3241 E Shea Blvd #416, Phoenix, AZ 85028 info@azhartt.org (602) 601-2604

Lost Pet Owner Guide

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We are sorry to hear that your pet is missing.  The first 24-48 hours are the most critical, and the effort you put in during this critical time will dramatically increase the likelihood that you will recover your pet safely.  However, searches can go on much longer than this time period, in many cases.  Your ongoing, sustained and proactive involvement is critical to success.

Even if your pet was lost from an unfamiliar area, approximately 70% of the lost pets we help stay within 1 mile of where they went missing (even if this location is hundreds of miles from their home).  Using that probability, we will concentrate on this area first.

The strategy also may be a bit different if your dog is young/healthy, or old/sick/medically compromised, and if your dog is confident/social or shy/skittish.

Information Needed

If HARTT will be consulting on this case, please make sure you have this information ready for our first call.  If you are outside our service area or are working with others, the following information is still critical in determining how to proceed, and what approaches may be the most successful:

  1. Photo of your pet – immediately gather the best photos you have of your pet
  2. Description of pet (ex: “four year old Aussie/Border Collie mix, neutered male, not wearing a collar or ID”)
  3. Address where he went missing from, or closest address to the location (“on the NW corner of the park by the playground, across the street from 143 E. Lucky Lane, Phoenix, AZ, 85004”).
  4. Was your pet wearing a collar and ID tag, or his he microchipped?
  5. Circumstances of how s/he was lost (“The dog was with us on a walk in the park, when a car backfired; I didn’t have a good grip on his leash, and he took off heading Northwest. We tried to call him back, but he just kept running.”).
  6. What is his/her normal temperament? Shy?  Outgoing?  Likelihood of him approaching a stranger? (“He is a very nervous dog – he is attracted to children but I doubt he would approach an adult he doesn’t know.  If they try to catch him, I believe he would run away.”) If your dog is shy or skittish, s/he will likely need to be humanely trapped.
  7. How long has s/he been familiar with/lived at the address where he went missing from? (“We just moved into this house about 10 days ago; previously we lived 30 miles away.”)
  8. If s/he is accustomed to the area, how often has he gone on walks, and in which direction? (“He has only gone on 2 walks since we moved to this house, both in the last week.  Both times, we went to the park and then went around the block, north on Main Ave, east on Central, south on Shady Lane and then west back onto our street, Washington Ave.”)
  9. Is your pet healthy, or are there any medical issues? (“Our dog is basically healthy however he was only neutered 3 days ago.  He still has 7 days of antibiotics left.”)
  10. Who is your pet closest to? (“The dog stays close to me; he is a bit nervous around my husband or men in general; he sleeps with my 6 year old son and follows him everywhere. He also was in a foster home for a year before we adopted him 3 weeks ago – his foster has come for a visit and he gets SUPER excited to see her!”) In this example, we will not want the husband or males directly calling or approaching of the dog; we may be able to use scent material from the wife, the 6 year old and even the former foster in this search).
  11. Are there other pets in the home? What is the lost pet’s relationship with these pets? (“We have two other dogs and a cat; he hangs out with one of the dogs; he ignores the other one.  The cat keeps to herself, but the dog always follows the cat around and seems very interested in her.”)  In this example, we may be able to use scent material from the other dog, and even from the cat – solid waste, litter box, bedding.
  12. Have there been any sightings? We will need to know the date, time, exact location, and direction of travel. Please also be sure to keep the name and phone number of the person who called in each sighting.

Lost Pet Action Plan

To help guide you through these steps, please print this page (see the “print form” icon at the top of this page), and check off each item once you’ve read/completed the task:

If you can do this safely and there are no other pets or small children to worry about, prop open all yard gates, and even front doors, so that the lost pet can choose to easily return to the yard and home if he so chooses.

STOP doing laundry and cleaning your yard/litterbox; you will want to preserve all “scent material” which may become very important in the search.  This includes not scooping your yard or litter box, and not laundering your pet’s bedding, or even some items of your family’s laundry.  Scent is the most powerful sense to an animal, and these scent items can be used strategically (more about this later).

Find a good quality photo of your pet, PREFERABLY one with your pet in a standing or walking position – this photo may be used for lost pet flyers.

Search your home and yard – are you sure your pet isn’t just hiding?  Nervous pets – ESPECIALLY CATS – can hide in shockingly small areas (inside couch springs, behind refrigerators) when frightened.  Do a thorough search and don’t forget to look behind dressers, in closets, in and around shrubs, etc.

Set up food and water (we call this a “feeding station”) in your yard. If your pet his hiding close by, this food and water can draw him back.  Even if there are other animals in the neighborhood who might be attracted by the food and you may have to replenish, we want YOUR pet to easily find food and water whenever they return.  Refresh the food at least once a day, preferably twice.  During ant season, make sure all food is ant-proof by placing a heavier food bowl inside a shallow outer pan, and fill that outer pan with water to form an “ant moat.”

Place scent items, such as waste from your dog, soiled litter from  your cat or items of clothing from a person with whom your dog is bonded, a few feet from the feeding station.

CALL 602-372-4598 or email acclostfound@maricopa.gov to notify Maricopa County Animal Control of your lost pet immediately.  This step is CRITICAL! If someone finds your pet or if someone turns your pet into MCACC, staff or citizens can search and see if your pet has been reported missing.

Assemble your helpers! Notify all responsible adults, even teens, in your family – recruit close friends or neighbors to assist in the search.  This is not the time to be shy – don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Conduct a search on foot or by car. Package up some smelly snacks (not kibble or dry dog treats – make it good!) in a zip lock bag, and take along your pet’s favorite squeaky toy. Begin walking or driving your neighborhood SLOWLY, looking closely in other yards. HARTT in general discourages rigorous ground searches with large teams because their presence may cause a frightened dog to flee the area. However, if there is any belief or indication that the animal may be sick or injured (ie, dog is geriatric, disabled, was seen hit by a car or was in an auto accident), then a careful, quiet grid search is highly advised in case the dog is not able to move.

Do NOT have a multitude of people calling out the pet’s name – if 5 different people are calling “Fluffy!” in 5 different areas or on 5 different streets, the pet will have no idea which direction they are supposed to go. Also, calling a pet’s name, clapping or whistling can also trigger a panicked “Oh no – they’re looking for me!” flight response in a pet and can be counterproductive. HARTT recommends that ONLY an owner with whom the pet is bonded should call the pet’s name. Even then, with shy pets, calling the pet’s name can work against you. Please see information on “shy dog protocol” below on how to attract a nervous pet to you.  Others in the search party should merely search and, when the animal is spotted, notify the owner of the exact location.

If your pet is located, the first priority is to keep the pet calm and do nothing that could drive him into a roadway or other dangerous area.  The owner should proceed quickly to the scene with a favorite toy, treats, and a slip leash (or carrier, in the case of a cat). Once on scene, we recommend that the owner sit down, slightly angled away from the pet.  The owner should begin talking softly just so the pet can hear their voice and identify them as familiar. Whenever possible, allow the pet to approach the owner.  Try not to make any rapid movement or gestures. We call this behavior “shy dog protocol”.  It’s always best if your pet approaches YOU first. If you try to pursue your pet, they could rapidly run from the area (and you can’t outrun them anyway!).

If your pet is microchipped, call your microchip company and report him missing! Your veterinarian or the shelter or rescue group from whom you adopted your pet should be able to tell you the name of the microchip company they use, their phone number, and, your pet’s microchip number if you can’t find it.

Online and Social Media Sites

Not a big computer user? Not on social media? That’s ok – recruit a family member, child, grandchild, friend or neighbor to handle this part of the work. Don’t skip it! Many people communicate about lost and found pets on these sites; don’t miss this opportunity to communicate about or search for your lost pet!

Maricopa County Lost and Found Pet Map (https://gis.maricopa.gov/ACC/Stray/index.html) this site will show the location of lost and found cats, and lost and found dogs, within the past few days (older found pets will not be visible on the site). All strays who come into MCACC are posted on this site, using the location where they were found. NOTE – this location could be MILES from where your pet went missing so search all listings in a wide area as well.

Craigslist (“CL”) (https://phoenix.craigslist.org/) – This online ad page is free to use. Check in both the “LOST AND FOUND” and in the “PETS” section. Search for your pet AND post your pet. Remember that a finder may not accurately guess the breed of your pet so search by other key words instead of just breed. Also, beware of color – you may consider your pet to be “tan”, but someone who may have already found your pet may have listed her as “buff”, “yellow” or “gold”. Posts quickly roll to the bottom, so we recommend refreshing your post at least every 2 days.

Nextdoor (“ND”) – This smart phone app is also free to use and was created as a way for neighbors in specific areas to communicate with one another. Posts on Nextdoor (ND) range from crime reports, to mechanic shop recommendations, to nearby school bake sales, to lost and found pets. In general, only a resident can post or view ND for their specific “neighborhood” and a small range of nearby neighborhoods. If your pet was lost more than 3 miles from where you live, you will want to find a resident near where your pet was lost who is on ND, who can search for posts or post an alert for you. We recommend you draft and send them exactly what you want the message to say.

Neighbors by Ring – This is another smart phone app that is also free to use and was created as a way for neighbors in specific areas to communicate with one another. The big difference between this app and “Nextdoor” is that this app is all anonymous posting which means there is not a way for users to contact one another unless they specifically list their phone number or another method to reach them. It’s important to note that you do not have to have a “Ring” product to download and use this app, and while you can only view posts within a couple mile radius of your home, the app does let you make a post anywhere (this is especially helpful if your pet was lost away from home).

Facebook (“FB”) – many different lost pet sites can be found on FB – here are a few for the Maricopa County, Arizona area:

Paper flyers

Paper Flyers NOTHING takes the place of basic paper flyers, posted all over your neighborhood! Even if you have posted online and searched all of those posts, you are typically only reaching “pet people” who are active in the animal community. This means that all others who do not have pets and do not follow pet issues will never know you are searching for a pet! Paper flyers will reach moms out for a stroll with babies or toddlers; fitness walkers; people passing casually through a neighborhood; seniors; and kids playing in the neighborhood.

For DOG owners, we recommend that you place a MINIMUM of 100 flyers in a ½ mile radius from where your pet went missing immediately, at least within the first 24 hours.  For CAT o owners, 30-40 flyers in a 2-3 block radius is recommended.  Use 3M clear packing tape (NOT duct tape, NOT blue or green painter’s tape and not regular scotch tape) to adhere signs to surfaces.  If you and three immediate family members conduct a ground search, that will be 4 of you looking for your pet; if you put up 100 flyers and each one is seen by 10 people, that will be 1,000 people helping to look for your pet!!

Does your HOA or neighborhood have a restriction on flyers?  RARELY do these organizations actually enforce the restriction or fine you for placing them.  In most cases, the worst case is they will tear them down.  We would prefer even a few hours of exposure from a well-placed flyer than no flyer in that location at all.  Please be responsible and remove flyers timely after the conclusion of a search, to keep neighborhoods happy and to make things easier for the owners of other pets in the future.  If your flyers are being taken down, consider hanging more of them on Friday late afternoon, so that they get maximum exposure over the weekend before they are potentially removed again on Monday, the next business day.

Flyers should be eye catching, simple, printed in color, contain a clear picture and minimal wording (see sample under “resources” below), and have the phone number of someone who will answer their phone 24/7 and will be extremely thorough about keeping a log of all sightings called in.  Flyers can be posted on community mailboxes, bulletin boards, traffic signs, and other locations where people walk or drive by.  We suggest placing them upside down in sheet protectors to protect the signs somewhat from inclement weather.

Handbills and business cards – These smaller versions of flyers are more suitable for distributing by hand. You can also save printing costs – the handbills are printed 4 per page, and the business card format, 10 per page. Hand these smaller handbills or cards out to:

  • Neighbors – go door to door
  • UPS, postal workers or Amazon drivers (these people drive for a living and can be your eyes and ears)
  • Trash or utility workers
  • Joggers, walkers, park goers
  • Veterinary offices, boarding facilities and groomers

Yard signs – HARTT has received donations of thousands of corrugated plastic political campaign flyers which you can spray paint a neon color and affix your lost pet flyer on top of the sign. These yard signs can be placed in your own yard and throughout your neighborhood at key intersections; they are very eye-catching. They are especially effective in rural, wooded and desert areas where there are no surfaces and signs for affixing flyers. Remember WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN. Be sure to promptly remove your flyers and signs after your pet is found; this will make things easier for other families to do the same in the future.

Car painting or Car Signs – Stop at your local craft store and ask for markers or paint that can be used on automotive glass. Your car is a mobile billboard! Use your car as another way of getting the word out. Or, tape your lost dog flyers on your car as you drive about your community.

Additional tips

Shelter Visits – Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (pets.maricopa.gov) – Pets found West of Central go to the West location, and pets found East of Central go to the East location. Check petharbor.com for posts of animals that come into MCACC, but nothing takes the place of walking the kennels in person. Be sure to ask staff how you can see ALL animals in their care, including those who are not in the public view (animals deemed sick, injured or dangerous). Be sure to bring a copy of your flyer with you.

Arizona Humane Society (www.azhumane.org) – AHS only takes in owner surrenders or sick, injured or underage strays. Be sure to bring a copy of your flyer with you.

Other animal control agencies – check with the animal control department for your city and county, to see if they have picked up a pet matching your pet’s description. Find out where they impound strays that they find.

Online Maps – If you, or a friend or family member are comfortable with Google Maps or other online mapping programs, study an aerial view of the area two miles from where your pet went missing. Search for canals, walking paths, wooded areas, other bodies of water, and other possible hiding places. Seeing an aerial view of the area will help you to consider where else to look. It will also be very helpful if you get sighting calls and the caller is vague with their description of the location they saw your pet. Knowing the area ahead of time will expedite your response time.

About Drones…

Drones MAY be helpful but most drone pilots do not have night vision technology on their drones, and many lost pets are most active after dark. They also may be flying at a height where it would be difficult to locate a smaller moving object. There is no harm in using a drone if you have access to one, but be sure the pilot doesn’t fly too low once the pet is spotted, which could spook the animal from the area.

About “Search Dogs”…

There are fee-based services which claim to track your lost pet using scent-trained dogs. The jury is out on the effectiveness of these rather expensive services. If you have money to spend on a search, there are dozens of other ways to maximize your search budget for far less – ask a HARTT search consultant for more information.