Watch Tip: Searching for Your Lost Pet in Shelters

Posted on July 24th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoWatch tip for week of July 24:

If your pet goes missing, make time to visit regional shelters personally to better your chances of success. Searching should be a time-consuming and intense effort to save your pet’s life. Don’t just ask the lobby staff; search the kennel areas personally. Call shelters you can’t visit and describe your pet without using breed names because misidentification at shelters is very common. Remember in some areas, stray pets are killed in 3 days. Your pet may not have much time!

Lost in Space … Lost in Time … Lost in Translation: All Death Sentences

Think about it: approximately 8 million dogs and cats are brought into shelters in America each year and only 4 million make it out alive. The rest are killed. Many were cherished, deeply missed, their return still hoped for. Every day many thousands of lost pets are killed after days of stress in the shelter, waiting in vain for their families to find them. This is an unimaginably horrible end-of-life story for your beloved cat or dog.

The obstacles to finding your lost pet can be immense. Distance, timing, and misidentification all deter search efforts.

Lost in Space: Your dog might run for many miles in just hours, to end up in a pound a good distance away. But your cat is likely to be nearby. Either scenario is dangerous. A good Samaritan might have picked up your dog or cat and driven him or her to a shelter further away if the nearby shelter is commonly believed to be a dangerous shelter. These would-be rescuers are not thinking about where you will search; they are thinking only about where pets will not die too soon. The result is deadly because you might not think of searching at the distant shelter.

It is particularly deadly if the shelter has poorly administered practices so your pet is killed because of mistaken identity. Target, a heroic dog from Afghanistan celebrated before millions of viewers on Oprah, was mistakenly killed in an Arizona shelter when a careless shelter worker grabbed her from a holding pen of dogs by mistake, shelter practices not followed. Oops.

Lost in Time: Your pet might have found refuge in a fellow animal lover’s home or yard. Because the animal lover knew of short “hold” times for pound/shelter animals, he or she decided to find you, the owner, personally, and shelter your animal in their home instead of calling animal control. But they did not have the means of finding you. One ad on Craiglist and one call to the nearest shelter might be their only efforts to reach you, the owner. Will you receive those important messages?

Weeks later, the good Samaritan has concluded that your dog or cat was dumped or discarded. They try to find a suitable home for your pet but they can’t. So 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 8 weeks later, your pet finally arrives at your local shelter, long after you have given up the search. Days later, your pet dies lonely and confused.

Lost in Translation: You know your family dog is a Greyhound mix or your family cat is a Russian Blue. Your local pound or shelter answers your inquiry to say “No, we don’t have a Greyhound.” “No, we don’t have a Russian Blue.” Your dog is listed as a lab mix instead. Your cat is listed as a DSH, domestic short-hair.

Remember, dogs especially have very malleable genes. Even within a breed, much variety exists. And among shelter staff, much confusion about dog breeds exists. Your Llasa Apso might be listed as a poodle. Your dachshund mix might be listed as a black and tan coonhound mix. You can’t trust the pound/shelter’s ability to guess the breed of your dog or cat. If it were easy to guess, not nearly so many would die each year.

The single most important protection you can provide your pet is IDENTIFICATION. Make very sure your pet is wearing a collar with current tags and is microchipped to improve their chances of getting back to you! Even if you believe your pet will never go outside, think of the woman who ran to the store and left her dryer running. The dryer lint caught on fire. She came home to a house fire and her dog missing. The dog escaped from the house when the firemen burst in the door.  No one can foresee every emergency.

    7 Responses to “Watch Tip: Searching for Your Lost Pet in Shelters”

    1. Joy Ward says:

      Great tip, Anna! Way too often the shelter staff either doesn’t have a clue about breeds or sadly is too overworked to check.

    2. Jill Sicheneder says:

      Such great information! Humane societies and shelters often have volunteers working the desk or phone. They may be not well-informed as to the animals there. So important to check out the animals in the shelter by inspecting all the animals yourself. A friend who owns a boarding kennel and runs a rescue took in a stray Irish terrier and informed the local humane society. The owners called there and the person who took the initial call had written down the wrong breed. After a few days my friend called the humane society and the mix-up was figured out. The owners came to the kennel and happily paid the boarding fee to get their dog back.

    3. Kathy Pobloskie says:

      Great advice, Anna. The system is getting worse, not better. Many shelters are giving up their animal control contracts and these contracts are being picked up by somebody that might hold the lost pets in a kennel in their backyard or their garage. Most people don’t know how to begin looking for their pet and these small contract holders and many shelters still do not post pictures or descriptions of “strays” online. Plus, there are so many shy rescue dogs now that, if chased, will end up miles from home – crossing jurisdiction borders and ending up in a shelter where the owner does not even think to look.

    4. sly says:

      It would be nice if there was a Facebook page for each state that separates lost and found dogs. All lost dogs on one page and all found on another. Each time the dog is reunited with the family, all posts get removed so that the only dogs on the webpages are dogs still waiting to be reunited with their family. We have lost dogs illinois and its great, but there are soo many posts and photos because the reunited dogs never get removed. It would make it easier if the united or reunited pets had a page of their own. This way, you could easily see which dogs are still in need of being reunited :)

    5. Anna Nirva says:

      Yes, all states, that is an excellent idea. It just takes volunteers, people willing to mind the Facebook page day after day, week after week, never tiring, never giving up, following up to make sure that the pages are updated when a pet is found. (I’d include cats as well.) Maybe the Illinois page could improve their updates if a volunteer took that on as a daily task, corresponding with owners to learn if their pet has been found? Many owners will forget to send a note. What I’ve learned through the years is there are a great many wonderful ideas and not as many committed volunteers. It always boils down to that: volunteers.

    6. Anna Nirva says:

      It’s true — thanks for bringing up those points Kathy. A less effective animal control service acquired at reduced cost can result in more deaths of beloved family pets. On the plus side, the “animal army” appears to be rising up in many places and I have hope that over time we will change things for the better!

    7. Anna Nirva says:

      Yes, human error even by the best-intended employees is a danger because in this line of work, lives are always at stake.

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