Losing a pet is a frightening experience. Dog and cat owners will often go to almost any lengths to locate and retrieve their four-legged companions. Unfortunately, many pet owners consider contacting authorities at the “pound” either a last resort or absolute taboo. While there are many other good resources to help locate your pet, your city or county animal control facilities should actually be your first contact if your pet is missing.
Dog catchers and animal impound shelters get a bad rap all too often. City or county facilities for animal control are usually staffed with people who are in that particular line of work because they love animals. Yes, an unfortunate part of the job is to euthanize animals that are hopelessly ill or injured, a danger to the public or other animals, or unwanted. So, the key is to make sure the shelter staff knows your pet isn’t unwanted, by notifying them first that your pet may be “at large” and asking them to add him or her to their lost list and “into the system”. Taking this step first is important for several reasons:
Time may be short.
Many shelters work under a legally mandated waiting period after a stray animal is impounded. A healthy pet may go up for adoption during this waiting period, but overcrowding and increasing costs for many of these facilities have become such a problem that the waiting period may be short. If your pet is already impounded at a shelter, you want to know as soon as possible.
Incoming animals are checked.
Getting your dog or cat on the “at large” list means that if he or she is picked up for impound, you should be contacted immediately to come and retrieve your pet. In most instances, you won’t have to worry about your pet going up for adoption.
The network is in place.
Shelters and pounds are connected via sophisticated networks to law enforcement, highway departments, veterinarians and other regional services and facilities that report back to the shelter when lost animals are spotted or brought in. This means that you almost immediately have all these services working to help find your cat or dog.
Shelters have media connections.
Many animal impound shelters make use of a wide range of media resources. Your lost pet’s photo and description is very likely to be posted to at least one internet site, in the local paper and perhaps on local television news. By contacting the shelter, you can probably save yourself some time and expense.
By the way, a personal visit to the shelter is much better than a phone call. First of all, if your pet is already there, you can identify him or her and take your pet home. If not, you can at least have a good photo of your pet in hand to be copied and posted to bulletin boards, lists, etc. If you can’t get to the facility quickly, go ahead and call first, but follow up with a visit as soon as possible. Remember that your verbal description of your dog or cat isn’t necessarily going to be interpreted correctly.
Is there a possibility you’ll have to pay a fine when your pet is found? Yes. In some cases fees may be waived for an animal that has been reported as lost and is retrieved by its owner immediately, but this isn’t always the case. Pick up fees can vary greatly according to your location and circumstances. In addition, if your dog or cat comes in without rabies tags or required license tags, you will probably have to pay for shots and licensing in addition to any other fees before your pet can go home with you. Most pet owners would agree that the investment is justified by the safe return of a loved one.
There are a number of steps you can take to help authorities find and identify your pet in the event of loss or theft. First and foremost is the licensing of your pet according to your local regulations. License tags are checked by shelter officials if they’re found on your pet. The number on the tag can be referenced to lead back to you as the owner. Other collar tags, engraved with your contact information, can be helpful. For a small fee, your vet or the shelter staff can quickly and safely implant a microchip that can be scanned by authorities. Tattoos have been used as well, but some pets have been mutilated by thieves to remove these markings.
Contacting the animal shelter won’t replace any of the other things you can do to find your pet. You should still search your neighborhood or the area he or she was last seen, make and post flyers, contact neighbors, post to online classified sites, etc. Calling the shelter should, however, be the first item on your “to do” list. Why not put some of your tax dollars to work to help get your best friend home safely?
One last note: If you do find your pet by some other means after contacting authorities, be courteous enough to call and notify the shelter. One less animal at large will be welcome news and might save a few dollars as well.