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Preventing The Sorrow Of A Lost Pet

It's a sad day when a beloved family pet is lost or stolen.

No one expects for it to happen, yet each year hundreds of pets disappear. Sometimes they are never found.

However, The Early Show's resident veterinarian Debbye Turner says there are ways to help locate lost pets, and there are ways to prevent a pet from getting lost.

Sometimes a pet can stray from the house or out of the yard. Other times unexpected occurrences like fire, blizzard, tornado, flood, or a power blackout can result in an unwanted separation.

According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, only 17 percent of stray dogs and 2 percent of stray cats are reunited with their owners. Turner says in most cases, the animals found wearing proper identification are the ones likely to make it home.

When a pet is lost, time is of the essence, especially if the lost animal is not wearing identification tags. Generally, pet shelters have a 48- to 72-hour holding period. Animals that go unclaimed past the holding period may in some cases be adopted, but in most cases they are put to sleep. This fact alone is one reason why every second counts when a family pet turns up missing.

So, as soon as one suspects a pet has gone missing, mobilize family and friends and do the following:

  • Conduct a Thorough Search: Use a flashlight and check all over the house/apartment, surrounding grounds and neighborhood.

    Look in the unusual places — crawl spaces, under furniture, closets, garage/tool shed, pool, behind appliances, inside the refrigerator, washing machine and dishwasher (especially if you've lost a small animal). Also, be sure to check under the car hood for a lost cat. They like to hide in the engine. If there's new construction in the area, check it out also. Lost pets can get trapped in a new roof, inside walls as they're being built, etc. Have family or friends the pet is familiar with call out the pet's name always and often when checking the homes of neighbors and local establishments. Be sure to enlist the help of neighborhood kids. They know all the cool hideouts and are tireless. Make familiar noises the pet is likely to respond to.

    Sometimes animals like cats and dogs are taught to positively respond to an "Acme Dog Whistle." Blowing this whistle can draw an animal out if it is within range. The whistle emits a high-pitched sound that can be heard at least a mile away.

  • Contact the Veterinarian: Pets with rabies tags are often united with their owner much faster because tags themselves have a serial number which can be traced to the animal's vet.

    It goes without saying that every animal should wear proper identification, such as an animal collar, with the pet's name and the owner's phone number. And it's very important to keep the information current. If you move, include updating the animal tags as part of your to-do list for the move.

  • Contact Animal Shelters: Call and visit every animal control center, humane society and animal shelter within 20 miles of where the pet was last seen. Why not just call? Well, not every shelter will describe an animal the way an owner does, therefore it's best to see for yourself. If an animal is tagged, every effort possible will be made to reunite owner and pet. Be sure to find out the holding period for each animal control and humane shelter.
  • Create a Lost Pet Flyer: Create the flyer and post it within 1 mile of where the pet was last seen and around the neighborhood. Supply the shelters, law enforcement agencies, the veterinarians, local papers and neighbors with a picture of the lost pet. Post flyers with as many local businesses as possible, in parks and also with the Department of Transportation, local and country road departments.

    A lost pet flyer should be done on 8 1/2 X 11 fluorescent paper (so it's easy to see) and include current photo of pet, date and place pet was last seen, the breed of the pet, the weight of the pet, the color of the pet, any marking the pet may have, a telephone number of the owner, and a reward if it is offered, but don't indicate the amount.

  • Place An Ad in Local Paper: Include a description of your pet, pet's name, any unique identifying characteristics and your phone number. If you cannot afford to run the ad daily for at least a week, then especially put the ad in the Sunday paper. Plus, make sure to check the "found pets" section of your newspaper in case someone is advertising they've found your pet. It's probably a good idea to withhold a few identifying characteristics, from the lost pet flyer and the newspaper ad because that can be used to verify the pet found is truly the actual pet lost.

But before a pet is lost, all pet owners should try to prevent the situation from ever happening. It can't be said enough, all pets should have proper identification, and permanent identification may be a great way to go.

There is tattooing, where the vet actually places a tattoo on the animal. Another process calls for placing a microchip somewhere on the pet's body. Microchipping is a preferred method for many vets. With this process a tiny microchip containing an identifying code is injected under the skin, usually at the scruff of the animal's neck. The owner sends the pet's information into a registry at the American Kennel Club (AKC). They make the information accessible to shelters and veterinarians nationwide.

To read the chip, a wand scan is passed over the body of the animal. If a microchip is present, the wand registers the chip's serial number making it possible to reunite owner and pet. Microchip pets also get a collar with their animal's unique ID code and a toll-free telephone number so those without a scan wand can obtain access to the lost animal's owner.

Microchipping entails a one-time lifetime enrollment fee. Turner suggests you check with the vet to see which microchip brand is used in your area.

Turner says a pet owner should also consider fencing their yard, use a leash for dogs at all times, transport small cats and dogs in a carrier and spray and neuter pets.

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