BY: BRYONY VAN NIEKERK
It’s 21:00 on 2 October 2022 and I get a message from our pet sitter: Harri (our disabled cat who never leaves the property) is missing. They can’t find her anywhere. Immediately, every worst-case scenario flood into my mind and I feel absolutely powerless. Never mind the fact that it’s pitch-black outside and the chances of spotting my mostly black and white cat is slim, but we were also out of town visiting the In-laws so not being able to physically do anything was torture.
This is every pet owner’s worst nightmare and not one we like to think about. Maybe you think this is something that won’t happen to your pet – they are too well behaved / comfortable to run away, or your property is secure. But the reality is that accidents do happen and as responsible and loving pet parents, you have to take precautions and be prepared in the event that things go awry.
This is where we were so incredibly lucky. My amazing friends immediately went over to help my pet sitter search my house, canvas the estate until midnight and print and put up posters. Believe me when I say I put into practice each and every one of the tips below. Now, I can’t say whether it was a culmination of all the efforts or if the universe heard my prayers, but this story has a happy ending because after two very stressful days, little Miss Harri casually strolled into the house at 4 am wondering what the fuss was about.
So, in case the unthinkable happens, use the tips below to help ensure that no time is wasted in getting your pet back home.
First and foremost, ensure that your property is secure. You are going to have to really think like your pet here. Can they squeeze through the gap in the palisade? Use that beautiful rock feature to launch themselves over the wall? Rather be overly cautious when escape-proofing your garden than run the risk of them being able to get out.
Also make sure your pets have collars with ID tags and are microchipped. This is so important as their collars can come off (especially with cats who are masters at removing them).
You can also invest in GPS trackers. But do your research because some only have a limited range.
The moment you realize your pet is missing, get the word out. Do not wait, hoping they will just turn up. I read a statistic that there is a 90% chance of finding your pet within the first 12 hours. Post detailed messages with a clear picture on all social media platforms including local community groups, estate WhatsApp groups and local security forums.
Call all vets and shelters in your area and go and visit your local SPCA. They are inundated with dogs and cats on a daily basis, so simply placing a call to them is not enough.
Gather all your friends and family, form a search party, and canvas the area. Chances are your pet is scared and hiding so search under bushes, under parked cars and in all nooks and crannies. While looking, call your pet by name and stop ever so often and listen for any meows or barks. When Harri was MIA, I sent my friends 30 second voice recordings of me calling her name. A familiar voice may have been what drew her home.
The best times to go canvasing is usually early morning or just before dusk when it’s quiet and not many people and cars around.
Create a ‘missing pet’ poster. Keep it simple and include a brief description, any distinguishing features/markings, a clear picture, and their name so people can call them by name if they encounter them. If you are able, offer a reward. Place these posters everywhere! Around your neighborhood, vet rooms, school bulletin boards, in post boxes. Go wild.
Place a sign outside your front door/gate detailing that your pet is missing and that they live there. Your pet may have strayed not too far from home and a Good Samaritan could pick them up and drive/walk around the neighborhood trying to find their home. Having a sign outside would alert the person to where your pet lives.
Leave A Scent
We all know dogs and cats have an amazing sense of smell, far superior to ours. Place your dog’s bed, blanket or favourite toy outside your front door or entrance gate and for cats, you can use their litter box (used litter is a must). In doing this, your missing pet may be able to pick up the familiar scent and find their way back home.
If possible, and if it won’t allow your other pets to get out, leave your gate/sliding door/ window open for your pet to be able to come in. At any time, your pet could come home and then turn around and leave again if they cannot gain access to the property.
Our cats have a curfew and are locked in at night, so while Harri was missing, we put all the cats in one room that was secured and left both the front and back doors open.
Call In The Professionals
Sometimes you need expert help. Maybe your pet is on chronic medication, is disabled, or needs weekly treatments. In this instance, time is crucial, and you may need to hire the services of a pet detective.
We enlisted the help of Healthy Hounds, an organization that has trained dogs to sniff out and track missing pets. Since Harri has a very bad limp, never leaves the garden and is therefore not street smart, we wanted to find her as quickly as possible. The tracking dogs never actually got to do their thing because two hours before they were set to arrive, Harri came home, but this organization does have a very high success rate.
Don’t Give Up
It can be disheartening if your pet is missing for an extended period of time, but never lose hope. So many pet parents are reunited with their animals months and even years later. My friend’s cat pitched at our house (she used to be our roommate) three months after she went missing! So, keep the faith and keep searching because you never know.