England has millions of pets, and sadly many are lost or stolen each year. Thankfully some do return, but others don’t, leading to heartbreak and a mystifying loss for guardians. This is few times when Facebook may be helpfl (another idea is to set a boundary for your area and set up a Next Door account which can be used to report lost/found pets).
If a pet goes missing, start by checking all through your home and garden (along with neighbours and the local area) and enter the microchip number at Check a Chip to see if animals have been handed into vets, shelters or the police (they usually put animals up for adoption, if not claimed after 7 days). Some councils have dog wardens you can contact. You can register (all species) at DogLost, Pets Reunited and Europetnet. Also look up local help like Battersea’s Lost Dogs & Cats Line (within the M25 area).
The problem is thatthere are many online lost/found sites, so information gets diluted. What’s best is to have one site where everyone goes. New ideas like facial recognition software are coming onto the market, but until they become mainstream, the ‘old-fashioned’ methods of physically looking, asking and sticking up posters is likely to bring best results. One local RSPCA branch suggests leaving out unwashed clothing and the contents of your hoover bag (familiar smells may entice pets back home).
America’s PawBoost is a good idea that has reunited over 1.5 million pets. It uses the power of Facebook to lost/found pets in your local area, then print pet flyers. Then their Rescue Squad members get to work.
For outside help, Animal Search UK has an army of volunteers to search local areas. Founded by a former policeman, you can also pay to employ their experts who are insured to go in sheds and up ladders, and can send photos of found animals to your phone, while they work.
Missing Animal Response Network is a worldwide organisation founded by a former American CSI detective, who uses the same methods to track missing pets. She says that advice for missing dogs, and indoor/outdoor cats is different (most cats will need to be humanely trapped as they won’t just ‘turn up’ if frightened). Her unique pet posters (which you design yourself, using her simple rules) often lead to recovery, up to months afterwards. If people phone to say they have found your pet, leave off one identifying mark in descriptions, so that you can be sure the caller is genuine.
how to help prevent lost pets
It’s now a legal requirement for pets to be microchipped, just be sure to update details if you move etc, and keep recent photos and DNA profiles to hand. If others walk or look after your pets, get proper references and use a safety collar and tag in public places, including your mobile number.
Never leave dogs outside shops alone (nor in cars, even in warm weather as temperatures can swiftly rise – if you see a trapped animal, break the window and use cool – not cold water – to reduce body temperature and seek immediate vet advice).
One advantage of positive dog training is to help dogs come back when called (neutered dogs are less likely to wander off near roads to seek a mate, or get into fights). Also ensure gardens have fixed locked gates (and a bell, if someone opens it). Keep animals in view at all times.
how to help prevent pet theft
Most pet thefts are due to custody battles (so it’s rare for violence to be used). But some pet thefts are for financial gain, and most are stolen near to homes. So create a neighbourhood watch and don’t reveal names or location tags on social media (nor post addresses or walking routes).
All thefts are criminal offences. So call the police with photos, microchip numbers and vehicle registration and log a crime reference number. As pets are legally ‘chattles’, they sadly don’t hold the same rights as a mobile phone or TV. So their lesser ‘value’ financially means few thieves go to prison. The law was due to change, before Rishi Sunak ripped up the ‘Kept Animals Bill’ (one of the few good things Boris Johnson did as Prime Minister). You may remember Zak Goldsmith resigned in dismay, when the Bill was scrapped (which would also have banned puppy smuggling, live exports and trophy hunting imports).
Pet Theft Reform aims to change the law, and is supportive of Nottinghamshire, Devon and Cornwall police that all have pet theft officers. Founder Dr Daniel Alen says the breeding industry does not help matters, and works with Stolen & Missing Pets Alliance (co-founded with Bruce Forsyth’s daughter whose own dogs were stolen and thankfully returned) to tighten and simplify laws. He campaigns alongside vet Marc Abraham (helping to ban puppy farms) and Vera actress Brenda Blethyn.