Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Pets Go Missing

ACO humor. Sorry.
Today's Thoughtless Thursday is asking you to think about something unpleasant: What do you do if your pet is lost? As an animal control officer I get frantic calls about missing pets on a regular basis, even more so during the holidays. Sometimes pets go missing despite an owner's best efforts. If it happens to you take a deep breath and then do the following:
 
Call Animal Control immediately! Many people make the mistake of waiting a few days, assuming the pet will "just come home on his own." That is a gamble you shouldn't take. Most animal control facilities can only hold animals for a few days. When the hold time is up animals are deemed property of the shelter and then transferred to another facility, rehomed or euthanized. If you wait, your pet may not be there when finally show up. Please note: Dogs and cats don't care about jurisdictional boundaries. If you live close to another city or county be sure to call their animal control facility as well. When you call, the following information is extremely helpful:
  • Your name. It's awkward to say "I got a call from an unidentified woman about a lost dog." If that is not the person who answers the phone, I can spend five minutes trying to figure if I even have the right number. Please let me know that you are "Mary Johnson."
  • Your phone number. Please say your number clearly and slowly. Even better, repeat it at the end of the message as well. (If you don't hear from me in 12 hours, please call back. Chances are that I don't have a good number for you.)
  • Species and breed or breed mixes. Please be specific. I get "Did anyone call about a missing animal?" all the time. Does this mean the caller lost an animal? Found an animal? And what kind of animal is it?
  • A good physical description. "Stocky brown pit bull with a white chest, cropped ears, long tail and black spot on the rear, left leg" is much easier to identify than "red nosed pit" -- especially when I have three in my kennel.
  • Your animal's sex. Yes, you read that right. I had a woman last week that didn't know if her cat was male of female, but swore the neighbor stole it. (Story for another day . . .) Also, is your pet spayed/neutered? That factors into the search pattern.
  • Any ID. Was your pet wearing a collar? Tags? Is it chipped?
  • Time lapse. When did the pet go missing? 30 minutes ago? Three days ago? It makes a big difference in the size of the search area.
  • Your address. I'd also like to know where the pet went missing from, if it's different from your address. I'm not being nosy. I want to make sure you're looking in the right place. I had a 10 minute conversation with a guy last month before discovering his dog went missing in North Carolina. (Same city name, different state. Sometimes 411 makes a mistake.)
Call your microchip company. (If your pet is not microchipped please remedy this ASAP.) Tell the chip company that your pet is lost. They will flag that chip number in their system and notify you right away if somebody calls in that chip number. (This also keeps people from changing the contact info to theirs, essentially stealing your pet. It happens!) Some chip companies even send out lost pet alerts to local shelters and vets. While you have the chip company on the phone, verify that they have the correct contact information for you. Sometimes people move or change phone numbers and forget to update the microchip information. Remember, the chip doesn't do any good if nobody can find you.
 
Get on the internet. Let all your Facebook friends know that your pet is missing and ask them to cross post. Make sure you have a recent picture. (Don't have one? Stop reading this post and take a picture. Right now. I'll wait.) Next, post a lost pet ad on Craigslist under the "Lost and Found" section. I don't know why, but people often go to Craigslist instead of calling Animal Control. We return dogs from Craigslist ads all the time.
 
Make a flyer. The Missing Pet Partnership has some great tips here. Start by distributing flyers to your neighbors. Remember, you can't leave flyers in mailboxes -- it's a federal offense -- but you can stick them in door jambs or on car windshields. Don't forget to take copies of your flyer to Animal Control, nearby veterinarians and any other local shelters. Check with your city to see what the rules are about hanging lost pets signs. You don't want to waste time and money on signs if code enforcement is going to pull them down as fast as you hang them up.
 
And finally, a few miscellaneous tips. (OK, really they're pet peeves of mine, but "miscellaneous tips not to annoy the animal control officer" sounds a bit self-serving.)
  • Leave a message on the answering machine instead of calling back 20 times trying to catch me. I'm out of the office more than I'm in, but I return to the office regularly to check messages. If you don't leave a message, I don't know you called.
  • If your voice mailbox is full or not set up, leave an alternate call back number.
  • If you're going to screen your calls please listen to the message before you call me back. It drives me bonkers when people call and say "someone called me from this number" after I left a detailed message on their voicemail.
  • And on the same note, if I have to listen to loud, annoying music while your server is "locating the subscriber" I'm going to hang up.
  • I really don't care what name your animal "answers to." Truth is, half the dogs I deal with respond to anything said in a happy voice, including "Pup Pup," "I have cookies" and "Wanna go for a ride?" The other half are either so scared -- or excited -- that they don't respond to anything. And then there are cats. Remember the joke "Cats don't come when you call, they take a message and get back to you later?" Yeah, it's like that.
  • Call back and let us know when your pet returns home so we can stop looking. Please!
I hope your pets never get lost. But if they do, the above tips will help bring your pets home faster and make my job a lot easier. -- K

Looks like Ruckus isn't going anywhere!
P.S. It's Thoughtless Thursday! Hop around and see what others are doing today.