Believing these tips did lead us down a lot of wild goose chases but it was difficult for me to ignore them altogether. In the end, it turned out ALL of the tips and sightings I received were incorrect. However, I will say, there was an unusual amount of missing dogs that were recovered that week that looked so similar to my dog. So, I really can’t blame these eyewitnesses at all! The biggest take home point is that people were aware of my missing dog and they were willing to help and contact me. The more volunteers you have who can help you search an area and/or put up flyers/signs in these areas where you receive sightings/tips, the easier it is to follow up on each one until you have a reason not to.
Follow up with the shelters.
Check the local shelters daily - especially if they don’t have a mandatory holding period for dogs who are brought in. Also, they may not always pick up the microchip number even if your dog has one. It’s best to either go in yourself or ask a trusted friend or volunteer in the area to check in daily.
Follow up with Veterinarians and animal clinics.
Contact veterinarians yourself by phone and/or drop off a flyer - I was surprised how many offices weren’t aware of our missing dog in their area even though the Homeagain alert and Pawboost amber alert supposedly went out to them.
Preserve your dog's scent.
Bag up a bed, blanket, soft toy or something with your dog’s scent on it. Wrap it in plastic and something airtight, but not a scented bag. You want to preserve the scent in case you end up wanting to use a tracking dog later on.
I am not a big Twitter user but a lot of media outlets and local newscasters (radio, TV, newspapers) etc. and local businesses use it. Many of these individuals are animal lovers and are willing to help retweet your posts so you can reach a wider local audience.
Change your voicemail greeting.
You don’t want to miss any calls, so make sure you change your voicemail greeting so people know to leave a message and/or text you with a photo and as many details as possible so you can follow up with them ASAP.
We did not run a billboard ad but some other people we know in other areas were able to get billboard time donated. It’s worth checking into and asking your search network for any contacts in the industry who could help with this.
Search Craigslist daily for any dogs that may have been posted in Lost/Found or For Sale
You can also post your lost dog on Craigslist with your contact info, but you may get some false leads and people who are digging for the reward. In two weeks, we received two fake texts from people who said they had our dog..but neither of them would provide any detail or a photo. It was pretty obvious to us that these were Craigslist scammers.
The next set of items pertains to the actual physical search…..
Dogs will be attracted by the smell of food - check restaurants, fast food joints, dumpsters, hotels, etc.
Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume your dog had to have gone a certain way or would do a certain thing. Sure, we know our dogs but making assumptions can be extremely detrimental to the search. Keep your mind open and follow leads as they come.
If you have another dog, have him/her help you in the search. They may pick up on things that you don't, and they can also attract your missing dog back. Make sure they are well hydrated and fed so they can sustain the effort of the search (we walked several hours per day); and, this way they can also pee/poop and spread their scent in areas where your missing dog may be.
If you had a very recent sighting that you are going to check out, you may want to keep that information to yourself and your smaller network of trusted volunteers who can help you search the area. Especially if you are offering a reward, random people may flock to that area to try to get the dog for the $$$ and if your dog is really there, he/she could be scared off by all the strangers and it could turn into a dangerous situation.
Do not chase or follow
One of the biggest things for people to know if they see your dog is to not follow them. Dogs can tell if they are being followed and it may cause them to run if they feel pursued or chased.
People should take a picture if at all possible and then contact the number on the flyer with the photo and any details of the sighting (location including intersection or address, time of day, day of the week, direction the dog was heading, identifying marks on the dog, demeanor/energy level, etc.)
To call or not to call?
You will know your dog the best. Some dogs, if very social, may come to someone random who is calling their name. However, even social dogs will become frightened and eventually feral the longer they are lost.
After 24 hours of our dog being missing, we asked people who were searching to not call his name. At that point, I was unsure if he would even come to his family if he was that scared.
As the owners, we would call his name only in certain locations - 1) the location where we last had contact with him ourselves and 2) from location where we believed he was likely last sighted.
We sometimes used a squeaky toy and others did as well if they were searching. This could be a way to entice the dog out of hiding instead of calling his/her name.
Use of food/treats.
Do not scatter food or treats everywhere you are searching.
Set up a food station only at the location of where you last saw your dog and/or wherever you have a believable recent sighting.
Ask searching volunteers to not trail food everywhere because if your dog is out there, you want him or her to stay in one place, not to be traveling the streets searching out food that he/she knows people are leaving out.
If there’s dumpsters and/or restaurants and grocery stores in the area, you can set up your own food station there if you think your dog may be visiting the dumpster to find food or if you had a recent sighting near there.
What to do if you see the dog very close to you?
Do not follow or chase
Do not yell or talk loudly
In a soft voice, encourage the dog to come as you get low to the ground or even lay flat on the ground
Do not reach out to grab the dog too quickly as you may scare him/her away
If you have food or treats, that may entice the dog to come closer.
If you have another dog with you, or a squeaky toy, that may also entice the dog to come to you
Be gentle and leash the dog if/when you have the opportunity.
If you are unsuccessful, do not chase or follow. Contact the number on the flyer ASAP and let the owner(s) know about the encounter with as much detail as possible.
In the same area where you set up a food station, only at the location of where you last saw your dog and/or wherever you have a believable recent sighting, leave some of your belongings that have your scent...t-shirts, sheets/pillowcase, underwear, etc. You can also rub kleenex on your body to get your scent on it and drop them around your scent station because they will biodegrade.
Pee around your scent station - others also suggested peeing in a spray bottle and spraying the area around your scent station to attract your dog.
Trail cameras are useful at your scent/food station. Set up a camera in line of sight where you leave the food.
This camera is perfect, easy to use, and has a date and time stamp on the images.
You will need to purchase batteries and a memory card up to 32 GB separately.
Secure the camera to a nearby tree that is in the line of sight where you set the food bowl to catch the animal eating. It should be set at the appropriate height to capture the animal in the image - not too high, not too low. Secure it with a bungee cord around the tree.
In a plastic disposable food bowl in front of the camera, place a combination of dry and wet dog food, hot dogs, rotisserie chicken, etc. Also, scatter a couple milk bones and rawhide bones in the area taking note of where you placed them. You can also sprinkle dog food on the ground around the food bowl to keep the animal in the vicinity of the camera and increase your chance of getting him/her on camera.
From a few different directions, you can trail a scent to lead the animal to the food bowl which should not be in plain sight or in a high traffic area. Use dog food, hot dogs, and liquid smoke to create a scent trail to the bowl.
Coyotes and raccoons will eat the human food but will typically not eat the dry dog food or milk bones or rawhides. If you see the bones gone and/or the dry food eaten, chances are it was a dog and not another type of animal.
We never got to the point of putting out a trap because we never had a real sighting on camera. You need to know where to put the trap and then you need to be out there to watch it once it’s set up in location with food. In my opinion, you should work with someone who has experience using them...if you can reach out to someone from a local animal rescue organization or animal control, they may be able to help you.
Drones and security cameras.
If you have access to a drone and pilot, this could be very useful. We did not.
If there are any office buildings, parking garages, schools, residential communities, etc. that may have security cameras, you can ask to see the footage if you believe your dog may have been in the area.
A tracking dog is not a guarantee to find your missing dog. It’s a tool, just like everything else here. Think of it as a possible way to help you narrow down your search area, which can be especially helpful if you have not had any sightings.
There are some big-money lost pet tracking services out there. We spoke to one who was going to charge $2600 just to show up, then you have to pay them tracking time plus travel expenses. It just wasn’t feasible for us given there was no guarantee they would even find our dog.
We found a local tracking dog (Malinois) and handler who charged approximately $150. The dog seemed to know what he was doing and didn’t waste any time. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up helping us. If you want more details about it, I’d be happy to discuss how it played out.
Pet psychic/dog whisperer/communicator.
This is an absolute last resort in my opinion. We worked with two and the first one was pretty harsh and off the mark. The second one was much easier to talk with, she took her time, and even seemed to have enough clues about the situation that I really believed her. Again, unfortunately, she totally missed the mark and it was not helpful to us in the search.
Going into this, you have to be OK with whatever they tell you - they may tell you that your dog is dead and will give you the details if you want them. They may tell you that your dog ran away and doesn’t want to come home...and possibly even why. Also keep in mind, they could be wrong. This is a hard thing to go through being that you are likely already in a very stressed and emotional state. I know pet psychics have led others to finding their missing pets but, in our case, it was a waste of time and energy and worse yet, an unnecessary added emotional rollercoaster.
The financial cost of the search.
Conducting a thorough and extensive search can be a financial burden but people are often willing to help with donations, especially if they can’t volunteer their time to help you search. If you choose to use GoFundMe.com be very clear about what you are asking for and what you will use the donations for. If the donations exceed your spending, also be clear about what you will do with the leftover donations (i.e. donate them to a specific animal shelter or organization).
The emotional cost of the search.
I'm not going to sugar coat it, if you lose a dog and even do half the things on this list..it's stressful, emotionally draining, and very, very difficult. You have to try to get some sleep, even if it's a few minutes or a couple hours at a time. You also have to stay positive in the face of every outcome possible looming. The search will be an emotional rollercoaster and you have to be strong. Don't get too invested in any one lead if it's not confirm-able, but don't let yourself get stuck in a low spot with feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, remorse, etc. etc. I told myself that I was going to continue searching for my dog until I had a reason to stop. I truly believed I would find him and I channeled that energy into the universe hoping that my dog would hear me. I told him I would never give up on him.