Pet-proof your home and yard
“My first thought is making sure people are very aware of where their pet is,” Dr. Bierbrier told NBC News BETTER, “especially with visitors or a family barbecue or anything with doors opening and closing, it's just so easy for pets to slip out.”
And since you can't keep your eyes on them at all times, “make sure your fences are secure,” Schenker said, and check them regularly to be sure there's nowhere to escape. (And as I learned, check any fence where your dog will be; just because the neighbor's Collie couldn't get out didn't mean it was safe for my toy-size pup!)
Your pets need to wear ID
Of course your pet should have identification that includes your contact information. Microchipping is ideal, because tags can be ripped off, Schenker pointed out, and animal shelters and veterinary offices can scan pets to get their ID.
Now's a good time to check to be sure yours is up to date. Have you moved or changed phone numbers? Do you know where your pet is even registered? Are they registered? Don't assume your vet or clinic did it for you (mine didn't). Do you have to pay an annual fee? Better to find all this out now and not when you're in search mode.
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Train everyone, not just your pup
While on a walk in our park a while back I heard the unmissable sound of a frantic pet owner calling for her pup. I took my dog over to see if we could help and learned that a contractor had opened the gate and her dog ran. (Fortunately she found him later that day.)
While contractors — anyone from cleaning crews to repair or home improvement professionals — can be a culprit, another big issue can be kids, Schenker said. “Make sure they are trained to understand that if the door is open the dog may go out.” Have that conversation with your kids' friends, too, she said. To take it another step, or if you aren't 100 percent certain everyone is on the same page, it may be best to put the pet in a secured room or crate when people are coming and going.
Since I don't trust that all people can be trained, we trained our younger pup not to go out an open door without permission.
Your pet is missing ... now what?
If, despite all your precautions, you find yourself in that moment where you don't know where your dog or cat is, it's important to act quickly. I won't bother telling you not to panic, because it's terrifying. But take heart in knowing the vast majority of lost pets come home. An ASPCA survey found that 74 percent of lost cats and 93 percent of lost dogs were recovered.
So where do you start and what do you do first?
Bethany Billick of Kentuckiana Lost & Found Pets Network shared the steps to take when a dog goes missing.
Start your search nearby by car and foot first, she said, “to see if you can spot the dog before it gets too far away. Call your friends and family, get as many people [as you can] out on foot to see if they can spot your dog. If your dog is scared and running from everyone then your helpers should stay in their car and call you as soon as it's spotted.”