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What to Do If Your Pet is Lost in Montgomery County

Pets go missing, but there are good options to try to find them.

Boredom, loneliness and curiosity are major culprits of why a pet might run away from home. A noise or unsettling event might scare your pet. Once running, an animal can run for miles without stopping. If you recently moved, your pet could be looking for its old home and familiar surroundings. 

But you can take preventative measures that could aid in bringing a lost pet home faster.

Make sure your pet always wears a collar with tags. The tags should be made out of either heavy plastic or stainless steel and should include your pet’s name, your address and phone number. From time to time, check to see if the engraving on the tag is legible and replace the tag anytime your contact information changes. Your pet should also wear a rabies tag at all times, since workers at the county shelter can use the information on the tag to identify your pet.

Have your pet micro-chipped. If someone rescues your pet and takes it to a veterinarian’s office or animal shelter, the chip can be scanned and matched with your contact information.

Take clear and up-to-date photos of your pet and note any distinctive markings and scars.

Have your pet spayed or neutered. An animal that hasn't been spayed or neutered wants to breed and will make every effort to escape in order to do so, further prolonging the pet’s unsupervised time away from home.

If your pet does run away, act fast! Don’t wait a day or two in hopes that it will come home. Once you’ve determined that your pet is not hiding or caught somewhere in your home, start spreading the word that your pet is missing.

Make simple, easy-to-read signs. At the top of each sign, write LOST DOG OR CAT in bold letters. Include a clear, up-to-date photo of your pet. Write a concise description of your pet, not just the particular breed; not everyone knows what a Corgi or a Lynx Point looks like. In the description, note your pet’s name, size, gender, color(s) and any distinctive markings and/or scars.

Offer a reward without specifying the amount on the poster. This gives people an incentive to contact you if they see your pet. At the bottom of the poster, in a large, bold font include at least one phone number. Good locations to put signs up are streetlight poles, at the intersections of major roads (especially the ones where people will be sitting in their cars or standing on the corner waiting for the light to change), in your neighbors’ mailboxes or on their front doors, in the windows of local businesses and around local parks and community centers.

Give a copy to mail carriers; they spend all day traveling around your neighborhood and could see your lost pet while making deliveries.

Get the word out that your pet is lost. Talk to your neighbors and any local store owners, especially pet store owners and pet sitting companies. Many local pet stores or pet sitting companies (Living Ruff, Fetch! Pet Care of Silver Spring and the Big Bad Woof to name a few in our area) post lost pet announcements on their Facebook and Twitter pages. If people see you looking for your lost pet, they may be more inclined to help look or call if they see the animal. If your neighborhood has a listserv, post a lost pet announcement on it.

Call local animal shelters, rescue organizations and veterinarians’ offices. Your first call should be to the Montgomery County Humane Society to file a lost pet report. You can also file a missing pet report on its website (www.mchumane.org). Remember someone may have picked up your pet and driven it to a shelter or vet’s office near their home so be sure to call shelters and veterinarian offices within a 60-mile radius of your home. Keep in mind that a scared animal can travel fast and far in a short span of time.

The Montgomery County Humane Society holds stray animals for six days and then puts the animals up for adoption. The Montgomery County Humane Society has a wonderful blog and Flicker page run by a group of dedicated volunteers, where they post information about lost and found pets in our area. The blog is mcmdlostpets.blogspot.com.

File a police report if you believe your pet was stolen from your home. You can also call the police and ask them to contact you if they pick up an animal matching your pet’s description. Please remember that the police will not actively look for your lost pet.

Utilize print and online media. Place an advertisement in the local newspaper or online at Craigslist.org. Visit a lost pet website like Petfinder.com or Petharbor.com and post a lost pet announcement. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, link the posting to your page and ask your friends/followers to repost it. You would be surprised by how many people will do it! This will help spread the word about your pet and the more people actively looking for your pet the better.

Call a tracker. It sounds like something from an old Western, but it works. Trackers have been successfully used to help find animals missing for months. If your pet has been gone a few days and there have been no sightings of the animal hiring a tracker is probably your next step. Trackers suggest you notify them immediately since your pet’s scent trail will be fresher. A tracker will bring highly trained dogs to your home or the place where your pet was last seen and follow the scent. The tracker and dogs will either follow the scent directly to your pet or lead you to the area where your pet is. In Maryland, two well-known trackers are Pure Gold Pet Trackers and Dogs Finding Dogs.

Use a humane live trap. A humane live trap allows an animal to be caught without death or injury to the pet. This might be a good option if your pet has been spotted but not captured. This option works especially well for cats. In some cases you may be able to borrow a trap from Montgomery County Animal Control. Place the trap in an area where your cat has been seen and put some of its food inside. Set up a monitoring schedule to check if your pet has been trapped and to insure a wild animal has not been caught. Hopefully, they will smell the food, enter the trap and the door will close behind it. A feeding station works because as while an animal has ample food in one area it is unlikely to move on to a new area.

Remember if your pet is lost act fast! The sooner you start the search the greater your pet’s chances of making it home safe and sound will be.

Once you are reunited with your pet, spread the word that your pet made it home safe. You can thank everyone for helping you in the search and let them know that their efforts paid off. Let people know how your pet made it home and what strategies worked. You never know, the tactics you used to find your pet might help someone in the same situation. And remember to take down all those LOST PET signs you put up.

Linda O’Neal draws from the experiences and adventures she shares with her two cats Jose and Beau and dog Molly.  She is also the asst. manager of Fetch! Pet Care of Silver Spring a local dog walking and pet sitting company.

Pennye Jones-Napier June 06, 2011 at 07:33 PM
One other tip - if your pet has medical needs add a separate tag with the pet's name, their medical condition that needs treatment and your vet's contact info. This helps whoever finds the animal get treatment as soon as possible, which could be the difference between life and death for your companion. We have a dog with idiopathic epilepsy and she wears a specific medical tag for it. Pennye The Big Bad Woof
Taylor Kate Brown June 08, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Thanks Pennye - good to know.
Samantha Young May 03, 2012 at 06:57 AM
Our dog's name is Bacy. He ran away tonight. He is a 75lb black lab and is very lovable. He has a chip that will either reroute him to Fair Haven, NJ or North Bethesda, MD
Esther French May 03, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Samantha, I'm so sorry to hear that! Would you like to create an announcement on Patch to let everyone know that you're looking for Bacy? http://wheaton-md.patch.com/announcements/new If you include a photo, I can feature it on the Patch home page.

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