It’s the nightmare of many pet owners: your beloved furry family member goes missing. In a time of unique desperation and uncertainty, groups like The Retrievers step in to work with individuals and families on what is likely one of the hardest days of their lives.
The Retrievers, an all-volunteer team based in Minnesota, has all of the tools to help reunite lost dogs and their owners. Their 60 volunteers aid in the capture of skittish dogs, consult on search and strategy, and provide lost dog education and prevention tips. The group facilitates cases hands-on within Minnesota and the edges of bordering states in addition to consulting by phone to help track down lost dogs nationwide. In 2020, they provided assistance on 798 cases in 32 different states.
Amy Addy, a case manager and lead safety coordinator for The Retrievers, has had a special place in her heart for rescue animals for as long as she can remember. In addition to her work educating the public on safe transport practices for rescues and giving guidance on lost dog cases, she also runs an organization called Missing Pets in the Northland.
A crucial aspect of her role is disseminating information on best practices for preventing pets from going missing. She emphasizes that when it comes to keeping the pet from escaping, leashes are the best way to do it.
“A lot of the dogs that go missing were off leash. We recommend a well-fitted harness or a Martingale collar because it doesn’t pop off their heads,” Addy explains. “Do not use a retractable leash. Along with the rope being a safety hazard, dogs that go missing with these leashes freak out because this plastic thing is chasing them down the street as they are running.”
During holidays or other times when there are people coming and going from your house, it can help to keep the dog in one particular room with the door closed when guests are coming and going. Frequent checks of your backyard for holes or gaps in and under fences can prevent a dog from squeezing himself through to the great unknown.
If owners do find themselves in the very unfortunate situation of having to search for their beloved pet, Addy stresses that driving around yelling their name should not be one of your first steps. While it may be your gut instinct, the dogs are in survival mode and will likely not recognize you as its owner. A more effective tactic is creating a scent trail using food and unwashed clothing belonging to their favorite human. These scent trails can be combined with a feeding station and a camera set up in one spot to trap them.
Signs and fliers are also instrumental in spreading the word and are the most effective method for bringing animals back home. The Retrievers also has a specific team that’s dedicated to just online awareness and posting digital fliers. “Bonded dogs,” or companions that the lost animal may know well, can also be useful in snapping the lost dog out of survival mode and luring them out of a hiding spot.
“They are more likely to come to another dog than they are to come to a human, especially if it can make them jealous. If you are lavishing the bonded dog with praise and excitement, it can make the other dog realize they want some of that,” Addy says. “Even if you spot the lost dog, do not make eye contact, because that will make them bolt.”
Reuniting owners with their pets is often made possible through identification; microchips and tags are the two most common recommended types. After you microchip your pet, have it registered through a registrar of your choice. Although there is usually a small fee to chip the animal, some of the registries are free. Don’t forget to update the information if your phone number or address changes. Tags can also be a quick and effective way to bring your furry loved one back home.
“Have a current identification tag with name, phone number, and address, not just the rabies tag. Get a stitched or embroidered collar—or just write your name with a Sharpie on the inside of the collar. Tags can rip off,” she explains.
A variety of Facebook groups like Cook County MN Pets: Lost, Found, Escaped also help connect owners of lost pets with community members who may be able to provide insight about when and where the animal was last seen in the area. Even if you personally don’t own a pet, joining these hyper-local groups can be the difference in whether an animal in your neighborhood is reunited safely with its owner.
For more information about The Retrievers and other helpful tips on lost pet prevention and education, tune into Addy’s monthly segment on WTIP or visit the organization’s website at: theretrievers.org.