When your cat is lost, the most important thing to remember is to act immediately. Even a short delay may hamper your efforts to find an animal. And while microchipping your pet may have given you a sense of security about recovering your pet in the event it goes missing, don’t sit back and rely on that microchip alone to get your pet back home to you.
First, search your own property thoroughly, including basements, sheds, garages, and even vents and pipes, where a pet may be stuck and unable to get out. Cats in particular are known for being trapped, rather than lost, when they go missing. And both cats and small dogs, when frightened or injured, can hunker down and hide even though they hear you calling. The point is to look in every single hidey-hole and cover every square inch of your house and yard. Bring a flashlight along!
Talk to your immediate neighbors and get permission to search their properties as well. Then begin searching the neighborhood in general, calling your pet’s name as you go (you could also squeeze a favorite squeak toy or rattle a box of treats.) Take a photo of your pet with you, and talk to as many people as possible – including the mailman, school crossing guards, etc.
Signs and flyers have a higher “find rate” than any other method of searching for a lost pet.
Your sign should include a clear picture of your pet and a phone number where you can be reached. Post them within a two mile radius of home, focusing on intersections where drivers of cars may see the sign while stopped at a traffic light or stop sign. Also post them at grocery stores, coffee shops, and other neighborhood spots. Consider offering a reward (don’t state the amount). Don’t include your name or address, to avoid opening yourself up to scammers and criminals.
Also place a lost pet ad in your community paper; some publications offer this as a free service. Begin checking ads (online and in print) for found pets on a daily basis.
Get out the phone book and call all the veterinary hospitals nearby. If your pet was found injured, or hit by a car, it may have been taken in for care. And if a pet even vaguely resembling yours turns up, go take a look in person – two people’s descriptions of the same animal rarely match.
Also, if your pet ID tag or the contact info you supplied to the microchip database is out of date, try to contact the people who have that address or phone number now. Let them know the situation and have them take down your name and current phone number.
Do this on a daily basis – don’t assume the shelter will make an effort to contact you, even if your pet is microchipped or wearing pet identification. And don’t rely on the phone in this instance either. Sometimes information about newly arrived animals doesn’t make it to the switchboard operator on a timely basis. There’s also a small chance that a shelter might have an old microchip scanner instead of a universal model that can read all kinds of chips.
If there are a number of shelters in your area, it helps to have two family members split up to cover all of them each day. Take a flyer along that includes your pet’s picture and your phone number. Try to befriend the staff at each shelter and urge them to hold onto the flyer and call you if anything turns up. Try to find out how long each shelter will hold an animal before euthanizing it or putting it up for adoption.
Many animals can pick up a scent from a long way away – help out your lost pet by placing scent markers around your property. Scent markers can include articles of your clothing (a sweaty jogging suit is ideal), the pet’s bedding, a litter pan, etc.
Your vet or local humane society can tell you if there’s a specialized pet recovery group in your area. A pet recovery service can give you specific tips for your situation, based on their expert knowledge of animal behavior.
Unfortunately, there are scammers who prey upon the owners of lost pets. When you begin your search, keep one identifying feature of your pet to yourself. Then if someone calls saying they have your animal, you can screen them by asking for that detail. Never go to someone’s home or let them come to yours – only meet in a public place and always take a friend with you.