What would you do if you lost your Rhodesian Ridgeback tomorrow? Most of us have never thought about it, or if we have, perhaps we assumed we’d simply go to the local dog pound and pick him up. That would be nice, but it isn’t usually that easy, especially with a hunting breed that loves to chase furry things and is aloof with strangers.
Losing a dog is very upsetting, especially if he is lost far from home, such as at a Dog Show in another state. So what do you do if you lose your beloved hound?
The first few hours are critical. There are a number of tried-and-true actions you need to do quickly in order to increase the likelihood that you will find your dog. To get started, follow these recommendations in order. Some recommendations are so important they are listed as Rules, and they should not be skipped or modified. However, because each lost dog case is unique, with different terrain, climate, and circumstances, you can make adjustments as necessary to the general guidance.
Rule #1: A positive attitude is key.
Don’t panic. Do resolve yourself to find your dog, no matter what. Dogs do not disappear. Your dog is either alive and lost, or alive and someone has him, or… Don’t think about other possibilities because a positive attitude is imperative. Your dog is alive and you must find him – he will not find you. Act immediately, don’t wait. Carry your dog’s leash and dog treats in your vehicle for when you find him!
Rule #2: Enlist the help of friends and volunteers.
You can’t do it all by yourself, so build a team of helpers. Even people in other states can help with phone calls and internet work.
Rule #3: Post an effective flyer, printed on brightly colored paper.
By far, the best way to reunite lost or found pets with their owners is through flyers and word of mouth. The best flyers have few words, a good photo, and text size large enough to be read by passing vehicles. It’s better to use a good generic breed photo than to use a bad photo of your specific dog. Use a phone number that someone will answer day or night.
Make full-size (8.5” x 11”) and ¼-size flyers, printed on fluorescent colored paper. Post full-size flyers in public places and use ¼-size flyers to hand to people, put on car windshields, leave on doors, and tape on every mailbox. You’ll need a staple gun, extra staples, clear packaging tape, regular adhesive tape, and plastic sheet protectors.
Rule #4: The more flyers the better.
This is the most important advice of all. People should not be able to turn their heads without seeing one of your flyers. If your dog has been missing more than 2-3 hours, it probably won’t be you who finds your dog – it will be someone who has seen your flyer. Start with 400 full size flyers and 300 pages of ¼-sheet flyers (this will be 1200 small flyers when cut into ¼-sheets).
Post full size flyers, starting with a 1-mile radius from where the dog was lost. If you don’t get any calls within 2 days, expand your posting area to a 2-mile radius, and so forth. Try to post flyers out in front of the direction the dog is traveling, so people see your flyer before they see the dog. Carry flyer-posting supplies in your vehicle at all times.
*Where to post full-size flyers:
*Grocery, hardware, and convenience stores
*Gas stations (on the pumps)
*Cemeteries, Churches, Libraries
*Near food and water sources
Give ¼-size flyers to the following:
*Postal workers / letter carriers
*Newspaper delivery people
*FedEx and UPS drivers
*Taxi and City Bus drivers (include night drivers)
*Police, Fire, and Ambulance workers (including night shifts)
*School Bus Drivers (ask them to distribute small flyers to the children on their bus)
*Children (they see animals that adults don’t)
*Every front door and mailbox in the area
*Car windshields at store parking lots
Regarding “Rewards”: Offering a “Reward” is controversial, and has varying success. In one community, a reward may enlist more people to watch for your dog, or convince someone to return your dog after they fell in love with him. In another community, a reward may invite bounty hunters and ransom-seekers who may chase and frighten your dog. A reward does not cause your dog to appear when he is not in the area. Compassionate pet owners will call if they see your dog, whether or not you offer a reward. And you can always give a reward after you find your dog, without having to advertise a reward. So decide for yourself whether or not to advertise a reward.
Rule #5: Report and advertise your lost dog.
Notify every animal shelter, breed rescue group, and veterinarian in the area, by phone, fax, and email. Include a good photo. Place ads in your local newspapers and on the internet (Craigslist, Petfinder, FidoFinder, etc.), and utilize the power of internet social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. For a fee, PetAmberAlert.com is a service that will telephone neighbors, shelters, and Vets to get the word out quickly. Keep your ads running and updated frequently.
Remember that many older people read newspapers, they are not internet users. They are also retired, and may be more likely to see your dog in the neighborhood. So don’t overlook the importance of running a newspaper ad. Keep your newspaper ad simple, such as: Lost Dog: Red Hound, Rhodesian Ridgeback, 555-555-1234. You can ask about other details when you receive calls. For internet listings, you can include a photo and more details.
Rule #6: If your dog is not home by dark on the first night, go out in the middle of the night to look for him.
Before dark, put food outside for your dog, and even a crate with some bedding, or leave your door open about 6 inches if it is safe to do so. If your dog comes home while you are asleep or not at home, he will have food and a place to sleep, or he can come inside. You might have a surprise in the morning and he will be there!
Between 11:00 pm and 4:00 am, when it is significantly more quiet outside, drive the area in your vehicle, with windows open, no radio or other noise, and call for your dog. Make other familiar noises to catch your dog’s attention, such as a familiar whistle or a squeak toy. If you have another dog, take it with you in case he can smell your missing dog. Watch your other dog’s body language to see if he reacts to any smells. Drive slow and give your lost dog time to come out of hiding if he hears the sound of your voice or your vehicle. Occasionally, look behind the vehicle to see if your dog is following you.
Rule #7: Go to shelters and look for your dog.
If you haven’t found your dog within 48 hours, go to every shelter and look for him in person. The average shelter worker doesn’t know what a Ridgeback looks like, so he may be listed as another breed. Many Municipal Animal Control facilities (“the dog pound”) have high kill rates, giving owners only a few days to claim lost dogs, so go to the shelters at least every 3 days to look. Search all shelters, not just the closest shelter, because someone may have picked up your dog on their way to work and dropped him off at a shelter across town.
Rule #8: Read all “Found Dog” ads frequently.
Someone may have found your dog, so read all the “Found” ads in the newspaper and on every website at least every 3 days. The finder may not know what a Ridgeback is, so call any ad that is even a possible match.
Rule #9: Use maps and satellite photos to help your search efforts.
After 2 days with no luck, don’t get discouraged. Gather all of your notes together, get a good map of the area, and map out the locations of the flyers you have posted so far. If there are holes in coverage, fill them. If you have not received any calls with sightings, it means your flyers are not yet posted where the dog is located. So you need to post more flyers. Expand your radius even further. Develop a plan for the next phase of your efforts. Using the map, plan where you want to post flyers.
Utilize satellite photos (e.g., Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, MapQuest) to identify areas that your dog may be drawn to for water, shelter, food, and safety from traffic and noise. Your Ridgeback will probably not be drawn to people-filled areas. He may seek shelter and solitude in wooded areas, golf courses, cemeteries, and railroad corridors. Streams and drainage ditches are sources of water. The smell of food may come from restaurants, dumpsters, garbage cans, grocery stores, and residential neighborhoods where cat food may be found on back porches. Have flyers posted in all these areas.
When someone calls with a sighting of your dog, interview them to be sure it is your dog. Get details, and ask the condition of the dog. Is he thin or injured? Ask the caller to put out food and water to keep him in the area. If the caller is looking at your dog at that moment, ask him to keep the dog in sight (without chasing) while you drive to the location.
If your dog has been missing for awhile, he may bolt if you call his name loudly or suddenly. So be very calm, and talk softly rather than yelling. Approach from an angle that doesn’t cause him to run into a street or slip past you. You may be able to lure him to you by tossing bites of enticing food, like cooked bacon, fried chicken, or liver treats. Ridgebacks may be more likely to approach another dog you have on leash, especially if you feed the other dog while the Ridgeback watches! You can then loop a leash over the lost dog’s head while he sniffs noses with your other dog.
If a caller reports a sighting that is more than 24 hours old, you can try, but it is unlikely the dog will still be there when you get to the location. If you don’t find the dog, then take detailed notes on the sighting (what time of day was the dog seen, direction of travel, behavior, condition, address, etc.), and plot the sighting on your map. When you get a few sightings mapped, you may be able to identify a direction of migration, or a possible “nest” area nearby where your dog has found shelter. Post more flyers in the area of the sighting, and in front of the direction of his movement. Walk the area in the quiet of night and call for the dog.
Put out food and water in any potential nest areas. The next morning, check to see if the food has been eaten and if there are dog tracks matching your dog’s size. If the dog is eating from your feeding station, but you cannot catch your dog in a timely manner, then you may need to consider using a humane box trap to catch your dog.
What if you don’t find or catch your dog within a week?
If you haven’t found your dog, or you have found but not caught your dog within a week, the search changes to tracking, which involves more advanced techniques. Hopefully, if you make a rigorous and intensive effort immediately after your dog goes missing, you will recover him quickly and you won’t need more advanced guidance. But if your search goes on longer than a week, you should seek additional advice on where and how to establish feeding stations, additional mapping tips, baiting, and humane and safe trapping.
Rule #10: Don’t give up!
Dogs have been found weeks and months after they were lost – because the owners kept looking. Your dog may be scared, alone, hungry, and fighting the elements. So instead of watching television from the comfort of your sofa, go out for a couple hours every night and post more flyers. Try something you haven’t tried yet, such as an animal communicator, tracking dog, or professional dog trapper. You never know which effort will pay off, but if you do nothing, you won’t find your dog. So keep focused on the hunt, like a Ridgeback on a lure, and you can find your lost hound!
Epilogue: After you find your dog:
When you find your dog, kiss him, and then have him checked by a Veterinarian immediately, even if he looks fine. Worms, ticks, internal injuries, shock, and poison are all potential health issues that you may not see, but a Vet can look for. Have your dog microchipped while you are at the Vet’s office. Remove all your flyers and ads, and thank everyone who helped you in the search.
Accidents do happen, but in most cases, dogs are lost as a result of human error. So carefully examine what went wrong, and take action to prevent your dog from being lost in the future. You don’t want to go through this again, and neither does your hound.
1: A positive attitude is key.
2: Enlist the help of friends and volunteers.
3: Post an effective flyer that is printed on brightly colored paper.
4: The more flyers the better.
5: Report and advertise your lost dog.
6: If your dog is not home by dark on the first night, go out in the middle of the night to look for him.
7: Go to shelters and look for your dog in person.
8: Read all “Found Dog” ads frequently.
9: Use maps and satellite photos to help your search efforts.
10: Don’t give up!