General Pet Search Tips

1.) Start foot search immediately.
The sooner you start searching, less distance your pet will have traveled. Thoroughly search the surrounding property and continue in the direction that your pet was last seen heading. Go door-to-door, starting close by initially, moving further out later.

Bring a flashlight and check EVERYWHERE: in closets, cupboards, and all accessible spaces inside your home; behind washers, inside pipes and culverts, in heavy brush, sheds, basement crawl spaces, open garages, under decks. Your pet may be stuck somewhere, extremely frightened, or injured and lying low. For lost cats and other climbing critters, check trees, roofs, and attics.

If your pet may still be inside the house, be sure to check the following:

  • In reclining chairs — inside the ledge that supports the footrest when it is extended
  • In box spring or mattress — with a flashlight look for torn lining in box spring or mattress
  • Under platform beds
  • Behind the books in a bookcase
  • Behind unopened drawers in a dresser
  • In the chimney
  • In heating ducts
  • Behind access panels
  • Behind the refrigerator or stove
  • Wrapped in the bottom of your drapes

2.) Think like your pet.
Put aside your human logic for awhile and put on your animal thinking cap. Were there any sounds or events just prior to the escape that could account for either running towards or running away from something? Dogs often run off for the fun of it, while cats are generally chased off their territory (by a new cat in the house or a new cat in the neighborhood).

3.) Look for clues: pet hair, paw prints, and poops.
Look for physical evidence like animal hairs (caught under fences, on shrubs, around broken screens), paw prints, and animal droppings that may provide clues as to your pet’s whereabouts.

4.) Could your pet be trapped? Have any neighbors recently moved, gone on vacation, or renovating their house?
Your pet may have been inadvertently locked in a moving van, delivery truck, or the garage of a vacationing neighbor. It is also possible that home construction or renovations might have sealed off part of neighbor’s property the day your animal disappeared.

5.) Leave out food and water, as well as belongings with a familiar scent.

6.) Go out at night when the streets are quiet, call for your pet, and then listen for any response.
Many animals forage for food between 1-5 AM because they feel safer in the dark. The more timid your pet is, the quieter and more slowly you should walk. Bring food and make a noise that would motivate your pet to come running towards you (tapping on a can or rustling a kibble bag). Keep your safety in mind as well.

7.) Make flyers with a clear photo of your animal.
Print “LOST CAT (or LOST DOG)” in large letters. Include: your pet’s size, coloring, hair length, and any distinctive markings, whether it has a collar, location pet was last seen, as well as a phone number where you can be reached. If you want, add that calls are welcome 24 hours a day. If your pet is timid, add that your pet may run if approached. If your pet is a cat, ask that neighbors be on the alert and notify you if they hear sounds of cat fights, caterwauling, or meowing.

Many neighbors will assume that after a couple weeks either the animal is found or the owner gives up. After a few weeks, remind them that you continue to search with a follow up flyer that says CAT STILL LOST.

For safety considerations, DO NOT include your name, address, or a specific reward amount. The type of people that you want to call with tips are animal lovers who don’t care about the money — not pranksters and people looking to make buck.

Three different types of flyers:

  • Flyers with color photos; these show your pet the clearest; cost about $0.50 each. Make photocopies of the text onto fluorescent paper, have photo reprints of your pet made, then tape a photo onto each photocopy.
  • Flyers using color photocopies; these are fairly clear; cost about $1.00 each. Make a single flyer using a clear photo of your pet; bring to copy shop, and have color copies made onto white paper. To save money, you can also make 4 mini-flyers (4.25″ x 5.5″) from each 8.5″ x 11″ color copy; cost about $0.25 each.
  • Flyers using black and white printouts or photocopies; these are the cheapest but are the least clear; cost about $0.05 per flyer. Use white or fluorescent paper.

Post color flyers on utility poles at busy street intersections, at local veterinary offices, pet stores, pet groomers, laundromats, and community bulletin boards. Make black and white versions of the flyers and leave one at each house nearby.

8.) Talk to everyone you meet. Show them the poster and ask if they have seen your pet — particularly neighbors who leave food out for animals, walkers and joggers, children, newspaper carriers, mail and package delivery people. In my experience, houses with gardens that looked like they had been nurtured and cared for, also tended to have the most thoughtful and receptive residents, willing to help in many ways.

As time passes, be sure to keep your presence in the neighborhood known. If neighbors see you looking, it will remind them to keep their eyes out. You can’t be everywhere at once — depend on others to be your eyes and ears.

9.) Leave a message on your answering machine asking for the date, time, and location when the caller may have seen your missing animal, as well as the caller’s name and phone number in case you have questions.

10.) Enlist anyone who is willing to help. It may be some time before you are reunited with your pet so take advantage of any offers of help.

11.) Visit local animal shelters every 2-3 days.

12.) Place an ad in the local paper. And check the Found Pet section of the newspaper. Many newspapers now have classifieds listed online.

13.) If you have recently moved, check your old neighborhood and talk with people there and post flyers.

14.) Don’t give up after only a few days, or simply wait for your pet to return on its own. Many pets are found weeks or months after they disappear. With knowledge, persistence, and proper techniques MANY pets can be found.