Country music singer Dierks Bentley rarely goes anywhere without Jake, his adorable four-legged sidekick. The dog has appeared in music videos and made tour stops around the country, building his own loyal following. So it was no surprise that fans and even record label executives dropped everything to search for Jake after he jumped a fence during a thunderstorm.
“jake has been missing for 5 hours now. jumped a fence during the thunderstorms. praying someone found him. a cold wet white dog. red collar,” Bentley tweeted on Jan. 13.
He also used Facebook to spread the word. That’s how a good Samaritan learned the dog she had saved from a busy intersection was actually a pretty popular pooch and returned the dog to Bentley, who posted a photo of the reunion.
“can't get over how many people reached out about jake. made a big city feel like a small town. jake and me thx video...” he tweeted, with a link to this video featuring Jake:
I can relate to Bentley’s roller coaster ride. A few weeks ago, my dog Lulu got away from the house and was gone for a few hours. Tempted to grab the keys and drive around my neighborhood yelling her name, I remembered the advice of pet detective Carl Washington, who says it’s best to stay in one place. Calling for a lost pet from different locations only adds to the confusion. Instead, I stayed in the front yard and kept yelling. Eventually Lulu trotted over to me. (I can only imagine the adventures she had, but all’s well that ends well.)
Since even the most well-behaved pooch can get away, it’s worth revisiting these tips for recovering lost pets.
Work the Net
Like Bentley, Deirdre Anglin of Ireland used social media when her dog Patch went missing last year. Little did she know that the dog had boarded a Dublin-bound commuter train. Good Samaritans ushered the pooch to Irish Rail officials, and the transit system tweeted a “lost dog” alert to its network of 18,000 followers. About 500 retweets and 32 minutes later, Anglin spotted her dog and arranged a reunion.
You, too, can harness the power of Facebook and Twitter to find lost pets. Many neighborhood associations, pet stores and veterinary clinics have Facebook pages and active members. Also, ask rescue groups in your area to help spread the word. Petfinder.org offers a handy search tool to locate rescue groups in your area. If you do receive word that your pet has been located, be prepared to show proof of ownership such as photos of you with the pet, Washington said.
Updated ID tags are essential
Even if it’s a quick potty break, make sure your pet doesn’t set foot outdoors without a collar and up-to-date ID tags that list your contact information as well as other key info.
Amber Burckhalter, a certified dog behavior consultant and owner of K-9 Coach in Smyrna, Ga., invests in comfy yet super-sturdy dog collars and makes sure her three dogs wear them at all times. Each has detailed info that could serve as a deterrent for people hoping to steal a well-trained pooch.
“If you fix your dog, most people won’t take it,” she said. “My pit bulls, it said on their collar ‘fixed and neutered.’” Burckhalter also has a deaf dog, which is clearly noted on the ID tag.
Invest in a microchip — and keep the info updated
Microchips add another layer of insurance if your pet is lost. Veterinarians insert microchips around the pet’s shoulder blade, and each chip has an ID number that owners use to register contact information with the manufacturer. Prices can vary widely, from $20 to $50, depending on the veterinarian.
If your pet is ever lost, shelters or veterinarians use a hand-held scanner to obtain the chip ID number. In a study conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 15 percent of lost dogs were found thanks to ID tags or microchips. Some companies, including HomeAgain, offer more proactive measures. For a $17.99 annual membership fee, the company will alert animal shelters, vet clinics and volunteer rescuers within a 25-mile radius of where the pet was lost. But those nifty chips are useless if your information is not up to date. To check on the information currently on file for your pet, ask your vet to scan the chip and provide the ID number.
A picture truly is worth a thousand words
A simple flier with one up-to-date photo of your lost pet can make a big difference, said Washington, who has been locating lost animals across the country for more than 17 years. In addition to cool gear such as fluorescent lights and detailed maps of the area’s topography, Washington’s pet-sleuthing arsenal includes Coco the poodle and Rocky the Jack Russell terrier. He notes that a clear photo of lost pets can speak volumes.
“Always have one picture,” said Washington, who adds that many distraught pet owners make the mistake of posting too many photos. “Nobody wants lots of pictures. Just say, ‘Lost cat’ and add a bold number.”
It’s not uncommon for Washington to set up shop in a gas station parking lot, armed with a large photo of the missing pet. Over the course of a day, he said that people will walk up offering information. If you cannot find an image that shows the dog or cat’s identifying features (my Lulu’s ears are hard to ignore), Washington recommends conducting a Google search for a pet with similar features.
“Find a nice, clear lookalike to use on the flier,” he said.
Fliers should be short, sweet — and strategically placed
When it comes to fliers for lost pets, Washington said to keep it simple. All you really need is a photo and key contact information. Make sure it’s a number you can answer at any time. “People are passing through, jogging, and they are not going to call you twice,” he said. “You need to pick up in three to four rings and have a pen and pad ready.”
Also, avoid the urge to saturate your neighborhood with fliers. Instead, focus on areas that get a lot of traffic, such as main entrances to your neighborhood, and extend the radius from there. Washington said that most cats roam until they find cover and a safe place to stay, typically maintaining a 400-yard radius from home. With dogs, it depends on the size. Lap dogs normally travel no more than a half-mile from the house. Medium-size dogs may travel up to a mile, while larger dogs can go up to 2 miles.
Place fliers in areas frequented by pet owners, such as nearby animal shelters, dog parks, pet stores and veterinary clinics. The ASPCA also recommends posting fliers at a kid’s eye level near schools. Again, focus on strategic placement instead of volume.
“Don’t trash up the neighborhood,” Washington said. “People selling houses are going to take your stuff down.”
Consider a reward
“In my experience, $500 is what has activated people,” said Burckhalter, who notes that one pet owner posted reward info and promptly received a call from an animal control officer. “The dog had been there the whole time.”
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Bentley noted that Jake has trouble during thunderstorms. It’s common for some pets to become anxious when they hear loud noises such as fireworks. Burckhalter said that some clients have had success with products such as Thundershirts (that's one at right), which wrap tightly around the pet and help reduce anxiety.
If your pet tends to bolt at the first opportunity, it also may be worth investing in high-tech gear to monitor its activity. In a roundup of cool pet problem solvers, I included the Tagg Pet Tracker ($99.95), which incorporates GPS technology to keep an eye on wandering cats and dogs. Attach the device to your pet’s collar and set a defined boundary. If your pet starts roaming too far, Tagg will send text message alerts. The system requires a $7.95 monthly subscription service. (I also recommend a few obedience classes, which may be a less expensive option.)
Load up on training
Training courses strengthen the bond between pets and their people, making it easier to retrieve a dog that slips out of his leash during walks or dashes out the door when neighbors drop by unannounced. Training also can be especially important with newly adopted rescue dogs that have been accustomed to life on the street. Priority No. 1: Teach the dog to come when called. (I'm convinced that cats will ignore you regardless.)
And as for Bentley and Jake? “One of the happiest days of my life,” he tweeted. “Grown men don't cry...yeah right.”
— Morieka Johnson
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Related pet stories on MNN:
- Prepare yourself and your pet for a natural disaster or emergency
- How to approach a stray dog
- Help your dog deal with thunderstorms and fireworks