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Tips for Finding a Lost Pet

What to do if your dog or cat is lost.
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WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

When Jennifer Paterno of Belleville, N.J., learned that her 8-month-old Labrador retriever mix had let herself out of their new home and slipped a neighbor's grip on a frigid day last January, she did what experts advise panicked pet owners to do: She got busy, fast.

Paterno quickly made and distributed flyers with Jersey's photo and identifying information to area businesses, local police departments, and shelters. She posted notices on her Facebook page and on various online lost-and-found pets bulletin boards. A dozen neighbors and friends drove up and down streets calling Jersey's name.

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The next day, employees of a local towing company who had a stack of the flyers spotted Jersey and called the police. The police called Paterno, and the group cornered Jersey a few blocks from home.

Paterno and Jersey were lucky. Jersey wasn't wearing a collar, so she had no tag. She also didn't have a microchip, which would have identified her if she had ended up at a shelter or veterinary clinic with a microchip scanner.

But Paterno otherwise did the right thing, experts say. She acted quickly and covered a lot of ground in her search.

WebMD asked experts for more tips on the best way to find a lost pet. Here's what they said.

Don't Wait

Start your search right away.

"Get out immediately and start shouting and making a lot of noise," says Emily Weiss, PhD, senior director of shelter research and development for the ASPCA. "The simple 'lost' posters are often good ways to get the word out, knocking on doors, waving down cars... most dogs and cats stay fairly close to where they were originally lost."

Some shelters will euthanize untagged animals, especially cats, between 48 and 72 hours, depending on the hold period, she says.

Make Flyers and Consider a Reward

Make up flyers with your pet's photo, age, gender, breed and color, and your contact information. Distribute them to neighbors, area businesses, veterinary offices, police departments, and animal shelters. You can also post them at traffic intersections and pet supply stores.

Offer a reward, if you want, but protect against scams by omitting an identifying trait in your pet's description. If someone claiming to have found your pet doesn't mention the omitted trait, he may not have your pet. Be wary of people who insist that you give or wire them money for the return of your pet.

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