You are having a ball on that long-awaited family vacation or just poking around the next bend in your RV. The day has been just perfect, and you wish the rest of your life could be such a relaxing, wonderful time. Then it dawns on you that you haven't seen the family pet in a while. All of the sudden the horror hits you that your beloved pet is lost.
This is a terrifying scenario to those of us who consider our pets to be one of the family. Most of us panic and start running around asking if anyone has seen the pet. Inwardly, you are probably kicking yourself for not having been more careful. The purpose of this article is to avoid losing a pet in the first place or to make the best of a bad situation.
First, never assume it can't happen to your pet. Generally speaking, pets become distracted and wander away or they are outright stolen. So let's look at some ways to prevent your pet from being among the missing.
Whenever you are traveling, your pet is deprived of his normal landmarks by which he would find his way home. Every campground or rest stop is another planet as far as he is concerned, full of wonderful sights and smells to be explored. Unknowingly, the pet has wandered beyond sight of his family. Without his familiar landmarks and smells, he is unable to find his way back to you.
One of the easiest way to prevent a pet's loss is to lock your RV door. There have been accounts of trailers on the highway whose door flew open and the family pet was thrown to the roadway. The owners never knew of the mishap until their next stop or until someone alerted them to their open trailer door.
When you stop at rest stops, always keep your pet on leash. Upon arrival at your campsite, make sure your pet is confined to your campsite. And before you leave, make sure someone has taken the responsibility to load the family pet.
Now, let's say your pet has become lost. What actions could you have taken to maximize your chances of being reunited with your pet? Your pet should wear a buckle (not choke) collar to which are affixed his rabies tag, city license, your name, address, and phone number, and a reflector. (If you are on the road extensively, also attach a tag with the name and phone number of someone at home with whom you could check periodically.) Try not to attach all these tags to his collar with the same hook because if the hook breaks you have lost all your dog's identification at once. Attach his rabies tag and license to one hook and your name, etc., and reflector to another hook. In case your dog is still lost at nightfall, it is wise to attach reflector tape to his collar to make him easier to see at night. Before you leave for the campground or your next stop, wrap part of his buckle collar with duct tape. Use permanent, waterproof ink to write the name and phone number of the campground you WILL BE staying at on the duct tape. Be sure to change the duct tape before you leave for your next stop. That way, if your dog is found, the finder can locate you at your next stop (after all, if you're on the road, calling you at home will do no good at all).
Since collars can be lost or intentionally removed, permanent pet identification is a must and is not expensive or painful. There are basically two methods of permanent identification--tattooing and microchipping. Neither is perfect, but both have advantages and offer hope of the safe return of your pet. To work, the identified pet must be registered with a national dog registry (different from his "registration papers") and the finder must recognize that the animal is identified in some way. There are a variety of registries which seek to return pets to their owners and it is not the purpose of this article to tout one over the other.
Tattooing: The dog is permanently and painlessly tattooed with a unique number. I recommend using a number which the average finder can easily recognize and trace without extensive knowledge of dog tattoo systems. Avoid phone numbers because you could move. My preference is my social security number and my two-letter state abbreviation. Dogs should be tattooed along the inner thigh in large letters. Avoid tattooing in an ear (which can be cut off by someone wishing to remove the identification--yes there are thieves out there!) or on the middle of the stomach (the tattoo could later be obliterated by spaying or other surgery). To be effective, remember to register your dog with a national registry, keep the area over the tattoo clipped of hair so it can be easily read, and keep the registry updated if you move or change your phone number, etc. If someone finds your dog and gets in touch with the registry, the registry will reach you to reunite you and your lost pet. Most veterinary offices and animal shelters have the numbers to the major registries.
Both methods offer owners hope who have lost their pets, so you might want to consider doing both. Properly done tattoos which are kept clipped are easily read by anyone, however, finders may be reluctant to lay a strange dog down to examine his inner thigh. It may be impossible and unsafe with aggressive or very frightened animals. In this case, passing a wand over the dog to read a microchip without having to handle the dog is obviously safer.
Now to find your lost pet! Alert your national lost pet registry (usually an 800 number). Good Sam also offers a return pet program, but it is dependent upon a collar tag which can become lost or removed. Alert your vet, family members back home, the campground office, and the campground to which you are going next (remember that duct tape with the NEXT number). Immediately recruit other campers to be on the look out and perhaps help in your search. Look for the obvious paths your pet might have taken--trails through the woods, along roadways, areas where other dogs have been, etc. Think "if I were a dog, where would I go?"
Always keep a color photo of your pet with you which is recent and would be large enough to photocopy locally for fliers which you should leave everywhere. Alert the local animal shelter and local veterinary offices. Also alert the local police. They will probably refer you to the animal shelter--but, pets have been stolen by organized groups and the police would know if that has been a problem in the area or would need to know. Also alert convenience stores or other businesses nearby to be on the lookout for your pet. Call local dog obedience and kennel clubs (yellow pages in phone book or through vet offices) and explain what has happended. Their members may help in your search. At a minimum, they know the ins and outs of the local dog situation, can spread the word quickly, and could offer suggestions. Of course, drive around calling your pet's name. Stop periodically and listen.
Check back each day with the shelters and veterinary offices and personally visit their facilities. Sometimes shelters are staffed by well-meaning volunteers which may not know the difference between a Labrador Retriever and a Flat-Coated Retriever. Besides, after several days on the lam, the otherwise clean, well-groomed dog you describe over the phone may not be recognizable by a stranger under a tangle of burrs and several layers of staining mud.
If your dog has not returned by nightfall, leave several pieces of clothing saturated with your scent outside your RV. If you're lucky, he may happen by, recognize the smell of home, and your nightmare will be over. The longer you can stay in the area, the better your chances of finding your pet.
Hopefully, you may never need this advice. As you can see, taking precautions to prevent your pet from becoming lost will minimize your chances of falling into that situation.
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All articles by Barbara Foley