Thank go to Debbie Davis, editor of the Davis Enterprise, for permission to reprint the text of "Tracking Lost Pets " by Crystal Lee, Enterprise staff writer. The article originally appeared May 9, 2010 in the Davis Enterprise. Subscribers may log in to see the original article. The home page of the Davis Enterprise is http://www.davisenterprise.com/
Cody used to be a ranch dog. Then, for a while, he lived at a battered women's shelter.
Three years ago, the old yellow Lab, now hard of hearing and not quite as mobile as he used to be, found a permanent home with Barry Cooper on the outskirts of Woodland.
It was a peaceful existence until Cody went missing two weeks ago.
“He's an old dog, so we were kind of worried about him,” Cooper says.
Barry drove around the farm fields near his home looking for Cody. The next day, he stopped by the Yolo County Animal Services Shelter.
“And there he was,” Cooper says. And there he also was microchipped before Cooper took him home.
He's not about to risk losing Cody again.
“In case he wanders off again, they'll know where to find us,” Cooper says.
After all, up-to-date ID tags and microchips, experts say, are the most powerful tools for reuniting lost pets with their families.
Cooper thinks Cody got out while contractors were working in the yard.
“Someone left a gate open at our house and he wandered out and got about a block away from our house, I guess,” Cooper says, “and someone picked him up.”
It's a story Carol Gravem hears all the time at Davis' Midtown Animal Clinic, where she works as the hospital manager.
Gravem says she guesses more than three-quarters of those who contact Midtown Animal Clinic looking for their dogs say the animals escaped when someone — usually not a family member — left a gate or door open.
“I would be very careful with who you have working on your house or yard when you're not there,” Gravem says, adding that sometimes workers don't realize when an animal has slipped out. It doesn't hurt to remind workers not to let the dog escape.
To be on the safe side, it is best to crate your dog if you won't be home while the work is being done and you can't bring your pet with you, Gravem says.
Midtown Animal Clinic gets one or two lost pet reports a month, she says. A description of the animal, date it went missing and other pertinent information are noted in a journal at the hospital that staffers refer to when found animals are brought in.
The first and most important step to an owner-pet reunion, however, are tags and microchips, even for indoor animals, she says.
“Animals that have ID are far more likely to be reunited than those who don't,” agrees Linda Lord, an assistant professor at Ohio State University, who studies shelter animal populations.
But identification is only as useful as the information it provides, says Vicky Fletcher, chief animal services officer at the Yolo County shelter.
“In the number of animals that do have ID and do have microchips, there is a much higher rate of return on those animals, as long as the owner does a good job of keeping that information up to date,” Fletcher says.
It may seem obvious, but often when owners move or change phone numbers, their pets' identification may be the last thing on their minds.
Tags should list at least two active phone numbers and microchip information updated online, says Dr. Kate Hurley, director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis.
Because tags could come off and scanners sometimes fail to detect microchips, combining the two forms of identification improves the chances of reunion, Hurley says.
Training your dog to respond to his name also will prevent him from getting away if he slips out the door or jumps out of the car and disappears from sight, Hurley says.
Other ways to keep the pooch or kitty safe, she says, are to keep them indoors as much as possible, have them spayed or neutered — since animals in heat are more likely to wander off — and be friendly to your neighbors ... introduce yourself and tell them a bit about your pets.
Opening the lines of communication means your neighbors will be more likely to contact you if they see a lost-looking animal in the neighborhood, Hurley explains.
Additionally, the more approachable you are, the more likely your neighbors will try to resolve any nuisance issues with you regarding your pets before they become bigger problems, she says.
Prevention goes a long way, but accidents happen. When they do, pet owners have options to maximize their luck in recovering Fluffy.
“One thing that's important for owners to know is that they should start looking right away,” Hurley says.
Lost and found
Shelter statistics suggest that cats have a poorer track record than dogs in reuniting with their families, although there is no way to know for sure if an impounded stray is a family pet, Fletcher says.
At the Yolo County shelter, 49 percent of stray dogs were “returned to owner,” compared to just 4 percent of cats over the past four years, according to Fletcher.
Last year, the shelter took in 2,274 dogs, of which 1,456 were picked up as strays, and 749 were returned to their owners. In the same year, 3,207 cats were impounded, of which 2,294 were strays, and 85 were returned to owner.
The discrepancy may be because when a pup goes missing, it's obvious and owners will start the search sooner than if, say, kitty doesn't come home for dinner, Hurley says.
So, as soon as you suspect your pet is missing, she says, knock on your neighbors' doors with a current photo of your pet on hand. If possible, bring several copies of the photo with a notation of the date your pet was lost and at least two phone numbers, so you can leave them on doors where nobody is home.
Hurley did just that when, while she was traveling, her cat got away from a pet-sitter.
“I went and knocked on doors, and he had run into a lady's garage, and she knew he was there but she was scared of him,” Hurley says. The neighbor was so afraid, she didn't drive for three days because she wouldn't go near the garage, Hurley says.
Although the cat was only five houses down the street, Hurley says if she had only posted fliers, it would not have been enough to find him.
Of course, animals can get much farther away. Picture a cat jumping into a truck bed just before the driver commutes 20 miles to work. Or a passerby picking up a dog and taking it to the nearest shelter he knows about — in the next town over.
That's why it's a good idea to visit or call every area animal shelter, including those in nearby cities, to see if anyone has turned in your pet, Hurley says.
Fletcher recommends calling no less than every other day. Pet owners can also check http://www.petharbor.com, where many shelters post photos and descriptions of found animals.
The website is updated every 15 minutes and the staff at the Yolo County shelter tries to post data whenever an animal is impounded, Fletcher says.
Animals are held a week before they are put up for adoption, she says.
The next step is to post fliers — with a clear photo, description and missing date, so people know it's a new flier — where they are easily visible and people can actually stop and read them.
The Center for Lost Pets, an organization sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, recommends locations like vet offices, pet supply stores, groomers, dog parks, grocery stores, post offices and other places someone might go to report a found animal.
Owners also can tell their mail carrier, contact local rescue groups and leave fliers at shelters, according to the Center for Lost Pets, which has free advice on its website, http://www.thecenterforlostpets.com.
Additionally, advice is available through Missing Pet Partnership, http://www.missingpetpartnership.org, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and reuniting lost pets.
Found animals often can be advertised for free in local newspapers like The Davis Enterprise. The Enterprise will run lost-pet ads for $15 a month, or $20 a month for ads with a photo.
Another Davis-specific resource is the Davis Wiki's “Lost Pets” page, http://www.daviswiki.org/Lost_Pets, where users post photos and descriptions of missing and found animals.
Pricier options include hiring a pet detective or contracting with a company to make automated phone calls to neighbors.
It can take anywhere from days to months, even more than a year, to find a lost pet, says Hurley, who has volunteered at shelters for more than two decades.
The appropriate length of time to keep searching will depend on the individual. But when you decide to take in another pet to replace the one you've lost, be careful — your old friend may still turn up when you least expect it, Hurley says.
“Just make sure you have room in your life for another pet,” she says.
When days turn into weeks, and weeks into months, and there is still no sign of your pet, there are resources to turn to for support.
Pet loss support hotlines, websites and reading materials for adults and children can be found at the UCD Center for Companion Health website, http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ccah/petloss.cfm.
The Center for Lost Pets recommends asking local shelters if any animals have been found dead because it is better to learn the truth than to never know what happened.
There also is a possibility that your pet is safe in a new home.
Kathy Riplie, a West Sacramento resident, is doing her best to find the owner of a sweet, black-and-white Chihuahua her husband found in a Walmart parking lot last week.
The little dog, who they now call Molly, was cold, scared and scrawny when they found her. Riplie says Molly “has become one of the pack,” which includes the family's two pit bulls and German Shorthaired Pointer.
“She fits in and everything, but somebody lost her,” Riplie says. “She's too cute to not belong to someone.”
But if nobody claims Molly, Riplie and her husband just might keep her. Riplie's coworker, who lives at a 30-acre ranch, also is considering adopting the dog.
“We'll see how it goes after 30 days,” she says. “If anything, she's going to be kept or she's going to have a really good home.”
— Reach Crystal Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8057. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com
Top 3 ways to keep pets safe
1. Update tag and microchip info
2. Never let them out unsupervised
3. Make friends with neighbors
By the numbers, at the Yolo County Animal Shelter in 2008-09
2,294: number of stray cats
85: number of cats returned to owner
1,456: number of stray dogs
749: number of dogs returned to owner
Yolo County Animal Services Shelter, 668-5287
Yolo SPCA, 758-7722
City of Sacramento Animal Care Services, (916) 808-7387
County of Sacramento Animal Care and Regulation, (916) 368-7387
Sacramento SPCA, (916) 383-7387
The Center for Lost Pets, http://www.thecenterforlostpets.com
Missing Pet Partnership, http://www.missingpetpartnership.org
Davis Wiki “Lost Pets,” http://www.daviswiki.org/Lost_Pets
UCD Center for Companion Animal Health, http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ccah/petloss.cfm