The plight of Mocha, the Rock Hill dog euthanized on New Year’s Eve after being hit by a car, shines a light on the stress pet owners go through when their four-legged friends disappear.
But despite Mocha’s untimely fate, many lost animals do find their way home. In the case of one dog placed by Teri McAllister, it happened not once but twice.
After McAllister, founder and director of the private rescue shelter Recycled Pets of Rock Hill, placed a small dog with an owner in Charlotte, the dog escaped from its new downtown home. The stray got picked up by someone and taken to Charlotte’s Steele Creek neighborhood, where the pup escaped again and ended up at another house. That Good Samaritan’s efforts to locate the owner paid off.
“We tracked it down to who had picked it up, and when we went to Steele Creek, (the finder was) smart enough to put signs up around the neighborhood,” McAllister said.
When a beloved pet goes missing, owners may not know what to do, but there are steps they can take to help hasten a reunion.
Every year, millions of dogs and cats run away from home. In 2012, a survey by the ASPCA found 15 percent of pet owners had lost their furry friends for at least some period of time in the past five years. Of those runaway animals, 85 percent were successfully recovered and brought home – 93 percent of dogs and 74 percent of cats.
Those who deal with stray animals all the time know there is hope for finding them. But the main preventive measure they recommend is stopping your pet from getting away in the first place.
Pets should be kept indoors or within a fenced-in area at all times so they can’t wonder off. In fact, the law requires pet owners keep their pets on a leash when they aren’t confined to prevent them from running loose.
“Even cats are required to be on a leash,” McAllister said.
“A lot of people don’t realize how quickly a dog can get away” without a leash, said Vickie Frain, director of the Humane Society of York County. “They think the dog will stay with them, but you don’t know what will distract a dog. Another dog might come along, or he might take off after a squirrel.”
If your home is in an area that prohibits owners from putting up fences, the next best thing would be to install an underground electric or “invisible” fence. But a dog with sufficient motivation can still break through the barrier even if it results in a momentary shock.
That’s why even if a pet is primarily kept indoors, it’s recommended dogs always wear a state-issued rabies tag that includes information to identify the animal, “because they can always run out the door,” Frain said.
Owners also have the option of getting a personal tag made with their name, address and phone number at most pet supply stores.
“They can laser-print it exactly how you want it to read,” said Robin King, president of the Friends of the York County Animal Shelter. “It doesn’t ensure a pet will be found, but it at least gives you a chance.”
But since tags can fall off or get lost, all pets today should be microchipped as a backup. Most veterinarians are now equipped to read implanted chips on lost animals.
“A lot of different companies do it, but they try to go with one universal chip,” Frain said. “You can read it on most scanners.”
A microchip can be especially helpful in the case of a lost feline.
“You can’t keep a tag on a cat,” McAllister said. “An inside-only cat will just go and hide somewhere, and someone will find it.”
If a pet does get loose, the best way to locate an animal might be the most old-fashioned: hanging “lost” signs around the neighborhood. The quicker you do it, the more likely your lost pet won’t get far and your neighbors will be able to spot the wandering animal.
It’s always useful to have an up-to-date photo of the animal for these occasions. Stop signs are a good place to hang them, McAllister said, because everyone’s eyes will eventually land there.
If you want to advertise you’ve found a lost pet, however, you should use discretion.
“You don’t want to put a lot of identifying marks on there, because you only want the owner to be able to claim them,” McAllister said. “You don’t want to say if it’s male or female, whether you found a Lab or what color it is. … But if you lost an animal, you should put it all out there.”
Several websites can be used to spread the word. A slew of Facebook groups have developed in recent years to serve as clearinghouses for information on missing – and found – pets in the York County area. The website PetHarbor.com also has a comprehensive list of animal shelters broken down by ZIP code, including the total number of animals they currently house. Most shelters post photos online of the animals they currently hold for adoption.
Technology helped one of King’s co-workers find a lost dog in more ways than one. After her 14-week-old Pomeranian puppy disappeared, she posted photos of the dog on her Facebook page.
“One of us just happened to go on CraigsList, and these people had picked up the puppy and were offering it for sale,” King said. “The Rock Hill police had to get involved.”
Most important, all agreed, is to keep up hope. York County’s animal shelter held one particularly “ugly” dog on the adoption floor for as long as they could.
“We didn’t think he would ever get adopted,” King said. “Then a young man came in one day and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s my dog!’ He had been missing for two years.”