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Help Lost Dogs and Lost Cats Get Back Home

by Jamie Littlefield
The Challenge

Lost dogs and lost cats need your help to get back home. Few sights are more heart wrenching than that of a lost puppy, wandering the streets with a matted and muddy coat, searching in vain for a friend. More than 10 million family pets are lost or stolen and reported missing every year. Overcrowded shelters often hold lost dogs and cats for less than a week, giving owners little time to find their beloved pets.

Lost dogs and cats wander the streets, confused and afraid of their surroundings. They dodge swerving cars, face hostile wildlife attacks, and endure extreme weather. Stray dogs and cats may go without food for days and endure harsh treatment from the people they encounter.

Losing a pet can also be a traumatic experience for animal owners. Families form tight bonds with their pets and are often devastated to learn that their dog or cat is missing. Pet owners know they must rely on the kindness of strangers to help their loved one make it back home.

You can help lost dogs and lost cats by reuniting them with their owners. A few minutes of preparation is all you need to be ready for the next time you see a sad and bewildered animal wandering around the neighborhood.

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Step 1 – Learn how to identify lost pets

Not every lone pet is a lost pet. Some pets that seem lost may actually have a loving home nearby. Avoid "rescuing" dogs and cats that aren't really lost by learning how to spot lost dog behavior and lost cat behavior. Telling a dog to "go home!" often causes the pet to go back to its owner. If you've seen a lost cat in the same area for several days, you may want to purchase a cheap collar. Leave a note on the collar that says: "If this is your cat, please call..." If you do not receive a call in a 48-hour period, chances are the cat is lost. When you do rescue a lost dog or cat, make sure to leave a "found pet" poster in the area, just in case.

Step 2 - Learn what to do if you find a lost dog or cat

Preparation is key. Take a few minutes to read the guidelines from The Humane Society, Hugs for Homeless Animals, or The Missing Pet Partnership (which provides separate advice for rescuing lost dogs and lost cats). They will help you know how to act when you come across a lost dog or cat. Putting together a glove box emergency animal kit will put tools such as dog treats and a veterinarian’s phone number at your fingertips.

Step 3 – Rescue a lost pet

When you do come across a lost dog or cat, follow the guidelines given. Always take your own safety into consideration.

Step 4 – Notify the authorities

Once you've rescued a lost pet, see if the animal has any identifying tags. Ask around the neighborhood to see if anyone knows the owner. If you are unable to locate the owner quickly, make sure you notify the proper authorities. Report the stray pet to your local animal shelter. They may have information about an owner trying to find his or her lost pet. If you decide to keep the pet (even temporarily) be sure to notify your local animal control office. They will explain your local and state laws regarding lost pets. Their number can be found in your local yellow pages. You may also want to check with a veterinarian to see if the lost pet has been implanted with an identifying microchip.

Step 5 – Try to find the owner

You can try to find the lost pet’s owner by putting up posters and flyers around your neighborhood. Many local newspapers and other small weekly publications will allow you to run a "found pet" notice for free. You can also post notices of a lost dog or cat on these websites:

Beware of people who make a living using stray pets for dog fighting and other cruel activities. Make sure that anyone claiming to be the lost pet's owner is able to identify information about the animal that you did not already provide.

Step 6 – Find a safe home for the animal

If you are ultimately unable to find the lost dog or cat's owner, make sure that you find a good home for the animal. These tips for finding a responsible owner can help. If you are willing and able, ask your local animal shelter if you can be a "foster parent" for the lost pet. That means that you will provide a loving home until the stray pet gets a permanent owner. Most animal shelters are overcrowded and happy for the help. If you must leave the lost pet in an animal shelter, try to find a no-kill shelter. This will ensure that the lost dog or cat is not euthanized.

Rescuing a lost dog or cat requires you to take a few hours out of your busy schedule. But, when you think of the pet you rescued snuggled up in its grateful owner's arms, you'll be glad you took the time to help.

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