Finding a lost pet is difficult when you are under such duress, but it is important to act quickly.

Search your property Conduct a thorough examination inside and outside your home during the day and night. Look behind furniture, appliances, under beds, in closets and in boxes. Outside, check drain and sewer pipes, the garage, other buildings, under shrubbery.

A special note about lost cats The instinctive response for cats displaced into unfamiliar territory is for them to HIDE and be SILENT. The reality is that it is more probable that your “lost” cat is currently hunkered down within a 1/2 block radius of your home and is simply not visible. Your cat would only be inclined to travel if was chased by something (which caused it to run and hide further out of the area) or it had a bold, gregarious and fearless temperament.

Make flyers Use fluorescent paper for higher visibility. Use a recent picture of your pet to make it easier for someone to spot the animal. List the date and place your dog or cat was lost, breed, sex, age, weight, color, markings and a contact number. BUT, never give out ALL the identifying features, so that if someone claims to have found your pet they will be able to convince you by providing you with a full description. Offer a reward. Post flyers at eye level on utility poles within a 1-mile radius from your home. Also place them at veterinary offices, pet shops, groomers, kennels, grocery stores and neighborhood restaurants and local businesses. It’s an excellent idea to go ahead and create a flyer that includes a picture of the lost dog and other vital statistics. If your pet should ever be lost, the flyer will be ready to go. Here are two excellent but separate tools to easily create a flyer:

There is a wonderful service to help find lost pets, but it costs a bit of money. “Find Toto” is a phone call alert system that sends messages to residences centered around the direct area of where your pet went missing or was last seen. A detailed description of your pet, your best contact number, date lost and website information is given in the message as well. Calls are delivered and completed within minutes, leaving messages on answering machines, voicemails and of course a live answer. Go to this Web site for more information and to get started.

Set out humane traps Don’t put food out for a cat or dog unless you use a humane trap. Unless using such a trap, you are only facilitating the pet’s displacement. In other words, your tactic should be to remove all food that is outdoors and replace it with food that is inside a humane trap.

  • Rent (or purchase) at least two humane traps – setting and placing one in your own yard and one near where the pet was last seen. For cats, set the trap in obvious areas where the animal might be hiding – near the entrance under a house, deck, or near heavy brush. They slink (or bolt if startled) and they look for the first place to dive into or under that offers concealment and protection. They will typically remain in that same spot as long as they feel safe. As they huddle there, they deposit their scent – they urinate, defecate, and THAT new area becomes their new territory. Eventually, they will slink out to get food and water, usually during the quiet hours in the middle of the night.
  • If you set a humane trap and you are not successful, it only means that you have not placed the trap within the immediate area of where the dog or cat can smell the food. You should then move the trap into the next yard or to the next potential hiding place. You can either sit and monitor the trap during the evening hours (lawn chair, mug of coffee, binoculars, cell phone, flashlight, blanket) or you can set it over night and use a baby monitor. The baby monitor will allow you to clearly hear when the trap has been triggered and you have captured something.
  • Traps are available from Animal Care or from most hardware stores (sold as wild animal traps). A good web site to answer trapping questions for indoor-only cats that have escaped outdoors is Cats in the Bag.

Walk the neighborhood Take turns with family members and walk around during day and night hours. Carry a flashlight to check in dark places. Bring your pet’s favorite toy and treats. Call the pet’s name, make familiar sounds that they regularly hear.

Tell your neighbors and those who work in your neighborhood about your lost pet. Postal workers and newspaper deliverers who run routes through your neighborhood can be especially helpful. Go from house to house and introduce yourself. Give everyone a flyer.

Visit animal control offices, humane societies, animal shelters Make a pest of yourself if you have to, but burn the image of your pet and your concern into their heads. Leave flyers so they can look for your pet, too.

Contact breed-specific rescue groups if your dog is purebred. Usually pure-bred dogs are rescued from shelters or animal control by such groups.

Check if your pet has been killed on the road. Call city, county and state departments of transportation to see if they have any information. Dogs and cats are generally picked up every 24 hours.

Where to post lost pet information online

Other tips we might have missed


First, bless you for taking in a lost animal or abandoned stray. You have saved a life and for that all dog and cat lovers are truly grateful. We hope you can continue to foster this animal because it needs you now. You are the only lifesaver this animal has between safety and disaster.

Best Friend Pet Adoption is happy to supply you tips and offer suggestions on where to begin looking for the animal’s owner or, if the owner cannot be found, how to find a home for the animal now in your care.

How to Find Homes for Pets is a wonderful place to start. It’s a multi-page step-by-step guide created by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. We highly recommend you print out this guide and follow it. We can’t add much to it, but can offer an abbreviated outline on the most important points.

All attempts should be made to find the owner if you sense this animal was well cared-for.

Post fliers where the dog was found and give to neighbors, area vets, pet shops. Here are two excellent tools to use:

Beware of bunchers A word about people who may see your flyer or call you about your FOUND ad: beware of dishonest people. You may get a call from someone who wants dogs or cats to sell to research labs: they are called bunchers. They won’t tell you this, of course. But claiming a stray as their own can be a way to put money in their pockets. Leave something very distinguishable about the pet you found off the FOUND flyer that only the true owner would know.

If the owner is not found within 5 days we hope you will continue to foster the animal you found with love and kindness, giving it food and a safe haven until you find a kind person to love the dog or cat as it deserves to be loved.

    • Have a vet check the animal for its health status
    • Have the animal sterilized to prevent vicious cycle of pet overpopulation
    • Prepare flyers to advertise the animal’s availability
    • Post flyers in places populated by animal folks
    • Aggressively network friends, family, co-workers by email — include digital photo
    • Give flyers to your children to take to school
    • Triangle-area rescues where you can courtesy post a pet online:

      Place an ad in local newspaper Include adoption fee to discourage bunchers.
      NOTE Please never give an animal away for free or advertise as “Free to a good home.” Not only will it discourage despicable bunchers from answering your ad, it will encourage only serious prospective pet owners to call.

      Prepare the pet for adoption

      Adopting out the dog or cat
      As mentioned above, never give a dog or cat away for free. There are evil, sick people lurking that not only would sell the animal to a research lab, but abuse the animal in unspeakable ways. Our theory is, if someone gets something for free, they will treat it like they got it for free. Still not convinced? Please read “The Tragedy of Free to a Good Home”.

      At the minimum, ask an adoption fee for the dog or cat to at least recover any expenses you put out to get the animal in a healthy state, sterilized and advertised as available for adoption.

      Ask for driver’s license numbers, business/personal references, vet references and check ALL of them. If, after a thorough phone screening you like the person, have them meet the dog or cat at your home (if you are single, have a buddy come over at the same time). If all goes well, check out the prospect’s home as well to see where the animal will be living.

      If you are ready to adopt out the cat or dog, have the adopter sign a Pet Adoption Agreement


      If your situation is one that you have no choice but to use an animal shelter, be sure to claim first and last rights should you wish to continue a relationship with the dog or cat. First rights gives you an adoption privilege if the dog or cat is not claimed by the owner. Last rights gives you adoption privileges if the dog or cat is not claimed and is due to be euthanized. It is best to call the shelter daily to let them know that you are interested in the animal’s welfare.