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How to find a lost pet

The majority of calls to a humane organization about lost pets concerns cats that have always lived indoors, but have suddenly slipped outside and disappeared. Cats often make a game of trying to outwit their protective human companions - and they escape from the safety of home into the "tantalizing" world beyond the open door. Too late, they realize how threatening the real world is.

Look closest to home first.
Most lost cats who have always lived indoors will not go far from home. Many are discovered hiding just a few doors away. If lost while being transported [to the veterinarian, for example], cats are often found just a few yards from the spot where they were lost.

Start looking under porches, in basements and in garages. Sometimes cats are locked inside areas which are little used; it's your job to check with neighbors and ask them to open doors that may be keeping your pet confined. Call your pet's name often - and listen for a soft reply.

Once inside a closed-off area, look carefully in boxes or behind stacks of stored items. Cats have been known to hide in the most out-of-the-way place possible within a closet, room or garage - without even meowing to let you know it is there. That's normal for a very frightened animal - and if your cat was never away from home before, it may be too scared to respond to your call. In face, new surroundings can produce great fear in cats - and many people have reported their cats "lost" just after a move to a new house or apartment - only to find the cat days later safely inside, and more adjusted to the new quarters.

If you don't find your lost pet right away, don't give up. Keep going back to the same places, calling its name. It may respond differently a day or two after it was first lost.

Don't expect to find it right away. Some pets have found weeks later, and it's not unusual to find a cat a month or two later, still hiding close to home.

Set up a temporary outdoor pet comfort station.
Leave fresh food and water outside on a porch or in a sheltered area close to your home. Also set up a large cardboard box lined with an old towel or other item that smells familiar to your pet. If your lost pet should return while you are asleep or away from home, food and shelter may save its life. This is also an incentive for it to stay close by. Check the box and food supply regularly during quiet evening and early morning hours.

Look for cats at night
The best time to look for a lost cat is in the dark - between dusk and dawn - when streets are quiet. A lost and hiding cat will come out in the dark to look for food. Take a flashlight with you and search under parked cars, in yards and under bushes as well as in alleys. It's a good idea to take a friend along at night for safety, and bring some cat food, too, so that you can calm your pet and feed it if you should find it.

If the last time you saw your pet it was indoors - and no one remembers opening a door or a window - be sure to check your own basement, attic, spare rooms and closets. cats have been found quietly awaiting discovery in a closed dresser drawer - sometimes a couple of days after everyone thought it was missing.

If you live in an apartment, be sure to check the hallways, stairwells, basement, storage closets, laundry rooms and any vacant apartments that may have had a door ajar. Outdoors, don't forget to look in trees, shrubbery, vacant lots, on porches and on roofs.

A dog that is normally walked on a leash may wander to the places you have walked together if it does get lost. Or it may seek similar areas if in an unfamiliar neighborhood - such as parks, playgrounds, grocery stores, etc. and both cats and dogs have been known to try to find their way back to a former residence if the owners have moved.

Ask for help.
As you search for your pet, ask everyone you see if they have seen your cat or dag. Children are particularly good sources of information - they see the yeards and alleys more frequently than adults do, and they are usually outdoors more, too. Ask people walking dogs, the mailman, owners of nearby businesses and people coming to or from work. Most people will try to be helpful; some will watch for or help search for a missing pet if asked to do so. The more teamwork in your search, the better. Also, inform your local police; besides being out in the neighborhoods themselves, many people report stray animals to police. Some police stations have cages to keep strays in for a limited time.

Offer a reward.
People respond best if a reward is offered. Off wht you can afford - it's not the size as much as the idea that seems to motivate. Children are especially likely to help when they hear of a reward. Rewards of $100 or more are not uncommon today, and if you have been searching for a long time, offering a large reward may help spark renewed interest and effort to help from neighbors and friends.

Post "LOST" signs.
As soon as possible after losing a pet, you shuold post signs to alert the neighborhood. The sample in this article can be used as the "master" from which photocopies are made. If you prefer to make your own sign, remember that lettering must be large enough to read from a distance, and a reward should be mentioned prominently.

Put a good description and photo of your pet on your signs. Black and white photos will reproduce best, but color photos are generally usable if you don't have a black and white one available. Include where and when the pet was lost and a telephone number where you can be reached. Note: You'll need to reserve at least one identifying mark for positive identification of your pet is found. Dont' put everything in the description. An unscrupulous person may call you on the pretense of finding your pet. If your dog is brown with white paws and a black spot on his nose, and you don't mention the spot on your signs, you can ask a caller if the face has any markings on it - to see if they really have your pet. It's also a good idea to take someone with you if you agree to go to a stranger's house to identify your pet, or arrange to meet the person - with the pet on a leash or in a secure box or carrier - in a public place. After all, you are offering a reward - and a dishonest person may be hoping you have it with you in cash.

To be effective, you must "blanket" your area with "LOST" signs. If you don't have access to a copy machine, you should go to a copy shop or quick print service to have photocopies made. Copies may be as low as five to ten cents apiece - and the price usually drops when quantities increase. It's worth the small charge to have enough signs to reach everyone who lives or works in the area where your pet was lost.

You'll need a minimum of 200 to 500 signs to cover a several block area effectively, including several blocks in each direction from the place where your pet was lost. Ask friends to help you post the signs - on trees and lamp posts; use a stapler on trees, use cellophane or masking take on metal surfaces. Some businesses will also let you put a sign in their window or inside on a wall or community bulletin board. Don't forget to include grocery stores, laundromats, veterinary hospitals, pet shops, and bus stops, as well as other high-traffic areas to reach a lot of people.

Sometimes, other people will actually tear down the signs you have posted. So be sure to recheck the area you've covered often and replace any signs that may have been removed.

Notify humane agencies.
Call - and visit - all the animal shelters in your area, not just the one closest to home. Be sure you give them a good description of the lost pet, and ask them to post your sign or record your loss and the important descriptive information in case your pet is brought in there later. Call area police stations and follow up regularly with each change in shift.

Also notify the city pound. Most such facilities only hold stray animals for a few days before enthanizing them, so be sure to check there in person often. Look in the local telephone directory in the yellow pages under "animal welfare agencies", "animal shelters" and "humane societies". If you are not familiar with the ones in your area. Be sure to ask if any have a lost pet matching service of have any volunteers who live in your area who may wish to help you look for your pet.

Place ads in newspapers.
Be sure to put a "LOST" ad in the Lost and Found classified ad section of all local newspapers. The ad should run for at least three weeks. Some newspapers will offer to run a Lost or Found ad free for a limited time but, whatever the charge, such ads are generally very affordable when you consider how many people can be reached this way.

You should also read the "FOUND" ads in all the local papers, just in case a caring person found your pet and is trying to find YOU. If the description sounds close, call. The same animal could be described in a lot of different ways. "Tabby" or striped cats are hard to describe, for example, because of their mixed color - you may be thinking of your pet as gray striiped and the finder may describe it as "gray, brown and black." A black and white pet may be listed as only black if there is not much white on it.

Your pet needs you
The important thing to remember is that your pet needs you. It can't tell you where it is - you are responsible for its safety and rescue. So please don't give up after a day or two. We recommend that you keep looking for as long as two months if necessary; however, if you follow all the suggestions in this brochure, chance are very good that you and your pet will be reunited in a much shorter time.

Reprinted with permission
Tree House Animal Foundation
1212 W Carmen Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60640.

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