What to do if Your Pet Gets Lost or Sick


Loss Prevention

Pets live blessedly in the present, and their unbridled excitement over what is happening here and now is part of what endears them to us.  The flip side of all this enthusiasm is that they don’t stop to weigh the pros and cons of a potentially dangerous situation before chasing a squirrel into the street of dashing out of a motel room door.  So for safety’s sake, it’s up to us, as caring “parents,” to keep a sharp eye on our inquisitive charges at all times.

It is never a good idea to leave your pet unattended, whether tethered to a parking meter outside a store or alone in a car because unattended pets are often stolen.  If you absolutely must stop at a store or a restaurant that doesn’t permit pets, park in the shade, crack the windows, and keep watch over them from the store windows.  If you can’t order carry-out food, ask for a table near a window and door where you can tend to your car and your pet.

If you take your pet on a boat ride, she should be kept in a carrier that is fastened to a stationary support or she should be in a harness, tethered a safe distance from the edge of the deck to ensure that she does not fall overboard or run onto the dock and get lost.  Always use a pet floatation vest; these life savers have a handle so that if your pet does fall overboard, you can easily pull them back into the boat.

It bears repeating that pets should always wear collars and ID tags (fastening tags to halter is more secure), but a microchip ID is the preferred form of identification.  And remember to always carry a recent of your pet in your purse or billfold to help describe her if needed.

Train your pet not to get lost

Leashes break, pets dash off when the carrier is unzipped, or hotel and car doors are opened.  What’s an owner to do?  If you have a small pet such as a rodent or bird, keep him in his travel cage and do not open the cage door unless the car or hotel room door is secured.  Pack a net so that you can capture him if he does escape.  If your pet is a chewer, make sure his cape is not plastic, but has chew proof metal bars and metal floor.

A small hand towel makes an excellent substitute for a net if your bird, rodent, or cold blooded pet escapes their cage.  These pets don’t recognize a towel as a threat, and you can easily toss it over them.  The Light weight of the towel will hold still until you can reach under the towel and carefully pick the little critter up and return to her cage.

A well trained dog will automatically sit whenever she is heeling and her owner stops walking.  The beauty of this “automatic sit” is that your pet won’t tug on the leash or dash into traffic when you stop at a street intersection.  Teaching these basics will help keep your pet safe- and welcomed-wherever you go.

Finding a lost Pet

Despite our best efforts, sometimes pets become confused or frightened and dart out of car or hotel doors; carrier or cage doors fail; or leashes break or slip from our hands.  If the worst happens, and your pet is lost en route or at your destination, contact the local police, animal control, local animal shelters, and veterinarians.  Offer a detailed description and a recent photograph.  Provide contact telephone numbers, preferably your cell phone number, and the numbers for your hotel, as well as nearby friends and family.  Stay in constant communication until your pet is found.

You can also post photos and contact information on bullet boards, local pet shops, veterinarian offices and social media.  Don’t forget to offer a reward—just don’t say how much and don’t pay it until your pet is returned.

Traverse your neighborhood, knock on doors, hand out flyers.  Look for your pet outdoors in the afternoon and evening when there is less traffic noise, so that your pet will have a better chance of hearing you call his name or whistle.  Drive slowly around the neighborhood because a pet often knows the sound of his owner and may appear.

If your pet is lost in air transit, contact the airline representative immediately and have the animal traced via the airline’s automated baggage tracking system if your pet was checked baggage or through the cargo tracing system if your pet flew as air cargo or air freight (Remember: make sure to label their travel crate with your information that will help reunite you with your pet if he becomes lost.)  Be sure that you have ID tags on your pet’s collar, harness, and carrier.  In case your pet loses her collar, microchip identification will allow her to be identified by any veterinarian’s office or animal shelter.

Lost Pet Flyers

Because speed is of the essence when you lose your pet, it’s a good idea to create and print (either from your home computer or at a copy center) several “lost pet” posters before you leave for your trip.  It’s faster to run off more copies of a prepared poster than to take precious time creating one.

Your poster should include photographs, a list of emergency phone numbers for you including your cell number, contact information for your hotel, a local veterinary clinic, and nearby friends or relatives.  It should also include a description of your pet, but deliberately leave off one or two distinguishing features, such as unique color pattern, unusual eye coloration, or scars.  This will allow you to question callers carefully to make sure that they are legitimate and have actually found your pet.  Be sure to include the location where your pet was lost.  You may also want to leave the pet’s name off the poster, because it could be used by thieves to lure your pet.

Other places to look

If your pet is lost, visit the local department of animal control to see whether yours has been picked up.  Look at all of the impounded animals and if yours is not there, leave a description of your pet, a photo and your contact information with the person at the front desk.

Also check the area’s veterinary hospitals, the police department, and the humane society.  Call the classified department of the local newspaper and ask them to scan the “found pet” notices in the edition that has not yet gone to press.

Give posters to the postman, local “beat” policeman, newspaper delivery person, UPS and FedEx Drivers, and meter readers- any service people who travel a local route.  These people travel continuously through the neighborhood and often are the first to spot stray animals.  New on the scene are online lost-and-found services such as awolpet.com and petfinder.com, where users can register the identification information for their pets in the case they become lost or if they are lost, or even if they’ve found a stray.  The service is open to the individuals and also to the veterinarians and shelters.

Pet Insurance Programs

Interestingly, pet insurance is more common in Europe and Canada than in the United States, where it was introduced fairly recently.  The oldest continuously operating United States pet insurance company was founded in 1980.  In order to make an educated decision about buying pet insurance, you need to ask a lot of questions, just as if you were considering buying insurance for yourself or your family.

Here are some important questions to ask:

  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Is your veterinarian familiar with the company?
  • Does the company work like an HMO, or can you go to any licensed veterinarian in the world without preauthorization?
  • Does the policy offer wellness coverage—reimbursements for preventive measures such as exams, vaccinations, heartworm protection, and neutering?
  • Are there “pre-existing condition” drawbacks?
  • Are there common ailments, such as hip dysphasia, that are not covered?
  • How does the cost compare to cost by other providers?
  • Many Insurers also provide traveler-friendly coverage, such as boarding fees, theft or loss, advertising, or reward, liability, and accidental damage. Some even offer pet travel insurance; ask and compare the cost and benefits to find the right fit.  The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also provides an insurance program.

If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out My Dog Gets Car Sick.

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