This post is a bit off-topic, but I hope you’ll bear with me as I issue this timely reminder:
I volunteer for an organization that helps reunite lost dogs with their families and every Fourth of July we see lots of dogs get lost. Please remember most dogs hate the sound of fireworks (and probably are equally unappreciative of the idiot neighbors setting their trees on fire with illegal ones–true story) and when frightened, may bolt. Even a dog that has never bolted before may suddenly do so. They have been known to jump through open windows (knocking out screens if necessary) and to jump fences. Frightened dogs run until they wear themselves out, and contrary to what most people believe, they will not come to their humans or respond to their name. It has nothing to do with how much they love you, dogs just don’t think straight when they are scared. Once they come to their senses, they are often too far from home to find their way back. Chasing them will only drive them further. A lost dog can survive on its own even through very adverse conditions, but the most common cause of death is being frightened into traffic–sometimes by well-meaning searchers.
In my area at least, even though fireworks for personal use are illegal because we live in a tinderbox, local jerks set them off every night for at least a week before the day, so bear in mind that it’s not only the Fourth when dogs can get scared into running.
There are several things you can do to prepare for the possibility your dog may, at some point, get lost.
- Keep clear, up to date photos showing your dog from all sides, especially any distinguishing characteristics, and make sure to keep at least one photo on your phone. You’ll want these for making flyers and posters and showing to neighbors and others.
- Have your dog microchipped. Some communities even have events where you can get your dog chipped for free or very low cost. (It’s not that expensive even at full price.) Obviously make sure to keep the info associated with the chip up to date. (By the way if you find a lost dog, you can get it scanned for a chip at any vet’s office for free.)
- Keep your dog’s collar on while at home, and put tags on the collar. You’d be amazed how many people don’t have tags on their dogs’ collars. The vast majority of people who find a lost dog try to find the dog’s family, but this is almost a Herculean task if the dog doesn’t have tags or a chip.
If your dog does get lost:
- Put a large poster in front of your residence with a picture of your dog and contact details. People walking or driving through the neighborhood will know to keep their eyes open. Also put posters up at intersections and distribute flyers to neighbors, veterinarians, groomers, and businesses. These simple techniques have been proven effective over and over again. You can also buy fluorescent markers for writing on car windows and make a sign on the back window of your car (tape a picture of the dog to the inside). Include your dog’s license number, microchip number, your contact info, and the phone and address of the local animal shelter (in case someone finds your dog and can’t keep him/her at their house or return him/her to you immediately).
- Put ads on your local Craigslist page under the “Lost and Found” and “Pets” categories. Also put ads in the local paper and the PennySaver (or equivalent).
- Put unwashed, recently worn clothing and/or your dog’s bed, and any kind of smelly food your dog likes, outside. If they are nearby the smell will help them find their way home.
- Use social media–Facebook, Twitter, whatever platforms you use. Lost Dogs of America has several state chapters (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin) which use Facebook to publicize lost and found dogs. If you’re in one of these states, get your lost dog on their page ASAP. There are also many tips on the Lost Dogs of America site.
- Contact local animal shelters, humane society, animal control, vets’ offices, and police. Tell them your dog is lost and give a description. Provide them with a picture as soon as possible. However don’t expect them to make the match. If they find your dog but fail to identify it, and adopt it out, you have no legal recourse to reclaim your dog. If they tell you there’s a potential match go check it out for yourself. Check any websites these organizations may have.
- If you see a lost dog–and I know how hard this is–do not call or give chase! Sit or lie down without making eye contact, and gently toss some treats to lure it closer. If a dog isn’t currently terrified, it will be curious about the unusual behavior of a human lying on the ground. Many dogs will also approach if they see a person crying (or who appears to be in distress). But this is only if the dog doesn’t feel threatened! Do not rely on your dog responding to your calling their name. We recently saw a case where a woman failed to identify her own dog because it didn’t come when she called, and she was so convinced her dog would come running she assumed it was another dog. I reiterate–scared or lost dogs do not act like happy, secure dogs in the bosom of their families.
- Don’t give up trying. My organization has seen dogs get home after being feral for 18 months or more.
So everybody, please look out for those pups, and enjoy the recreational explosives (responsibly)!