Search Basics

Response time can be crucial to a search effort, but a late start is better than doing nothing at all.  Ask family & friends to help or do the best you can as quickly as possible.  If a dog is discovered missing or bolts from a guardian, the following should be done immediately:
NEVER CHASE a lost dog – chasing is usually perceived as a threatening action, not a game.
The person with whom the dog has the strongest bond should walk and search sighting areas.
It’s very important to carry a leash, bait food, and the dog’s favorite toy.  Tidbits of human food is more tempting than dry biscuits.  Walk, run, or drive around the area.  Cover all routes normally used if you take your dog for walks.  Talk briefly to everyone outside to ask if they’ve seen your dog.  Tell them to call the shelter with sightings until fliers are posted and DON’T chase.
Dogs don’t like to miss out on fun times with canine friends, so take a “buddy” dog for a slow walk on leash.  Have a fun conversation using both the buddy dog’s and lost dog’s names. 
At all times, assume the dog is nearby (just out of sight or in hiding) and can hear you.  Always talk to it with familiar phrases in calm, reassuring tones.  NO groups shouting. 
ASAP: Call local animal control officers, shelters, Vets, and animal clinics.
Leave a message if no one is there to take your call.  You can get information regarding animal control/humane officers and shelters by calling a police department’s non-emergency number.
A loose dog can cause a traffic accident.  Give the police a brief description of your dog and where it was lost or last seen.  Authorities in charge of matters relating to animals have varied titles which include:  Animal Control Officer (ACO), Dog Warden, Humane Officer, Dog Officer.  Positions can be full or part-time, and officers may have jurisdiction in more than one town.  Large cities are likely to have several officers on staff, while rural areas may have one person in charge of the entire county.  Stay in touch with them to share up-to-date sightings.
Keep track of everyone you notify about the lost dog.  Start a dated contact list of police stations, ACOs, shelters, Vets, humane societies, rescue groups, and others of significance.  Include names, addresses, phone numbers, email addys, and any other pertinent details.
See “FLIERS AND SIGNS” document for detailed information and samples.
Contact local authorities regarding ordinances that prohibit fliers or signs on utility poles.
It’s not legal to put them in U.S. Postal Service mailboxes (for processed/stamped mail only).  You may put a flier anywhere outside a mailbox or inside a newspaper bin. 
Create signs using “neon poster board” (heavy paper in neon colors) and magic marker.
List basic details:  Lost Dog    Small Terrier    Brown/White    Cell Ph xxxx   Home Ph xxxx
Letters and numbers should look just like official road signs – big, bold, and not slanted.
Signs are highly visible, easier to read than fliers, and usually generate more sightings.
Staple a picture or pic-flier under signs posted at key locations in search or sighting areas.
Don’t post on poles that have fire alarm boxes or sensitive signage (ie: historic districts).
Create a flier using a color picture and shortest, most exact description of your dog.
Simple fliers make it easier to remember key information about a missing pet.
Include descriptive details, such as:  “pointy ears, white tip tail, or was wearing RED collar.”
Fliers inserted in clear (not satin) sheet protectors last longer in bad weather.  A few laminated at key locations is great.  Keep graphics simple and the picture big. 
See “SAMPLE RESIDENTIAL FLIER” – a specific door to door handout for residential areas.  This is a very personal touch to provide insight about lost dog behavior and help motivate calls.  Download and edit the sample to describe your dog and situation or create one from scratch. 
LOST DOGS                                       SEARCH BASICS                                      
ASAP! Give a detailed-description color-pic flier to the local shelter, and person responsible for removing dead animals from roads (DPW, ACO).  If an official calls to say the dog’s body was found, a guardian should view it to confirm it’s the lost pet, not a similar-looking dog. 
Distribute fliers to:
·      Animal control officers, shelters, veterinarians, humane societies, and rescue groups.
·      Kennels, breeders, groomers, feed & grain stores, pet sitting/walking services, and pet supply stores.
·      Police, State Police, and Fire Departments.
·      School districts – including bus drivers, athletic fields, and recreation facilities.
·      Local, state, and federal agencies that maintain roads and state highways.
·      Local, state, and national parks.
·      Utility companies – gas, electric, water, phone, and cable.
·      Bus stations, salvage yards, gas stations, churches, airports, libraries, car dealers, and laundromats.
·      U.S. Postal Service carriers, and drivers for couriers such as FED EX, UPS, and DHL.
·      Rubbish collection facilities, recycling stations, and landfills or “dumps.”
·      Every place with a kitchen that cooks or serves food (restaurants, take-out, cafeterias).
     Dogs are attracted to odors in trashcans, dumpsters, & rubbish holding areas.
Park strategically so fliers and signs taped to the outside of your vehicle are easily seen.
Hand out fliers at gatherings such as: rabies clinics, town meetings, dog/cat shows, and church fairs, and sporting events.  Put fliers under wiper blades of vehicles in parking lots at malls, train stations, and supermarkets. 
ASAP: Contact animal control officers, shelters, and veterinarians in neighboring towns.  
Dogs easily cross town/city lines using forest trails, power lines, golf courses, parks, and fields.  Shortcuts reduce travel distance and time, causing conflicts with “same-time but a mile-apart” sightings.  Mark a map with routes the dog may use and compare with actual sighting locations.  A pet can end up miles away very quickly.  To reach out fast and far with notifications, ask the shelter or a Vet if they have a list of affiliates you can copy.  Back up all phone calls with a color-pic flier with full-description that you send by mail, email, text, or deliver by hand. 
Change greeting messages on all your phones to alert any callers that you need sighting information, and to say “Thank You”!   Stay in touch to let people know your search is active.
Place picture ads in newspapers and “penny saver” publications (small, free, widely-read).
Post on the Internet – Many states now have individual sites run by volunteer rescue people.   
Record passwords.  If you post an ad on the Internet and want to renew, refresh, or delete, you’ll be asked for the password you created.  Please delete ads when you find your dog.
SEARCH SMART – Be aware of wildlife, hunting seasons, and other safety issues.
·      Always keep someone informed about your location & check in with them often.
·      Don’t venture alone in unfamiliar territory & dress appropriately for adverse weather.
·      Carry a fully charged cell phone, pens/paper, leash, and bag of baiting tidbits.
·      A street map directs you to sighting areas quickly & provides a huge overview of area.
·      A flashlight helps you look for hiding places in dark holes & small spaces under buildings.
·      If tracking, walk slowly to check snow, sand, or mud for prints showing direction of travel. 
LOST DOGS                                     SEARCH BASICS                                      
Improve a dog’s odds of being seen and found – get out of the car to talk with people! 
Searchers should tackle the job of knocking on doors, even if “tons” of fliers have been posted.
Residents can often provide critical leads, old sightings, and invaluable bits of information.
A searcher should never express doubts about the lost dog’s chances of survival. 
Don’t expect strangers to be optimistic if you don’t have a positive attitude.  Be courteous, introduce yourself with a smile, talk briefly, and move on to the next house.  Go back at varying hours to visit homes or farms you missed previously.  The goal is to get people to realize how easy it is for your dog to go through yards looking for food and shelter.  You say sighting calls tell you that’s your pet’s alive and helps narrow the search area.  In every single search there’s always quite a few residents who wonder why it takes so long to catch the dog.  Searching is like a constant state of educating the public to realize that lost dogs mostly go on instinct and are usually too scared and confused to approach anyone, even a loving human family member. 
Maintain fresh postings of fliers & signs to let everyone know your pet is still lost.
Lost dogs can travel fast and far in a short amount of time, but many don’t.  Unless verified sightings prove otherwise, assume the dog is alive, adept at hiding, and still within a reasonable proximity of the area where first lost.  Many roam within a 1 – 5 mile radius, but local conditions or “aggressive” search parties with/without dogs may push a dog further.  Try luring to one or two safe spots with food and scent items until you can set up a humane trap.
See  “SIGHTING CALLS”    “SEARCH TIPS”   and   “SPOT THE DOG”  documents.
Some dogs are presumed dead and are not seen until just shortly before they are caught – that is if someone is still looking for them.  Long lost dogs surely account for countless “strays” found at shelters.  Those lost at rest stops, in parks, or in auto accidents often stay in the general area.
Dogs that bolt from places other than home often return to the exact spot that they ran from.  They are looking for their human to be right where they were last together as a pack unit.  Many go back on the same day (often after dark), months later, or sometimes not at all.  Meanwhile, within their travels, they find and return to reliable sources of food, water, and shelter.  Provide good reasons for a dog to want to stay in the immediate area or a particular spot by setting out fresh food and water daily.  A water bowl sets a tone of normalcy versus drinking from puddles.  Gather items with the dog’s scent, ie: crate/kennel, bedding/blanket, toys, and doghair or the hairbrush.  Get worn, unwashed clothes, like T-shirts, from the person most bonded to the dog.  Place scent articles outside the door most used by the dog in a place where it’s protected from harsh weather, yet somewhat private and easily accessible to the dog.  You can also use scent items from a buddy dog.  It’s okay to dry things that get wet, but don’t wash the scent out. 
Fire up a BBQ – odors drift and can lure a dog close to the source.  If you’ll be setting up a humane box trap, save some good scent (stinky bedding) to place inside.  Inquire about a cage trap as soon as possible.  See “TRAPPING – HUMANE CAGE TRAPS” document.
It is common for newly rescued dogs to be confused by the transition process into a new home and many bolt immediately, or shortly after arrival.  A dog can bolt for a myriad of reasons at any point in its life.  If the new addition to your family runs away, immediately call the rescue, foster home, shelter worker, breeder, or former guardian to ask for assistance, scent items, and ideas. 
Never doubt a dog’s intelligence or lose faith in its ability to survive adverse conditions.
The greatest obstacle to a successful search is often the owner who gives up too soon.            
Debbie Hall copy 2/2005 
Debbie Scarpellini Revision Jan 2022 

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