right dog (or any dog at all) and ask the person to meet you in a public place. Don’t go alone. If it is your dog, offer a token reward.

An Ounce of Prevention:

The best way to ensure that your beloved pet is returned safely to you is to begin with a labeled collar, ID tag and microchip. If your dog is found, odds are much better that you will be quickly reunited.