Just like a jigsaw puzzle, there are many pieces that need to fall into place when looking for a lost dog. There isn’t a “one size fits all” answer. Not every lost dog will need to be trapped, nor will every lost dog end up in a shelter. Not every microchipped dog will be found and scanned; nor will a tag and collar get every dog home because they can fall off.
From our experience we have seen a lot of lost dogs who may never be found because an owner or a volunteer group who is helping an owner puts “all of their eggs in one basket” and doesn’t consider the other pieces of the puzzle.
Here are a few tips:
1. Enter your dog’s information in a free national lost dog database like Helping Lost Pets or Pet FBI, even if you are working with a volunteer group that has their own local database or Facebook group. If your dog is transported or travels a long distance, you need to know that your dog’s information can be searched nationally and for an indefinite period of time. Facebook listings quickly slip down a page and are forgotten.
2. Invest most of your time and energy into hand delivering flyers in an ever-expanding area of where your dog was last seen. Even if your dog was picked up by someone who intends to keep him; somebody, somewhere probably saw something. Make an emotional connection as you hand out flyers. This will help people remember you and your dog if they later recall something or see your dog tomorrow.
3. If your dog is microchipped immediately contact the microchip company to “red flag” them as missing and to make sure everything is up to date. This will prevent a shelter, rescue or finder from trying to re-register the microchip to a new owner without you knowing about it. Remember, this could happen months or even years from when your dog went missing.
4. Consider humane trapping ONLY when you know your dog is hanging out in one area and is reliably eating at a feeding station. Rushing out to set traps before this happens is usually a fruitless endeavor and is a common mistake that can cause an owner to lose hope. Likewise, when an owner sits quietly at the feeding site while the dog is eating and also leaves scent items, a humane trap may not be necessary. The dog may approach on his own. Check for other things that the dog may be able to be trapped in: a shed, house, yard, tennis court, etc. This may work as well as a humane trap.
5. Owners should always have control of the “search”. Volunteer groups who work independently without the owner’s knowledge or approval may undermine efforts of the owner. Also, this additional pressure on the dog may make him leave the flyered area or run into traffic and be hit. If you are an owner and a local volunteer group is not letting you retain control, ask them to remove themselves. If you are still having issues and they are setting traps or changing numbers on your flyers without your permission, call your local police department to ask for assistance. This is YOUR dog. You have the right to make the decisions.
Dogs who go missing from a fire or disaster fit our profile of “Dogs lost from a Stressful Situation” so many of the tips are similar to those in an article on our website. If not chased or pressured out of the area, these dogs will often remain hiding nearby until they feel it is safe to come out. Additionally, these dogs may have been injured in the fire or disaster which may add to their level of stress and fear.
Panicked searchers who are worried about your dog’s survival may make matters worse by scaring your dog out of the area. Unless you are sure that your dog was critically injured, ask people who are wanting to help you to distribute flyers instead of “searching”. This will give your dog an opportunity to come back on his own.
Here are our SIX TOP TIPS if your dog went missing from a fire or disaster.
1. Leave scent items – including smelly food, water, your dog’s bed or blanket and articles of dirty clothing or even the pillowcase of the person most bonded with the dog. Many of these dogs have fled in terror and are hiding nearby. They may creep back when all is quiet.
2. Ask everyone who is helping to not call or chase your dog. Your dog is already scared. Additional pressure from people “searching” may cause the dog to travel further away. If they are injured, they should be allowed to hunker down and rest. Dogs are incredibly resilient and you see many stories in the media of dogs who survive natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes and who eventually come back on their own.
3. Enter your dog’s information into a national free database Helping Lost Pets or Pet FBI. This will ensure their information is searchable if they are found far away or are lost for a long time.
4. Quickly hand distribute flyers in the immediate area where your dog went missing. Expand this area as time goes on and remember to ask everyone to not call or chase your dog. If you have been injured in the fire or disaster, enlist trusted people to help you who understand how important it is to remain calm and organized.
5. Notify all local authorities including police departments, animal shelters and vets clinics. Take two copies of your flyer to each – one for the back staff and one for the front desk and the public bulletin board. If your dog is injured, a Good Samaritan may pick him up and take him to a vet or shelter for medical care. Likewise, someone visiting the clinic may see your flyer and recognize your dog.
6. If your dog is microchipped immediately contact the microchip company to “red flag” your dog as missing and to make sure your contact information is up to date. The microchip company needs to know that they should not transfer ownership to a new person without contacting you first. This can happen if your dog ends up in a shelter and completes the stray hold (which may be as short as 24 hours) without being able to reach you.
Take a look at our stats!
398 dead-end microchip cases/rabies tags were submitted! We contacted 223 owners, about their dogs or cats, and personally helped to reunite 141 dogs and cats in 2019!
Where are they? In this blog post we’ll take a wild stab at our best guess (based on what we have learned over the last 9 years).
The year has come to an end and we are going to ask you to click on this link and to look through our 2018Missing Dogs Albums one more time. or Helping Lost Pets. (If you are on a mobile phone, please search for albums or photos in the menu) Although we have had an incredibly successful year (approx. 3,500 reunions) we have so many dogs that we are still searching for.
A small percentage of the still missing dogs are probably sadly deceased. BUT, we do know that a body is usually found and we encourage all owners to not give up unless they have confirmed physical evidence that their dog is deceased. By far and away, our largest single cause of death is dogs that have been hit by a car (usually when they are being called or chased by well-meaning but misinformed citizens who do not know that you should never chase or call a scared lost dog). Our next most common cause of death is being hit by a train. Scared lost dogs will use the path of least resistance, and railroad tracks often provide a convenient route of travel between their hiding places and food sources. Unfortunately, some dogs are killed when the train comes, but again, a body is almost always found. Our third most common cause of death is drowning; either by falling through thin ice, or by making a poor decision and bolting towards a body of water. Lost dogs that are not being chased, approached or pressured will make wise decisions and may survive indefinitely. Dogs that are being pressured or pursued will make poor decisions and may meet an untimely end.
Many people fear that their dog has been eaten or killed by coyotes. We do not find this to be common and very few of our deceased dogs have evidence of being killed by a predator. Is it impossible? No. But dog/coyote altercations are almost always territorial (the dog is defending his yard or his territory) and scared, lost dogs are not territorial. They will defer to a larger predator. Lost dogs simply want to survive – so they need to do three things – they will hide from predators (including man) and they will spend their time sleeping and traveling between their food sources and hiding places. If a dog is killed by a larger predator – the body will usually be found. Predators do not tend to eat other predators and all members of the canine family are predators.
Where are the other still missing dogs? Some are still “out there” as described above. Scared and living in “survival mode”, these dogs may be rarely seen because they have become so adept at hiding and may be mostly nocturnal. Eventually they will start to hang around one or more reliable food sources (often a farm that is leaving food out for outdoor cats). If they are left alone they will become more domesticated and may be seen during daylight hours or even attempting to play with neighborhood dogs or farm dogs. This is why it is SO important to continue to flyer in an ever-increasing radius of where your dog went missing from. Somebody, somewhere WILL see your dog and they need to know who to call when they do.
Some of our still missing dogs wandered far beyond their “jurisdiction”, out of the flyered area, and end up in the maze of animal sheltering and animal control. They may have been adopted to a new family or put down when their 7 day stray hold was up. These are a heartbreaker for us because the simple of act of posting pictures on line of impounded found dogs would bring most of these dogs home. Our dedicated volunteers and fans scour the internet watching for possible matches but they cannot do this when there are no pictures available. Many Illinois shelters still do not reliably post pictures of impounded found dogs. Please ask them to do so. It is perhaps the simplest way to save lives and free up shelter space for those dogs that truly need it.
The last component (and probably the largest) are lost dogs that have been picked up by a Good Samaritan who meant well but then kept or rehomed the dog without searching for the owner. Of course, this is illegal in Illinois, but it happens all too frequently. The current “rescue” phenomenon that is sweeping our country has kind -hearted people making false assumptions about the owners of a dog they find. They speculate that the dog has been abused, neglected or “dumped” and needs a new home. We have great success when we can get the finder to file a report with us so that we can post a flyer online. This serves to dispel the false notion that people that have lost their dog don’t deserve him/her back. We ask all of our fans to please spread the word to their friends, family and neighbors – Lost dogs don’t need a new home. They just need to go home. Do not assume that you can keep a dog that you find. He/she is somebody else’s personal property and keeping him/her is illegal.
Thank you for helping us. Please take a few moments, scroll through our missing dog albums, and maybe, just maybe we can help reunite a few more of these dogs in 2019.
Your missing dog has turned up at a rescue and is now available for adoption. How does this happen?
- A microchipped dog who is scanned may be backtracked to a rescue or may have a rescue as a secondary contact. If you were unable to be reached, the microchip company may have called the rescue who reclaimed the dog from the finder or shelter.
- In an attempt to prevent dogs from being put down in overcrowded shelters a rescue may “pull” dogs to adopt them into new homes. Some animal control facilities even allow rescues to pull dogs before the official stray hold has ended on medical grounds.
- A Good Samaritan who picks up a lost dog may take the dog to a rescue because they either don’t know where the correct stray holding facility for the area is or they are fearful that the dog will be put down at a publicly funded shelter.
To prevent problems: If your dog is microchipped, immediately contact the microchip company to “red flag” your dog as missing and make sure all of your contact information is up to date. This should prevent a rescue or new adopter from being able to transfer the microchip records without you being notified. If your dog has been lost for a long time, remember to stay in touch with the microchip company to remind them that your dog is still missing.
If you find your dog at a local rescue here are some tips to help successfully reclaim your dog.
- BE POLITE! Keep your tone respectful and appreciative. Get your facts straight and don’t make accusations or assumptions. Rescues are often volunteer-run and usually have a mission to protect animals and save lives. Abusive or disrespectful language will not endear you to them. They may even misconstrue your bad temper as proof that you are not a fit pet parent. Remember, your conversations may be recorded and your text messages will be retained. Keep a cool head and stay professional.
- BE ORGANIZED! Most rescues want the best outcome for an animal. They may mistakenly think your dog was abandoned and/or abused. Provide photos, microchip records, veterinary records and proof of licensing to show that your dog is a loved and well cared for family member.
- BE PREPARED! Rescues may have invested money into your dog for grooming and veterinary care. Be prepared to offer to reimburse them for some of their costs. Be polite as you negotiate these details with them. Be prepared to set up a payment plan if necessary.
- BE DISCREET! These situations often take a bad turn when an owner, or the friends or family of an owner, blast the rescue on social media. This can be damaging for a rescue’s reputation and they may resort to digging in their heels and defending their decision to keep your pet from you. Remember, bad behavior from you or your supporters never looks good. Private negotiations will yield the best results.
- BE PERSISTENT! You may need to take your case to civil court. If you have followed our tips above you will look much more credible in the eyes of the judge and you will have a greater chance of success. Contact an attorney if you need assistance.
It is our hope that your dog is home soon! Returning dogs to their family means that shelters and rescues can focus their resources and energy on helping truly homeless dogs. Stay calm, cool and professional for the best chance of a happy reunion.
When Bill went missing from Countryside on July 30, 2017, his family posted on Lost Dogs Illinois right away. A LDI fan, Cindy, saw the post, shared it on Facebook, and then checked it again the next day.
“I saw a friend of the family was asking for help,” Cindy said. “I figured I could go talk to them and give a little advice. But I had no idea how involved I was about to become in Bill’s journey.”
Cindy met Bill’s mom, Liz, at the forest preserve where Bill had become lost. They spent the next week putting up flyers in the residential area that was next to the preserve. Cindy gave Liz pointers on what dogs in survival mode may do and go.
“It was heartbreaking when Bill crossed our paths three times that week, but [to ensure we could bring him in] we needed to let him go so he would settle down and not leave the area,” Cindy said.
Cindy and Liz set out feeding stations and cameras where Bill ran into the woods and wherever someone reported seeing Bill. Their big break came August 6, when a neighbor reported that Bill passed through his parents’ backyard that day.
Working with Frank G., Cindy and Bill’s family were able to set up a feeding station/trap/camera on the neighbor’s property and kept it under surveillance. Cameras showed Bill coming to the feeding station daily for another week but wary of entering the trap to take the food.
Not so the feral cats, skunk, opossum and 12 raccoons that Cindy and Frank wound up trapping and releasing instead. “Bill didn’t stand a chance of getting any food with all those critters going into the trap,” Cindy said.
Because Bill seemed to visit the trap at random hours after dark, Cindy decided to do a stakeout one night after 11 pm. After trapping and releasing a couple smaller animals, Cindy dozed off only to wake at 3:22 am to the sound of a dog barking. It was Bill – 16 days after he had run off into the woods.
Note: To keep the wildlife from visiting the trap, Bill’s owner led a trail of fruit in the opposite direction to keep the wildlife occupied.
“It was pitch black so I couldn’t see a thing, not even the trap except for the glow-stick attached to its door,” Cindy said. “Bill barked on and off for a good 45 minutes. I was starting to wonder if he was warning other critters about the trap!”
Cindy placed more food inside the trap and waited two more hours in her car.
“Then I saw Bill cross the street,” Cindy said. “I hurried back to the trap, placed more food inside and got back in my car to wait for the sunrise. I figured the wildlife would be going to sleep then, and Bill would have his chance at the food.”
He was frustrated and hungry; we had chicken legs and smoked ham hocks in that trap and he had to watch the other critters go in, eat and leave him nothing,” Cindy said.
That morning, though, hunger won out over caution.
“Bill went back and forth to the trap several times to eat what he could without stepping in, then he barked at the trap to see what would happen,” Cindy said. “Nothing happened. So Bill sat by the trap, then lay down next to it, then finally took the gamble and went in, tripping the door.”
Cindy saw the glow stock on the trap door drop about 15 minutes later. No ‘possum or raccoon this time – it was Bill!
After calling Liz and her husband, Bob, with the good news and helping get Bill to the vet (“He smelled horrible!” Cindy said), Cindy looked at the images on the camera card. They showed why Bill had been barking so much.
“Bill’s story has a happy conclusion, butCindy knows it might have turned out differently if not for the cooperation, hard work, dedication and trust of Bill’s family.
“Thank you, Bob and Liz Skelly Giacomelli, for trusting me,” Cindy said.
Thank you, Cindy P., for sharing Bill’s Story!
Mattie was just starting to settle a little bit in her new adoptive home when she was startled by the screen door. She got loose from her family and bolted through their neighborhood. (Nylon lead, collar and choke collar still attached)
I reached out to the family who definitely needed assistance and they got Mattie registered with Lost Dogs Illinois and we generated a simple clear flyer to start sharing.
The last known sighting was that same evening going under a business gate in an industrial area. That was it.
The next day flyers were ordered and one call came on that she may have been seen same area. Owner was working so food and a trail camera were put out and we looked at the map to see the surrounding area which had some residential and larger homes and train tracks.
Next morning the owner got a call that a couple had seen mattie along their decline when their dogs were outside. Two mornings in a row. The wife checked Lost Dogs Illinois and found her flyer and called.
I was able to contact this couple and start a conversation and get a plan in place. Matties collar was still attached.
They were gracious enough to let us do whatever we needed with cameras and a feeding station and even came out to help at night. The next morning only coyotes were on camera but I ser up early. No mattie. Left to flyer just a bit then….
At 930 she came trotting around from the berm and houses. Ate some trailed food and left. But, she found food! Game changer.
Waited for a few more hours. Nothing. Flyered just a bit more but knowing where she was didn’t want to draw too much attention to her.
Left feeding station and around 2:30 the couple saw her again and she fully engaged the trap and ate a full bowl of food.
Knowing she may not be hungry for a night time trap attempt, I almost didnt go back. But I wanted to see how she acted around and in the trap.
We used a 5ft Tomahawk trap. And by the photos her leash was still partially out even when she (all 40 lbs of her) was all the way in. It did not tangle.
So close to sun down came and she returned but sat in the field but no interest in food. She left.
After sun down she came back and were safely able to trap her. We covered the trap. Moved the trap and her into a SUV and to the homeowners garage to safely get her out.
Flyers work. Lost Dogs Illinois works. Patience and knowledge help.
Thank you, Rosanne, for sharing Mattie’s story
We adopted Pixxie from a foster just under three months ago.
I leashed my two girls up on their harnesses and went to meet a friend to walk. Pixxie wasn’t used to walking on a leash when we got her.
We were heading home after a half hour, and I went to switch the leash to my other hand, and dropped it! Pixxie froze, but naturally my reaction was to step on the leash, in case she took off into the street! Well, I had a plastic bag holder attached to the leash, and sure enough that is where I stepped, causing me to roll on it and fumble! This was enough to scare her off, and there she went, across the street, and passed a neighbor who attempted to grab her. She just kept running!!!
This neighborhood has no fences, so she could have been anywhere. I headed in with Elle, and walked for a half hour. I called Susan, the director of LDI, as I became numb, and she made some calls for help: Volunteer Sarah posted her as lost on LDI, Lisa, her daughter and her Beagle came to walk the area, and Jen and Julie came to get flyers posted for me!
Meanwhile, my daughter and my husband took off and walked the neighborhood, letting everyone know to call if they saw her. Glad it was a Sunday.
About 30 minutes later, I got the call from my daughter. She heard a man talking. “Are you mad at me?” She went to see what was going on, and he was talking to Pixxie through his door. She had gone onto his front porch, as it was covered an partially enclosed. He was talking; she was growling…
We are so thankful she was found so fast, and for everyone jumping to help right away. What a great community!
I know now, to take that extra precaution when walking Pixxie. You never know what can set them off to run! It was a very very long hour with a lot of emotions!
Jeanette, LDI Volunteer