By Sharon Billings
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline
Many of us have felt that moment of panic that occurs when we discover our dog has disappeared without a trace. That’s when we learn the hard way that just because he’s never wandered off before, it doesn’t mean he won’t do so today. Many distractions can motivate even the best behaved dog to wander, and many such “adventures” do not end well for the dog. Effects of extreme heat or cold, vehicle accidents, and theft for illegal purposes are just a few examples. When it comes to lost dogs, it’s truly a case of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So join me and my dog, Bridget, on a virtual dog walk through my neighborhood and we’ll share a few pointers to help you prevent an escape and to help your dog return home safely if it happens to you.
First, we’ll cover the pre-walk checklist, starting with a microchip. A microchip provides inexpensive, low-risk, permanent identification – simply register the microchip and keep contact information up to date with the microchip company. Most veterinary clinics, animal controls, shelters, and even pet stores will scan a stray dog’s chip without charge. A collar with i.d. tags is also on the “don’t leave home without it” list – simply ensure the collar and tags are in good repair, the contact information is current and legible. For the techno-savvy, other options include “smart” collars, GPS devices, and facial recognition apps (just to name a few!). Snap on the leash, stuff supplies in my pockets, and we’re ready to go.
Our walk takes us down suburban residential streets lined with modest, late1950s tract houses. Many original homeowners are still in residence and their dogs have access to fenced backyards. Nice and safe, right? Well, not always . . .
Lacey’s house is on the corner. She is a tiny Yorkshire terrier and we can see her cute little black button eyes and nose peeking out from the bottom of the wood fence where she’s dug the soil away. Lacey would make an easy meal for the coyotes in our area. Her desire to dig and her small size may soon result in escape . . . but not today!
On the next street we see Dakota out in his fenced backyard. Last winter, when the snow was deep, he could just step over the fence! But even with no snow, the four foot chain link fence is no match for this Siberian husky’s jumping ability and he would be able to cover many miles in a short time. He spots Bridget, effortlessly clears the fence and trots over to say hello. Luckily, he heeds my advice when I tell him to go back home; he again sails over the fence into his yard – safe for now!
A few blocks later, I spy Charlie sitting on his back door steps. An elderly little poodle mix, Charlie is deaf and has poor eyesight. He is also a rather territorial little guy. And there is no fence, no tether, nothing at all to keep Charlie safely in his yard. With his decreased senses he’d have trouble finding his way back home. I do an about-face, hoping to retreat unnoticed. Uh oh, he’s spotted us! Teeth bared, snapping and barking, he charges out into the street toward us. Luckily, Charlie’s mom hears his barking and comes running from her house, yelling at Charlie, apologizing and explaining to me (as she does each time) that Charlie is deaf. No harm done, I assure her, but for Charlie’s safety she may want to consider some kind of containment for him. She scoops him up and carries him inside – safe again, this time!
The next stretch on our route takes us briefly along a four-lane street with lots more traffic. Suddenly a frightened cocker spaniel comes bounding toward us; she is not dragging a leash and there are no other people nearby. I reach for her collar where I spy her tags but she turns away and darts out into the street! She dodges cars, reaches the far side of the street (whew!), and crawls under a parked car. I pull out my cell phone and call the city’s animal control. Getting picked up by the “dog catcher” and taken to “the pound” may not seem ideal but it’s much better than being hit by a car. I know the officers will bring the little dog to the city shelter, identify her family, and return her to the safety of her home. We wait and keep her in sight; within ten minutes the officers swoop in and expertly capture her – safe!
At our street corner, I see a neighbor tacking a lost-dog flyer to the streetlight post. It’s a great flyer — brightly colored with a big picture of her dog and little tear-off tabs with her phone number. Her yard has no fence so she takes her Labrador retriever, Otto, out on his leash for potty breaks. Yesterday, he bolted after a squirrel, broke the latch on his collar, and hasn’t been seen since. Otto is not microchipped and he needs daily medication to control his seizures. His worried family has been out searching; they’ve placed bedding, food and water, and some of their clothing in the yard to help Otto find his way back home. I tell my neighbor I’ll keep my eyes peeled for Otto and also give her a few more ideas: Notify neighbors, alert the mail carrier, check with area veterinarians, shelters, and the city’s animal control shelter. Oh, and don’t forget social media – many communities and states have “Lost Dogs” Facebook pages that are very useful resources and quite successful in helping reunite dogs with their families.
Back home and inside the fenced yard, I latch the gate behind me and then remove Bridget’s leash. Once inside the house, I glance out the window, and who do you suppose I see galloping across my front yard? Yup — it’s Otto! I grab a few dog treats and slip back out the door. Before you know it, Otto is corralled in my back yard and his mom is on her way to my house and he will soon be back home, safe!
I hope our walk has provided you with some helpful tips – after all, our dogs depend on us to keep them safe!