When Gary and Susan Englund's cavalier King Charles spaniel, Max, slipped out of the side gate of their yard and ran away, they were devastated.
"Susan was hysterical," Gary recalls. "Max had become part of the family."
After an unsuccessful search through their neighborhood, the first thing the Englunds did was to create fliers to put up in the area and drop off at local veterinary clinics, bank drive-through windows and ATMs. According to Miami-Dade County Animal Services, one of the largest pet rescue groups in the country, this is one of the most effective ways to find a lost animal.
Post Your Fliers
The flier should be brightly colored to attract attention, contain a color photograph and a brief description of your pet. Post these fliers in your neighborhood, at stores, in veterinary offices and in any other location that will allow you hang to them. Include a phone number and offer a reward. Studies show that rewards bring home more pets.
The agency suggests you tell neighbors that your pet is missing. Call nearby schools and ask them to include your pet's photograph on their bulletin boards. Ask your postal carrier and sanitation workers to keep an eye out as well.
Many shelters and local animal rescue groups maintain lists of lost and found pets on their Web sites. Send a picture of your pet and look over the ones that have been found. Web sites such as PetFinder.com can also aid in your search.
"We registered Max on FidoFinders.com," Englund said. "Susan also went to the Humane Society and animal control every day, hoping someone had dropped him off. We just wanted to get as much exposure as possible."
Englund even sent an e-mail to the one of the local television stations asking if they could do a story to help find him Max. It was a long shot, but a small mention was published on the station's Web site. There was no response. But the Englunds continued to be proactive. They filed reports with all the police stations around the area and continued to rally their neighbors. After three weeks of searching, Susan says, she thought she might never see him again.
"The worst part was not knowing if he was safe," Gary says. "We hoped that someone had picked him up and was taking care of him but feared finding out he had been hit by a car."
Gary, however, never gave up hope. Experts agree that hope and persistence, combined with a little bit of good luck and timing, are the recipe for bringing your lost pet back home. That was the case with Max.
Almost four weeks after he had run out of the yard, a woman who lives nearby called the Englunds to say she had read Max's story online. She said a friend in a development several miles away had found a dog that looked just like Max.
That same night, the Englunds picked up their beloved Max and brought him home.
While the odds are good that a lost animal will be found, prevention is the best medicine. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a lost pet is most likely in the hands of someone who wants to return it. A collar with a tag that easily identifies where an animal belongs is the first line of protection. The tag should have a full address and at least two telephone numbers, including area codes. Pets should wear their collars at all times.
"If Max had been wearing his collar the day he escaped, we probably would have had him back the same day," Englund said. "He now has a brand-new collar with a tag, and we never take it off.”
Owners also should check fences, gates and doors to make sure an animal can't get through.
"We rarely use the gate where Max got out, but it only took one time forgetting to latch it for him to get away," Gary says. "One of the first things I did after getting Max back was to put springs on both of our side gates so that they close and latch automatically."
Microchips Aid Returns
You should also have a microchip with your contact information implanted in your pet.
Gary also has advice to anyone who finds a pet and takes it to a local vet.
"Insist that the animal be scanned for a microchip. Max has a chip implanted in him, so he could have easily been identified if he had been scanned. The woman who found Max took him to a vet, but he was not scanned. We might have had him back two or three weeks earlier if he had been," he said.
Owners can also go high-tech. There are monitoring systems that include a GPS receiver that allows you to easily and remotely monitor the location of your pet via your cell phone anywhere in the world.
Don't Stop Searching
Look hard for at least three months before you stop searching for your pet, experts suggest. Remember -- if your pet doesn't come back, it is most likely because he can't find his way home.