And I’m here to tell you how to not lose your dog.

#1 MICROCHIP YOUR DAMN ANIMALS.

I don’t care if your cat, dog, or ferret never leaves the house, or always comes back, or whatever. I hear this all the time from people who are, guess what, looking for their lost pet at my job. Your dog never gets lost, until it does. And then you’ll be panicking thinking your dog is on a truck to a puppy mill in Iowa and you’ll never see her again. Microchips work - I’ve reunited pets with their people after days, weeks, months, and years because of registered microchips. Currently I think the longest interval I have personally seen was six years from a dog being stolen during a break in to being reunited. Having a microchip also proves your ownership of your pet. It can literally be the difference between life and death for a lost pet.

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Prices usually run between $15 and $30 for purchase and installation of the chip by your vet, and then a registration fee with the chip company in the range of $15 to $25 - sometimes this is a one time fee, sometimes it’s per year.

#2 TAG AND COLLAR YOUR DAMN ANIMALS

Not everyone who finds a lost dog thinks to have it scanned right away, or is able to transport it to a vet or shelter to be scanned. It’s much easier for someone who finds your dog to contact you directly by calling or emailing you. I highly recommend putting an email address on the tag - your phone number might change often, but most people keep the same email for decades. You can also put your vet’s name and address on a tag - that way if a finder can’t keep your dog, they know which (hopefully nearby) vet to take it to for holding. There are all sorts of tags out there - the cheap engraved ones from the machine at Petsmart; fancy, heavy-duty ones you have to order; cute ones that look like drivers licenses that probably aren’t very durable. I had a dog once with a weird metal tab clipped to her collar that her owner had faintly scratched a phone number in to - we could barely read it, but we called them and they got their dog back.

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If your dog keeps destroying their tags, get a light-colored nylon collar and write your phone number on it with a sharpie, inside and outside the collar. LL Bean sells collars embroidered with your phone number if you want to be classy with it.

Your dog should ALWAYS be wearing a collar with ID. Inside, at night, anywhere, anytime, even if they wear a harness or head collar for walks.

If your dog has a habit of slipping out of collars, or even if they don’t, martingale-style collars are designed to prevent dogs from backing out of a collar. Some companies even advertise them as “escape proof”.

#3 DON’T LEAVE YOUR DAMN ANIMALS ALONE IN THE YARD

I don’t actually have data on this*, but when I ask lost dog owners at work how their pets got lost, by far the most common response is that the dog was in the yard unsupervised, even just for a minute, and got out of the gate, or jumped the fence, or someone came in and took them. This is the easiest method of loss to prevent (compared with the dog running out the front door when groceries are being brought in, escaping during a burglary, or a leash breaking while on a walk, etc.) If your dog is in the yard, you need to be in the yard. Bring something to drink, do some gardening maybe. Huddle by the door wrapped in a blanket during winter, whatever. But keep your eyes on your dog.

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*There are volunteer-based groups trying to collect data on this, as well as success/failure rates, but since they’re virtually non-funded and non-sponsored, it’s not what you’d call statistically sound.

#4 YOUR DAMN DOG GOT OUT, DIDN’T IT?

Ok, you are going to panic now. Remember what I said about the puppy mill truck to Iowa? Or perhaps you’re picturing a research lab. I get it. I’ve been there. Most likely, though, your dog is within a few miles of home. So, first, check with your local animal control/stray holding shelter (usually operated by the county) and local vets. Search often, and use the online search tool at www.petharbor.com

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Go to http://www.helpinglostpets.com and see if there is a local volunteer group in your state operating a “Lost Dogs” Facebook page. Follow their instructions for filing a report and if at all possible please donate a few bucks to them.

When you registered with Helping Lost Pets, you should have had the option to create a flier using their template. Do it. Post them all over the place. Grocery stores, pet stores, police stations, fire houses, laundromats, schools (kids love dogs!), gas stations, etc.

Call your microchip company (because you got your pet chipped like I told you to, RIGHT!?!?) and report your pet lost and make sure they have current information for you. There may be a fee for updating your information. If you adopted your pet from a shelter or rescue, contact them, too, and make sure they have your current info - sometimes if your info isn’t current with the chip company, we can call the adopting shelter and get it from them instead.

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You may have to check further-away shelters because some people do not take lost animals to the actual shelter for that jurisdiction for some reason, which means the animal is being taken further from their home. This is where petharbor.com and local Lost Dog Facebook pages can come in handy.