I originally wrote this post in June 2012:

Two of our indoor cats got out of the house the other day. When we realized it, panic ensued. It was a horrible flashback to 23 years ago when our two dogs broke out of a temporary enclosure we built for them. Both stories have happy endings, but we learned a lot from each experience. Here are some tips if your pet goes missing.

Why Do They Leave?

It is usually for one of four reasons: boredom, curiosity, fear or mating (get them fixed!). Your dog may decide to visit neighbors. For our cats, outdoors is fascinating—for a while. Or a pet can get spooked and their first reaction may be to flee the “scary thing,” such as fireworks.

Where Do They Go?

Indoor cats are probably staying close to the house. Cats with outdoor freedom may be farther away.

Large, young dogs can travel much farther than small or older dogs—up to five miles versus a half mile or so. Social dogs will likely seek out people or other dogs. Fearful and shy dogs may hide, making it a bit harder to find them. Get a map of your area and draw a circle around an appropriate distance around your home. That’s the most likely area where your dog will be found.

How to Get Them Back

Plan ahead and put several precautions in place. Nothing beats having visible identification on your pet. A sturdy tag, firmly affixed to a collar is most helpful in recovering your pet. Be sure the contact information is current. Microchips are a great back-up. If someone takes your pet to a shelter or veterinarian, they will scan the chip and you’ll get a call to pick her up. Keep your contact information current with the registry service. Store current photos of your pet digitally to save time preparing posters.

When your pet is missing:

  • Get that map out and walk or drive the area calling to your pet. But calling them may not get you a response. Many cats and shy dogs will be too scared to respond to your calls. In our case, Cocoa did meow a little, helping my husband find her under the deck.
  • Make a poster with your pet’s photo. Include a reward so people know you are serious. Distribute them throughout your search area. Focus on pet stores, shelters, veterinary offices, bus stops and other public places. This is how we found our dogs 23 years ago. The longer your pet is gone, the farther away she might be. Perhaps someone living outside your map radius took your pet in temporarily. Expand your search area as time goes on.
  • In Geauga County, stray dogs are picked up by the Geauga Dog Warden’s office. Give them your      poster and stay in contact with them as your search continues. Cats are often turned in to Geauga Humane Society.
  • Check out online resources for tracking lost pets. Google “lost pets” and you’ll find resources that may help you expand your search.
  • If you have a good idea where she is, set a trap. We were sure Eddie was close, so we set a Havahart trap on the deck with tuna, and in the morning, we had Eddie back safe and sound. For dogs, contact Pepperidge Kennels who have a live trap big enough for most dogs and will set it up, bait it and monitor it every day for a fee.

Losing your pet—even temporarily—is heart-wrenching. Take precautions to prevent an escape. But if it still happens, as accidents do, try to put the panic aside and formulate a logical plan of action to recover her.

Resources at your fingertips

Geauga County Dog Shelter/Warden: 440-286-8135

Pepperidge Kennels: 440-232-2964

Plain Dealer Missing Pets Announcements: www.blog.cleveland.com/missing-pets/index.html

Carol Peter is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Cold Nose Companions, LLC Dog Training. She offers private in-home training for people and their dogs throughout Geauga County. Carol focuses on resolving problem behaviors and teaching good household manners using positive reinforcement training and behavior modification methods. She can be reached at carol@coldnosecompanions.com.

©2012, Carol Peter, Cold Nose Companions, LLC