What to do when a dog is lost

On Friday evening I had one of the most frightening, harrowing, distressful experiences of my life. After feeding the dogs I let them out into the yard to eliminate, as usual. Shortly thereafter I received a phone call. While I was talking on the phone, I heard an enormous ruckus in the yard. I dashed out and saw only one of the dogs I had put in the yard, Nola, the puppy. The other two weren’t in the yard.

I glanced around and saw that the side gate was ajar. I quickly closed the side gate, scooped Nola up, went into the house, and crated her. I then threw on my coat and dashed for the front door.

Qila, our 11 year old male, was waiting for me at the front door, barking his head off. I let him in and rushed back out. Mira was nowhere to be seen. I quickly searched the immediate vicinity, calling her name, but she had just disappeared.

I never actually panicked but my mind was oddly divided. With one half of my mind I carefully thought through and executed the tasks that needed doing; the other half of my mind was as despondent as I’ve ever been.

The next three hours were extremely difficult. While I did what I could to get Mira home, I also needed to tend to the needs of the other dogs and answer phone calls as they came in.

To cut a long, excruciating story short around 10:00pm I received a phone call from someone in the neighborhood that they had found Mira wandering in an alley and taken her home. I jumped in the car, raced to the address I’d been given, knocked at the door and was admitted, and went into the backyard.

There was my little puppy girl, frightened and dishevelled but safe, uninjured, and found. I thanked Mira’s rescuers tearfully and the two of us returned home to be welcomed by a concerned pack.

In the hopes of helping somebody else who finds him or herself in the pickle that I was in I’d like to suggest a course of action for finding your poor lost dog.

1. Search the immediate vicinity.

Within 15 minutes of losing Mira I had searched the alleys and streets within a two or three block distance of our home. I then returned home so someone would be there in case she came back.

2. Notify the police.

This isn’t a 911 emergency situation. The police reserve that for human beings in trouble so don’t bother calling 911. Here in Chicago we have a 311 non-emergency line that was very helpful in connecting me to nearby police districts. I notified the 17th district (our police district), the 16th district (the district to our west), and the Lincolnwood police (to our north). I reported Mira’s loss, gave a description, and asked that squads be asked to keep their eyes out. I believe that this action was the single most important thing I did to get Mira back. The officer who answered the phone for each district was invariably very kind and supportive.

3. Enlist a support system.

After calling the police I contacted in person and by phone a half dozen of my neighbors, asking them to call people around the neighborhood whom they knew to make sure that people in the neighborhood would keep their eyes out for Mira. My neighbors responded magnificently, getting on the phone, searching for Mira on foot, by car, and on bicycle.

4. Notify local animal control and animal welfare agencies.

Frequently, these agencies keep lists of dogs reported lost. Remember to check back with the agencies in person every couple of days. They’re not always pro-active and some agencies (specifically, Chicago Animal Control) are explicitly not pro-active.

5. Notify local veterinarians.

Call local 24 hour emergency vets immediately. Call local vets when their offices are opened. In our case we had had Mira microchipped and veterinarians’ offices, animal welfare and control agencies, and police departments are equipped with scanners that would enable them to trace Mira back to us.

6. Create and put up posters in places where people congregate (get permission first).

Stores, churches, anywhere people go.

7. Enlist the power of the Internet.

There are many listservs (effectively, computerized mailing lists) for dogs. Here is a list of most of them. The people who subscribe to these listservs are people who love dogs. I know of at least one case in which a dog that was lost for months was successfully returned to her owners due at least in part to the efforts of listserv subscribers. Contact these listservs. They have subscribers all over the country and, in all likelihood, someone who lives close to you, too.

There are also lots of dog rescue organizations with an Internet presence. Here is a list of some of them. Get in touch with these rescue organizations.

8. Wait.

This is the hardest step of all. Don’t try to do it alone. Seek out the support of friends and family.

Here are some other resources on what do to do find a lost pet:

Dog Detective
Internet Lost and Found
Fido Finder
Dog Owner’s Guide
Pet Detectives

I don’t believe that Mira would have been successfully recovered without all of the people who leapt to my aid: a loving, forgiving, and supportive wife; a resourceful brother-in-law who, within minutes of learning of Mira’s loss, had created the poster above and emailed it to me from across the country; wonderfully supportive neighbors who exerted enormous efforts in trying to find Mira and surrounded me with their concern. One of my neighbors said “This is what neighbors do. Mira is our neighbor, too.”

7 comments… add one
  • Whew! Glad everything turned out ok!

    After something similar happened to me a while back, I decided to put a lock on the gate to keep it from ever happening again… that way I can still get in and out as need be, but it keeps the neighborhood kids from wandering in to fetch a lost ball (or to just mess around with the dog) and leaving the gate open when they leave. Better they have to ask me for their ball back than me have to ask them where the hell my dog ran off to.

  • I’m glad you found your dog and she was safe. I was worred when I read the title.

  • Kind of you, MountainRunner. You, too, Watcher. And, yes, I’ve put a padlock on my side gate. And a nylon tie.

  • Oh, golly, Dave – that is such a frightening thing to go through. Our Houdini has escaped our privacy-fenced yard about 8 times. He’s a digger, and he’s quick. 3 times, the pound had them – then, I got smart and had a tag made with his name and our phone number – 5 times, people have called and held him while I went and collected him – twice he had managed to get about 2 miles from home within about 30 minutes.

    The tag is a great way to help. And we are now pouring cement into the ground everywhere Houdini starts to dig.

  • Ann Julien Link

    Glad your Mira was found, and all is o.k. Love to all, Ann

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