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Would You Know How to Find Your Pet After Disaster Strikes?

Millions of dogs and cats — about 1 in every 6 — become lost at some point in their lifetime, according to a study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). While it may be hard to imagine now that your pet could go missing, the unexpected does happen. And the likelihood of you and your pet getting separated only increases during natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes. If the unthinkable strikes, here are six steps you can take to help ensure your furry friend returns home safely.

  1. Search your home first, then alert your neighbors and canvas your neighborhood on foot.

Once it’s safe to do so, search your home carefully — under beds, behind bulky furniture and in closets, dark places and small spaces — in case your pet may be hiding. If you’re sure your dog or cat isn’t in your home — and it’s safe to go outside — search your neighborhood, starting with any outbuildings and landscaping on your property. Cats tend to stay close to home and may be hiding under bushes, sheds, trees or porches, too frightened to come out in response to your calls.

Check with your neighbors, who may be in the same boat with you (literally or figuratively) or who may be sheltering your four-footed friend. Go door to door, if possible, and ask permission to check their outbuildings, infrequently used garages and under porches where frightened dogs or cats might hide or become trapped.

  1. Use your smartphone and social media networks

Email your local friends, colleagues and family members about your missing pet and ask them to forward the information to anyone they can. Also share the news with your social media networks, being sure to post your pet’s information and a recent photo on your own pages and accounts. Many communities have “lost/found pet” Facebook pages where members can post information about dogs and cats that are missing or found. Not only will you want to reach out to the page administrators to ask about sharing your pet’s information, but you’ll want to monitor new postings in case someone finds your four-legged friend.

  1. “Shop” local shelters

Local and temporary animal shelters are where a large number of lost pets usually end up after a disaster. You’ll want to notify your community’s animal control office, local animal shelters or humane societies, and any temporary shelters about your missing pet. Be ready to provide an accurate description of your dog or cat, including:

  • Breed
  • Coat length and color, including any distinctive markings
  • Size
  • Age
  • Gender and whether neutered or spayed
  • Ear type, such as erect, pointed, long, short or droopy

You should visit these shelters in person; don’t just call. You may need to check in with the shelters at least every other day, if not every day. Sometimes it takes a few days for a pet to be picked up and brought to a shelter; however, it will also depend on the nature and severity of the natural disaster. Bring a picture of your dog or cat with you and your pet’s microchip information, if your pet has one.

  1. Check with local veterinary practices

It’s not uncommon for a pet to be injured during natural disasters. Rescuers who find an injured dog or cat may take them to a nearby veterinary clinic for medical treatment. Veterinary professionals typically scan a found pet for a microchip, which can enable them to find you — assuming the microchip was registered and the contact information has been kept up-to-date.

If your pet doesn’t have a microchip, a rabies tag can be used to help reunite you and your lost pet — assuming your pet is wearing a collar with the rabies tag attached. Rabies tags typically use a unique identification number and are inscribed with at least the phone number of the veterinary clinic where the rabies vaccine was administered. The clinic’s name and address may also be included on the tag.

A new “smart” rabies tag is now available that features a QR code and GPS feature. The QR code provides pet identification and health information as well as the owner’s and veterinary clinic’s contact information. A smartphone scan of the tag automatically sends a text or email alert to the pet owner (assuming the owner registered the pet and created a profile) along with the GPS location of the pet.

  1. Contact your pet’s microchip registry

Via phone or website, notify the registry of your pet’s microchip that your furry friend is missing. Make sure the company has correct contact information for you, your veterinarian and your secondary or emergency contact, especially phone numbers. Depending on the registry, you may be able to create a “lost pet” poster and activate a lost pet alert to shelters, veterinary clinics and hospitals, and pet lovers in your immediate area.

  1. Advertise

Make a poster or flyer that you can give to neighbors, shelters and veterinary clinics. Some word processing software programs have a flyer template you can customize. Be sure to include a good quality photo that shows any distinguishing marks.

Also check with your local newspapers about running a “lost pet” notice — which they may do for free.

Be aware, too, that there are many online services and websites that will allow you to post information about your missing pet. There are even “pet detectives” who will help you find your lost dog or cat — for a price. You’ll want to thoroughly investigate a prospective service before hiring one, if you decide to go that route.

Dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster can be chaotic and traumatic for you and your family. Needing to search for a missing fur-covered family member at the same time only adds more stress. Knowing what steps to take may help you reunite with your pet quickly.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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