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Lost a Pet?

Helpful tips to find your furry friend, from the shelter supervisor.

You just noticed that you pet is missing - what do you do? Don't panic! OK panic, cry and scream if you must — but only for a minute. You have work to do if you are going to find him so you can't waste any time. Where do you begin? 

1. Call the shelter in your jurisdiction. The Rohnert Park Animal Shelter takes in strays from Rohnert Park and the City limits of Cotati. Occasionally we get in a stray from the surrounding areas, especially if the Sonoma County Animal Shelter is closed, but we always notify them. 

As time goes on, contact all six of the shelters in the County; we have a list with their addresses, phone numbers and hours. 

Make sure you see their book listing found animals — animals that people have found but are holding on to and the list of deceased animals that have recently come in. Go in person to the most likely shelters twice a week since the legal hold time is only four days (some shelters hold longer but you can't count on that) and bring a photo of your pet to add to your lost report. Never assume that they will call you or that they will match up what you are describing to what they are seeing — too much room for error. 

2. If your pet is microchipped notify the national database to flag your account as a lost pet, to prevent someone from changing the information. Make sure they have your current contact information on file so you can be notified when your pet is found. Same thing with his license if your pet is wearing one. These forms of identification do no good if the contact information is old and disconnected.

3. Use the Web. There are so many websites popping up to help people who have lost or found pets that it's actually more confusing than helpful. Two reliable sites are Craigslist and Petfinder.com. Then feel free to post on as many other websites as you have time for. Remember where you've posted so you can take down your listings once you've found your pet. If you don't have a computer handy there are free share computers available at the . It's amazing how many people these days count on the internet to do this match-up rather than calling the shelter.

4. Put an ad in the paper. Yes, this will cost you some money (found ads are free but they charge for lost pet ads) but will reach a wide audience in one swoop. It will take a couple of days to appear though so call it in right away, then go on with the flyers, internet, etc. Worse case you've wasted a few dollars; but waiting can cost you valuable time. 

5. Post Flyers. this is the big one. Do it right the first time so you don't have to waste the time and cost of reprinting and reposting. Right means make sure it has all the information needed, a dollar amount of a reward specified (I'll explain why this is important), and current close up photo. Add something poignant such as "on medication" or "child's beloved pet" or "dog-sister is grieving" to really motivate people to call. Sherlock Bones has a wonderful helpful guide to finding lost pets available ($29.95) online at sherlockbones.com. Some of this advice comes from his materials.

Reward: in bold red across the top of the flyer with an amount stated. Make it as much as you can afford (how much would you pay to a vet if the pet was injured?) so you don't have to reprint with a higher amount later.  Motivate people to help you look! They are dreaming about what they will do with the $500 or $200 you have offered and they want to help you find your pet!  If you are willing to give a reward for a sighting or just for information that leads to the return of the dog, make that clear too.

Photo: Clear face shot so they can see the black spot on his nose or the way the ears bend over. Do you really want to be called about every black, brown or gray cat that people see? Be accurate with your terminology (breed books or websites have helpful information) but describe what the average person would recognize (especially helpful with rare breeds) for example you may have lost a Bichon frise but to most people it would look like a poodle-type dog so say it both ways.

Where and when lost: It couldn't be my neighbors new dog if you just lost him yesterday and my neighbor's had his dog for three months. Be accurate and complete — date last seen and where. Naming a street is helpful if you are only posting in the neighborhood but for ads and posting wider you need to state the city as well. There are streets of the same name in both Petaluma and Santa Rosa so that alone is not helpful. Give area codes for phone numbers and make sure at least one number listed has a message line. 

Temperament: Know your pet's temperament. Dogs are often bolters and can run quite a distance. Cats for the most part, especially indoor cats that get out of the house unexpectedly, will be frightened and most often hide close to home. The exception is for outdoor cats that might find a cozy nap spot inside a car with an open window or in the bed of a truck. Then, they could end up several miles or cities away. On a map draw a circle around your home that is about a mile and concentrate in that area to begin with, then spread out. It's important to extend your search in all directions since you don't know which way the pet took off. If you have a regular walking or jogging route that you always go with your dog, of course start there and post flyers all along the way. Is your cat friendly enough to be easily caught by someone or would they need to use a trap? If so, it will be a while before someone notices the new stray and then actually gets a trap to catch him so don’t give up too quickly. 

Helpers: get the children in your neighborhood to help you look as well as the mail carrier (they are very aware of the dogs on their routes) and the paper-person. Tell everyone you know that your pet is missing, it personalizes the flyer and gets them involved in helping a neighbor. After all, you need them to look under their porch and in their garages especially with a scared cat.

These tips should help you find your pet quickly. Of course, if he’s wearing current identification and is microchipped that makes it easy for a good samaritan to return the pet to you. Don’t wait until an emergency happens to wish you had done this! Keep this information handy so you are prepared and you will have your pet back in no time.

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