My Dog is Gone: What do I do?

Dogs on the lose

My name is Hero Trusler. For three weeks in October 2011, our timid dogs (two dachshunds) were lost in the woods into which they had fled while with our petsitter. We recovered them after three weeks. We were terrified they would be attacked by wildlife. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever been through. I wanted to share with people what we felt were the best tactics...in retrospect. I write this as a form in gratitude of all the many folks that selflessly helped us during our harrowing search.

1) Fliers and Signs: Fliers and signs are paramount. We did 500+ fliers and about 15 signs, at houses in the area, but also at businesses - one flier that helped us was at our local Gold's Gym. We made heavy use of Google maps in marking the areas to do fliers and signs, in about a mile radius at first, and expanded as time went on. We had NO clue if the dogs were alive or dead until a person living near the woods, who had a flier, heard them at 3 in the morning barking and called us. We had given up by then, two weeks into it, and this call is what renewed our hope. This may be your best first response because you can't really plan an action until you know whether your dog has traveled, circled, or remained in the area. Once you have a single sighting, you can zero in.

2) Calm and gentle approach is best with shy dogs. Dogs respond to smell most keenly and could be confused by voices. Our dogs completely shut down in terms of voice recognition. We ended up recommending to people not to call for them, but to speak their names softly and calmly. I also resorted to up cutting up tshirts and undershirts of ours into 200+ pieces and scattering them in a trail to two of our food stations as a way of harnessing their scent tracking.

3) Dawn and Dusk: Dawn and dusk are important time periods, as is your dog's daily "routine:" Joan from ARF Pet Rescue in our town (Beacon, NY) mentioned early on that dogs, especially scared ones, will seek food at dawn or at dusk. Our dogs never came out at dawn and we think it is because unlike other pet owners, we work at home and rise near 9am instead of the usual commuter's early morning hours. If you set up food stations (after you get a sighting and know where to put them), someone even a volunteer can be present at dawn and at dusk to watch. We caught both our dogs at dusk, a week apart. They will likely approach traps at dawn or dusk. Animal shelters may be willing to lend you traps. The dog warden may as well – ours assisted us tremendously. We borrowed four traps and just had to put down a refundable deposit.

4) Travelling vs. staying put: Joan from ARF also theorized this: Sometimes lost dogs will circle and then return to near where they were lost. This is not always the case, it also really depends on the breed. Our dogs circled then hunkered down BUT they are dachshunds who are bred to dig and burrow....labs are bred to fetch which means they may travel. We talked to a woman named Claire who's rescue dog Gertie was lost seven months - Gertie is a mixed breed who ended up travelling. She wound up 50 miles from the point she was lost. Claire relied on "sightings" to track Gertie and set up food stations and eventually caught her using traps and deer cameras. This is why fliers and signs are vital.

5) Other people's advice: Take with a grain of salt "know it alls" and "windbags" (even me LOL). There is no perfect science to finding a lost dog. Don’t feel terrible if you didn’t micro-chip your dog – it’s ok, you can still do it later on, and a micro-chip doesn’t guarantee you won’t lose your dog ever.

6) Online postings: Post a notice on Craigslist.com and Petfinder.com and re-post frequently. at the very least. There are other websites to do this on, like thecenterforlostpets.com and lostfoundpets.us, and there are your local and regional newspapers which will sometimes post your "lost dog" ads for free as ours did.

7) Using the local community: Contact people whose jobs require them to be out in the area your pet was lost. This includes leaving a flier at the local post office – they usually are willing to put a flyer on the employee bulletin board - or getting fliers to local UPS and FedEx, landscaping companies, the Cable company (i.e. Optimum), and the utilities company (i.e. Central Hudson).

8) Helpful Things to Remember: Dogs are resilient, determined creatures, and have a very ancient instinct inside them guiding them in how to survive. Their priority is self-preservation. I believe we only found our dogs after they became hungry and tired enough that their exhaustion overrode their fear of people and that is when the sightings increased. Gertie survived for SEVEN months in the forests of the Hudson Valley. Our tiny dachshunds survived for three weeks. You must not give up hope that you will find your dog. Don’t give up unless you have evidence to the contrary (i.e. one lost dog in Wappingers Falls, NY named Boca was sighted by a gas station worker being grabbed and pushed into a car, likely in the process being stolen).

9) Length of loss: Early loss strategy is different than late loss strategy. If your dog has been lost less than a week, desperation has not yet set in and the animal may be less likely to come out (because it’s not so hungry, cold, or thirsty) or more likely to come out (hasn’t yet plugged into its sort of feral, animal like base instincts of survival and still willing to depend on people). It’s hard to think like a dog when you are a person, but do your best.

10) Quirky suggestions: We did a couple things that people suggested that were a little weird but actually helped, we think...One was to cut up pieces of my clothing, in my case I cut up old underpants and t-shirts, into little tiny pieces and put them near where they were last seen and sometimes if distance is minor, from where they were last seen to your home. We put the pieces in several trails from where the dogs were lost to the edge of the woods. Another weird thing we did (a bit risky in a public park) is to pee near where they were lost and near the woods' edge. Of course, we did it when no one was at the park. Thirdly, we engaged the help of a pet psychic or animal communicator. While a pet psychic generally can't pinpoint exactly where an animal is, they can give you an idea of what their condition might be and if they are outdoors or in a home or with someone. They can also be highly emotionally reassuring to pet owners. Fourth, some people go as far as to hire people with scent tracking dogs available with such organizations like www.dogsfindingdogs.com. We looked into this but it was not something we could afford at the time.

11) What to do when you find your dog: WHEN you get your dog back, because you probably will, you will need to take it to the vet if it was lost more than 24-48 hours or if it shows signs of injury. It may look good besides having lost a little weight but it may have contracted one or several parasites or diseases common to many areas like hookworm, giardia, Lyme disease, etc… (this is assuming your pet has shots against rabies, distemper, etc…otherwise you need to speak to the Vet). If it is after or before the yearly first frost, you will likely need to put you dog on antibiotics for Lyme disease and be sure to get a fecal sample tested.

12) In closing: We used every tool suggested to us and available in our search for our dogs. I noted everything that people said might help and attempted to integrate those things into our search whether they ended up helping our not. Only in retrospect was I able to clearly see what worked and what didn't. I found our first dog Lucy by chance. I had pretty much given up hope in finding our dogs but decided to take our dog Bodhi (the only one NOT lost) for one final walk in the park the dachshunds where lost in. It was dusk and as I just came up over the hill going down into the park, I saw in the far away distance a small shape at the edge of a large puddle. I squinted and then quickly recognized that it was Lucy. I called her name but she ran away from me, but then I ran like I had never run before and was able to catch her as she ducked under a storage shed. Once she recognized me, she was fine. Completely covered in ticks, but fine. It took us five additional days to find our second dachshund Maggie and that effort was more intentional...I basically staked out the park for half a day and waited for her to come out to look for food. Again, it was dusk. She was covered in ticks but overjoyed to see me. It has been almost a year since we lost them and for them most part, it is as if it never happened. We are very blessed indeed.

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