By Katie Walsh
Just before bed last night, I saw some heartbreaking news in a friend’s Facebook status:
“My Bella ran away.”
While I’m not totally sure what happened -- my friend was upset and not really answering questions -- I’m guessing that round after round of Fourth of July fireworks freaked out the little chihuahua, who subsequently bolted in an attempt to get away from the booms.
Since I became a dog mom in December, this scenario is one of my worst fears. It took me exactly 2.5 seconds to become totally attached to my fur baby, and, scarily enough, that’s all the time it would take for her to slip through an open door and out of my grasp.
As it turns out, this July marks the third-annual National Lost Pet Prevention Month, and there are many things you can do to both prevent your dog from getting away and to speed his return if he does get out.
For some initial precautions:
Make your dog wear a collar with identifying information. While doing some research for this blog, I discovered there’s some debate on the Internet over whether or not you should put your dog’s name on her tags. Some places indicate that’s the best possible way to get a dog returned; other places say dogs will more easily trust a person who calls their name, which can result in dognapping.
Where everyone agrees is that dogs with collars featuring the phone numbers of their owners are more likely to be returned, so make sure your dog is always wearing a collar with your contact info.
Get your dog microchipped. If your dog gets out and somehow slips her collar, she can still be identified by the teensy tiny microchip embedded under her skin. Luckily, Rural Dog Rescue pups all get microchipped, so all you have to do once you adopt is fill out the paperwork to register the dog to your name and information. And don’t forget to keep the microchip registration updated if you move or change your phone number!!!
Maintain current records/photographs. It’s easy to snap away when you first get your dog, but after the initial adoption excitement goes down people tend to take fewer pictures. However, recent pictures are absolutely necessary to have on hand just in case your dog gets out. If your dog looks wildly different after grooming, take a picture. If you’ve let your dog’s hair grow out, take a picture. If it’s been a few months, take a picture. Get a picture that clearly shows your dog’s face and accurately represents his/her size so that you can use the photo for missing posters.
Double check your fence. If you have a fenced in backyard, that’s great, but don’t take it for granted that your dog is safe back there.
One of the most terrifying experiences of my life happened about a week after we adopted Ren:
We took her to my mother-in- law’s house and let her run around in the fenced in backyard. What we didn’t know was that there was a section of the fence that had become uprooted from the ground, allowing Ren to slip underneath it when she saw birds on the other side. We managed to chase her down within minutes, but that story could have just as easily had an unhappy ending.
Make sure your fence doesn’t have unsecure areas and is properly locked at the gates before you put your dog out there.
Don’t let him off leash in an unfenced area.
Even the best-trained of dogs could have a lapse in obedience and take off after a squirrel, running into traffic or away entirely. Not only that, but off-leash dogs could run through bushes and brambles, making them susceptible to ticks and other vermin. As a safety precaution, keep your pup leashed up.
Get a harness for walks, not a collar.
Many dogs can easily slip out of collars, which would have the doubly awful effect of leaving them without their identifying information. Harnesses, which are secured at the back and loop around the pup’s legs, offer a more reliable way to safely walk your dog.
Keep your eyes on your dog.
Remember, it only takes a few seconds for your dog to slip out of its collar, chew through its leash or be stolen if you leave it unsupervised outside, whether in your own yard or tied up in front of your favorite restaurant. Yes, it’s hard to be vigilant every second of the day, but it’s better to do that than be wondering where your dog went.
(For what it’s worth, I once had my dog on a walk and realized I had just 10 minutes to pick up a package at our local hardware store before it closed for the evening. Instead of tying her up outside while I ran my errand, I just walked her into the store, and no one said anything to me about it. While this was rule-breaking and not necessarily recommended for every situation, I figured the worst that could have happened was they would have said, “Hey, you have to leave,” and I’d have been no worse off than I was before. Just saying -- you can bring your dog more places than you think.)
And if your dog does get out, you should take some quick actions:
1. Keep your phone with you.
If you put your phone number on your dog’s collar like I suggested above, it might be your best bet for a safe return. Answer any time the phone rings!
2. Get friends to help you search, and bring some of your pup’s favorite treats.
If your dog hears you calling his name and you’ve got a pocket full of yummy hot dogs, he will be more likely to come out to you/know you’re not mad at him.
3. Make posters to hang all around, and put them on neon cardboard.
Posters with recent pictures of your dog as well as your phone number and a reward will help get your dog safely back to you. If you put fliers on top of neon poster board, the signs will be more likely to be seen by passersby in vehicles, leading to more eyes looking for your dog.
4. Alert local shelters.
If the local shelters know you’re missing your dog, it will be easier for them to contact you if someone turns her in.
5. Check lost and found sites.
I am a member of Nextdoor, which is a neighborhood news app. Very frequently, I see people posting messages either about lost pets or found animals, which often results in pets being reunited with their owners. If your pet has gone missing, make a posting on a site or app like this, and comb through postings to see if anyone has your dog.
Hopefully, with a few safety precautions and a little grit, you can keep your dog safe from harm.
And remember, if you see a dog wandering around, report it to animal control if you don’t feel comfortable approaching it. The person who lost that dog will likely be very grateful that you did. As for my friend, her story fortunately has a happy ending. Someone brought Bella to a shelter, and they were reunited later in the day.
Here’s to a July with no more lost pets!