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Tips on how to reunite with pets that go missing

We feel fortunate that in our 12 years of existence, we have lost very few pets- and most have been found. This past week however, a dog went missing from one of our foster homes and was gone for 5 days before we thankfully recovered him.

A girl with a happy dog
Bringing Danny home after being on the run for 5 days!

There are a few things we'd like to share on missing and finding pets- as well as how to avoid this problem in the first place.

Time is of the essence when an animal goes missing. You need to take action right away.

As well, most lost pets are actually very close to home- usually within a few houses or blocks and sometimes even in your own yard. This is especially true for cats, because even your neighbors probably don't know the cats you have inside your house- and they tend to hide before running.

Look around very carefully and continue to look close by before assuming they have gone far, far away.

If you do not find him or her, then start the process below.

1. If the pet is a rescue or shelters that you are fostering, the first step is to contact them immediately.

They can mobilize help, so do not delay due to fear of embarrassment. Be courageous and selfless like you did when you took the step to foster in the first place and inform the organization right away.

You will feel much worse if you can't find the animal because you hid this fact from the organization and lost precious time.

2. Post immediately on the Next Door app- which is one of the fastest ways to be reunited with pets. Post a picture and where the animal went missing from (cross streets), time and date. Be sure to check this regularly and or provide a contact number.

3. Also post on all of your social pages. Tag the organization you are fostering for if applicable. There are also Lost pets of "your county" Facebook groups and the like that you can contact- those people have a lot of experience finding animals and will be able to help. They may have posting and moderator rules, so try to adhere to them and listen to their needs and advice.

While Craigslist has fallen out of favor to some extent it will not hurt to post there as well.

4. Call local vets and email them a picture and microchip number if your pet has one. There is a good chance someone will bring a found animal to the vet to be scanned for a chip.

5. If you have a local shelter or rescue nearby (one that has a physical location you've seen) make a report with them as well. Someone may bring the animal in.

The closest shelter or rescue may not be your official animal control agency however, so you must contact them too. This is usually a city or county shelter that is authorized to take in strays and may not be very close to you at all. A vet or other shelter or rescue should be able to tell you where the animal control agency is for your jurisdiction.

6. Make a report with the microchip company. Not only will vets and shelters call the chip company to report found animals, but if someone stole your pet and tries to re-register the microchip with their contact information, won't be able to.

7. Make posters. These need to be poster board sized, fluorescent/ bright colors with a full size, 8.5 x 11 picture of your pet shown clearly. Choose the best, in focus photo showing their face clearly and any unique body markings. Either use packing tape or place the photo in a sheet protector with the seam down or taped closed to be weather proof.

The poster should also clearly state MISSING and a contact number in very large, bold font.

It is underestimated how hard it can be to read signs from a car, even when stopped at a corner- so do not add too many details while sacrificing the most important features.

Place the posters at large intersections, anywhere near the animal has been spotted- going at least a mile in all directions of where the animal went missing.

As sightings occur, you must be prepared to place more in another mile or so distribution area.

8. Make smaller flyers for your neighbors, vets and shelters. This should be an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper with a large picture and other details. You can post them to grocery store/ coffee shop/ school/ church bulletin boards, or put on group mailbox clusters and on telephone poles where people walk frequently.

Be sure not to open people's individual mailboxes- rather tape to, or use a newspaper cubby, as you don't want to be seen or thought of as tampering with people's mail which is a federal crime.

This smaller flyer should include some tips about how to help a lost pet. This picture is a good thing to print on the back of your lost dog flyer- courtesy of Useless Bay Sanctuary.

Most pets on the run will not come to their name and will actually run the other way, so this is unfortunately counter intuitive.

There are other tips that can help on the Lost Dogs of King County Facebook group (also Lost Cats of King County)- and please note finding cats and dogs is different, so please seek advice based on the animal you are missing.

9. You may want to hire a tracker and or use a trap- but it is best to heed the advice of professionals when placing and using a trap.

Three Retrievers is a WA based service you can hire- and has a wealth of information on their home page about where to start and about using traps.

There are downsides to using traps, especially that you really only get once chance before the animal will become savvy to it and then avoid, so it is critical you don't just go get a trap and try willy nilly.

10. There are other apps such as Finding Rover, PawBoost and too many others to name, than can help spread the word too.

It's best to look into and join these BEFORE your pet goes missing than to wait until it's too late.


The bottom line though is DO NOT GIVE UP. You will not find your pet for certain if you stop trying, so don't. No one more motivated than you- or will hurt as much as you- if you don't find just don't give up. It's never too futile, despite what people may say.

We found a rescue's dog once after an entire month- when her leash got stuck in the slats of someone's deck.

I also personally found my cat after a month way back when- and I almost missed the chance because on the 4th week, I let her ad lapse for just a day. This was the day my cat was found by someone who held onto her. I decided at the last second to post once more- and they saw the ad pop up the next day and called me...but had I listened to others in my life who said it was too late, I'd not have gotten her back.

There are ways to prevent these situations entirely as well.

1. Microchip your pets. This is going to be one of the best ways to be reunited if your pet is found- or stolen.

2. Take a few good pictures of your pets and keep them readily available on your phone. Make sure you can clearly see their face, coloring, any unique markings and features. Take these pics outside on an overcast day or inside with excellent lighting. Do not use a flash.

3. Make a sign for your door and or gate that says "Do not let the dog/ cat out", so people entering are aware you have a pet to watch for.

4. Put a baby gate up around the doorway if you have a door dashing pet- or for dogs, use a leash, every time.

The leash is a $5 tool that prevents- and fixes- a world of issues.

This can be one that hangs next to the door and you leash the dog up and hold onto it before opening the door- or if your dog is reactive or excitable, leashing them to a couch/ table leg in another room (or crating first), can keep them from the action so you can deal with the door without worrying about them.

The person at the door can wait a second...hurrying and losing your pet will never be worth it.

5. Do not let new dogs/ cats out of the crates until you are inside in a secure room with windows and doors closed. Our recent missing dog was let out in the front yard to meet the family and immediately freaked out and took off. Don't take unnecessary risks!

6. Use martingale collars for dogs vs harnesses or flat collars. Dogs cannot pull out of these kind of collar when properly fitted- and instead the collar just gets tighter as they fuss.

Max and Neo makes the nicest ones with a locking clasp. They are also reflective and they donate to organizations like ours!

7. Have a visible ID tag with your contact information for even faster reunification if your pet is found- rather than waiting for the microchip scan etc.

Keeping your pet licensed as well will help as the license information can be researched and matched to you.

Your license fees go to support critical services in your area including animal control, investigating and prosecuting dog fighting and more- so it is worth it to pay the fee and be a part of the solution for all animals in your area!


Preventing your pet going missing is always going to be the best- but we hope with these tips and tricks you can have a positive and happy reunion should it happen to you!

Do you have a missing and found story to share? We'd love to hear:

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