Lost Pet?

Lost Pet Help

We are sorry to hear that your pet is missing. The first 24-48 hours are the most critical, and the effort you put in during this critical time will dramatically increase the likelihood that you will recover your pet safely. However, searches can go on much longer than this time period. Your ongoing, sustained, and proactive involvement is critical to success.

Even if your pet was lost from an unfamiliar area, approximately 80% of lost pets are found within 1 mile of where they went missing (even if this location is hundreds of miles from their home). Using that probability, we will concentrate on this area first. But note that 20% of lost pets travel further – sometimes much further – so you may have to increase your search radius.

The strategy also may be a bit different if your dog is young/healthy, or old/sick/medically compromised, and if your dog is confident/social or shy/skittish. This guide will lead you through the critical steps to take to bring your lost pet home as quickly as possible. We suggest you print out a copy and keep it with you as you go about your lost pet search steps.

Boxer Luv Rescue team helps find a lost boxer

Information you will need

  1. Photos and description of pet (ex: “4-year old Aussie/Border Collie mix, neutered male, not wearing a collar or ID, has a bald spot the size of a dime on their right back outside leg”)
  2. Address where he/she went missing from, or closest address to the location (“on the NW corner of the park by the playground, across the street from 143 E. Lucky Lane, Phoenix, AZ, 85004”).
  3. Was your pet wearing a collar and ID tag, and were they microchipped?
  4. Circumstances of how he was lost (“The dog was with us on a walk in the park, and he took off heading Northwest. We tried to call him back but he just kept running.”).
  5. What is his normal temperament?  Shy? Outgoing? Likelihood of him approaching a stranger? (“He is a very nervous dog – he is attracted to children but I doubt he would approach an adult he doesn’t know.”)
  6. How long has he been familiar with/lived at the address where he went missing from? (“We just moved into this house about 10 days ago; previously we lived 30 miles away.”)
  7. If he is accustomed to the area, how often has he gone on walks? (“He has only gone on 2 walks since we moved to this house, both in the last week. Both times, we went to the park and then went around the block, north on Main Ave, east on Central, south on Shady Lane and then west back onto our street, Washington Ave.”)
  8. Is your dog healthy, or are there any medical issues? (“Our dog is basically healthy however he was only neutered 3 days ago. He still has 7 days of antibiotics left.”)
  9. Who is your dog closest to? (“The dog stays close to me; he is a bit nervous around my husband or men in general; he sleeps with my 6-year-old son and follows him everywhere.”) In this example, we would not want the husband or males directly calling or approaching of the dog; we may be able to use scent material from the wife or the 6-year-old).
  10. Are there other pets in the home? What is the lost dog’s relationship with these pets? (“We have two other dogs and a cat; he hangs out with one of the dogs and always follows the cat around.”) In this example, we may be able to use scent material from the other dog, and even from the cat – solid waste, litter box, bedding.
  11. Have there been any sightings? We will need to know the date, time, exact location, and direction of travel. Keep the name and phone number of each person who calls in sightings.

Lost Pet Action Plan

If you can do this safely and there are no other pets or small children to worry about, prop open all yard gates, and even front doors, so that the lost pup can choose to easily return to the yard and home if he so chooses.

Boxer Luv Rescue tips on how to find your lost dog

Paper Flyers

Nothing takes the place of basic paper flyers, posted all over your neighborhood. Even if you have posted online and searched all of those posts, you are typically only reaching “pet people” who are active in the animal community. This means that all others who do not have pets and do not follow pet issues will never know you are searching for a pet!

Boxer Luv Rescue steps to take if your dog goes missing

Paper flyers will reach moms out for a stroll with babies or toddlers; fitness walkers; people passing casually through a neighborhood; seniors; and kids playing in the neighborhood.

We recommend that you place a minimum of 100 flyers in a ½ mile radius from where your pet went missing immediately, at least within the first 24 hours. We do not recommend using lots of text; see the sample on this page of what we recommend. Use 3M clear packing tape (not duct tape, not blue or green painter’s tape, and not regular scotch tape) to adhere signs to surfaces.

If you and three immediate family members conduct a ground search, that will be 4 of you looking for your pet; if you put up 100 flyers and each one is seen by 10 people, that will be 1,000 people helping to look for your pet!!

Does your HOA or neighborhood have a restriction on flyers? Rarely do these organizations actually enforce the restriction or fine you for placing them. In most cases, the worst case is they will tear them down. We would prefer even a few hours of exposure from a well-placed flyer than no flyer in that location at all. Please be responsible and remove flyers timely after the conclusion of a search, to keep neighborhoods happy and to make things easier for the owners of other pets in the future.

Flyers should be eye-catching, simple, printed in color, contain a clear picture, and minimal wording (see sample under “resources” below), and have the phone number of someone who will answer their phone 24/7 and will be extremely thorough about keeping a log of all sightings called in.

Flyers can be posted on community mailboxes, bulletin boards, traffic signs, and other locations where people walk or drive by. We suggest placing them in sheet protectors to protect the signs somewhat from inclement weather.

Handbills and business cards

These smaller versions of flyers are more suitable for distributing by hand. You can also save printing costs – the handbills are printed 4 per page, and the business card format, 10 per page. Hand these smaller handbills or cards out to:

  • Neighbors – go door to door
  • UPS, postal workers or Amazon drivers
  • Trash or utility workers
  • Joggers, walkers, park goers
  • Veterinary offices, boarding facilities and groomers

Yard signs

HARTT has received donations of thousands of corrugated plastic political campaign flyers which you can spray paint a neon color and affix your lost pet flyer on top of the sign. These yard signs can be placed in your own yard and throughout your neighborhood at key intersections; they are very eye-catching. They are especially effective in rural, wooded and desert areas where there are no surfaces and signs for affixing flyers. Remember what goes up must come down. Be sure to promptly remove your flyers and signs after your pet is found; this will make things easier for other families to do the same in the future.

Car painting

Stop at your local craft store and ask for markers or paint that can be used on automotive glass. Your car is a mobile billboard! Use your car as another way of getting the word out. Or, tape your lost dog flyers on your car as you drive about your community.

Shelter Visits

Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (pets.maricopa.gov): Pets found west of Central go to the West location, and pets found east of Central go to the East location. Be sure to check both locations. Check petharbor.com for posts of animals that come into MCACC, but nothing takes the place of walking the kennels in person.

Be sure to ask staff how you can see all animals in their care, including those who are not in the public view (animals deemed sick, injured or dangerous). Be sure to bring a copy of your flyer with you.

Don't call or email Maricopa County Animal Care to ask if your pet has been found without checking the county's map. Because of the large number of animals that come through the shelter, employees are unable to respond to inquiries about whether the pet is in the county's care.

Don't wait too long to search the county shelter. Visiting every 24-72 hours over at least 10 days is recommended. The county is only required to hold stray animals for 72 hours. After that time, if the pet is healthy, it may be sent to a rescue group or put up for adoption.

Arizona Humane Society (www.azhumane.org): AHS only takes in owner surrenders or sick, injured, or underage strays. Be sure to bring a copy of your flyer with you.

Other animal control agencies: check with the animal control department for your city and county, to see if they have picked up a pet matching your pet’s description. Find out where they impound strays that they find.

Search the county shelter. Visiting every 24-72 hours over at least 10 days is recommended.

Online Maps

If you, or a friend or family member are comfortable with Google Maps or other online mapping programs, study an aerial view of the area two miles from where your pet went missing. Search for canals, walking paths, wooded areas, other bodies of water, and other possible hiding places. Seeing an aerial view of the area will help you to consider where else to look. It will also be very helpful if you get sighting calls and the caller is vague with their description of the location they saw your pet. Knowing the area ahead of time will expedite your response time.

About Drones

Drones may be helpful, but most drone pilots do not have night vision technology on their drones, and many lost pets are most active after dark. They also may be flying at a height where it would be difficult to locate a smaller moving object. There is no harm in using a drone if you have access to one, but be sure the pilot doesn’t fly too low once the pet is spotted, which could spook the animal from the area.

About “Search Dogs”

There are fee-based services which claim to track your lost pet using scent-trained dogs. The jury is out on the effectiveness of these rather expensive services. If you have money to spend on a search, there are dozens of other ways to maximize your search budget for far less – ask a HARTT search consultant for more information.

As a last resort

Unfortunately many animals are killed on freeways each year. To ask if your pet has been found, fill out the Arizona Department of Transportation's online form with a pet description, the location the pet was lost, and a photo.

After ADOT removes animal remains from freeways, they are checked for IDs and microchips, and attempts are made to notify the owners.