Lost & Found Pets

You Found a Pet

Be aware that it may take a while – from several hours to several weeks – to locate the pet’s owner.  Decide how long you can reasonably keep the pet.  Do as much as possible to get the pet home in the time you have, and plan for what you’ll do if no owner is found in that amount of time. 

Check the pet for owner information. Be sure to examine the collar or harness – some tags mount flat to a collar or are engraved/embroidered into the material. If you see contact information of any kind, contact the owner ASAP.  If there’s no answer but you’re able to leave a message, be sure to leave your own phone number in the message!  Keep your phone with you and check periodically for missed calls.

A rabies tag is good news! Because rabies vaccinations are required by law, the shelter keeps records of tag purchases. Contact Memphis Animal Services (901-636-7297) to trace the tag to an owner or vet who purchased it.  The vet may recognize the pet or be able to look up the owner by the tag number.

If the pet has no useful tags, take the pet to a veterinarian, Memphis fire station, or shelter and have it scanned for a microchip for free. If the pet does have a microchip, be sure to have them write down the microchip number and the company that made it. Call the microchip company and follow their instructions.

If the pet has no ID of any kind, spread the word to everyone you can reach. If at all possible, take a picture of the pet.  Post the photo on local lost-and-found sites, and around your neighborhood.  Some good sites to start with are:

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people try to claim pets for resale to research laboratories or dog fighters, so leave some identifying information out of your post, such as the pet’s sex, collar, or a distinctive marking that doesn’t show in the photo.  Anyone trying to claim the pet should be able to tell you this information!  Ask them to provide pictures of the pet to prove it’s theirs, and ask questions phrased in general terms: “Can you tell me about your dog’s markings?” instead of “Does your dog have a spot on its ear?”

Spread your message further with posters or flyers. If you’re unsure of something, be descriptive instead of guessing.  A Toy Poodle owner might not realize that an ad for a “Maltese mix” is their dog, but one for a “small white dog” would catch their attention.

If no owner is found and you can’t keep the pet, you have two options. A rescue group is a great idea, but you’ll need to do some advance planning – most rescue groups have a very limited amount of space for pets, so often there’s a waiting list to get an animal in.  Reach out to rescues as early as possible in order to give the pet the best chance. If you can’t find a rescue group, you can take the pet to the city shelter.  Pets at municipal shelters do have time limits but are also the first place an owner will check.  Plus, just because you have surrendered the pet doesn’t mean you must give up: you can still post photos, spread fliers, and contact rescue groups while the pet is housed at the shelter!

Under NO circumstances should you “put the pet back where you found it” or turn it loose.  Not only is this illegal, it’s incredibly cruel to the pet.  A loose pet is at risk of being hit by a car, ingesting toxic substances, being picked up by dog fighters or sellers, being attacked by larger strays, being shot at, catching parasites and diseases , and slow starvation.  Dumping any pet is abandonment, and you can be prosecuted for it under Shelby County animal cruelty laws.

A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT FERAL KITTENS: When you discover kittens outdoors, it can be tempting to scoop them up and bring them indoors. However, it is important to know that this is almost never in a kitten’s best interest. Even if you see kittens alone, it is more than likely their mother is nearby. A mother cat is kittens’ best possible caregiver, so please…Leave Them Be. This best practice involves allowing the mother cat to care for her kittens in their outdoor home.

You Lost Your Dog

If your dog has identification on its collar, be sure to keep your phone with you – if someone finds your pet and tries to contact you, you’ll want to be ready to catch the call! The same goes if your pet has a microchip; call the microchip company to report your dog as lost, and stand by for a call back.

Search the area where your dog was last seen. Be thorough – knock on doors and ask permission to check backyards or likely areas. Look in small places like gaps between fences or houses, under porches, etc. – anywhere your pet would fit. Be sure to walk calmly and don’t shout! Dogs who are lost behave differently; your dog is unlikely to respond to his name when lost, and yelling could scare him into running further away.

Set up a crate in your yard with a familiar scent in it – some clothes you’ve worn recently, or a blanket of the dog’s. If the dog is still nearby, these scents can help him find his way back home. Don’t use food – it can attract wildlife or other strays, which could scare your dog away.

Spread the word. The more eyes looking for your pet, the better its chance of being found! Make large posters to put up in the area where the pet was last seen. Post photos or a description on lost and found websites, and check regularly for responses:

Check with shelters and rescue groups. Take a flyer to your city’s shelter (some will let you email or fax it) in case your dog is brought in as a stray. Notify other shelters in the area, too, as well as rescue groups that fit your breed. (For example, if your dog is a 7-year-old German Shepherd, contact German Shepherd rescues, large-breed rescues, and senior dog rescues.) Go in person to the shelter at least every couple of days and walk through all areas. Going personally is the best way to make sure your dog isn’t overlooked or mislabeled. Remember, many municipal shelters are large and busy! They may have twenty “large black mix” dogs that might be yours.

Check with your vet and groomer, and with any other vets, groomers, dog parks, pet stores, or emergency vets in the area. People who find a pet often bring them to these places, either to check for a microchip or for an exam before bringing the animal into their home. Bring a flyer and ask them if you can post it in their lobby.

You Lost Your Cat

Much of the above advice applies to lost cats as well, but there are some key differences to keep in mind. Cats are smaller than dogs; they are less likely to be noticed by people and are masters at hiding in small and inaccessible places. Even if they’re noticed, people are more likely to assume that an unfamiliar cat is a stray or a neighbor’s indoor-outdoor cat, and will not approach the cat to check for identification. Most indoor cats who escape will immediately seek out a hiding place nearby. Your best bet to find your missing pet is to search the area very thoroughly (be sure to get permission to check in people’s yards, sheds, porches, etc.), make sure that your neighbors are aware of the missing cat, and use humane traps or scent lures to help your kitty return home.

• Lost and Found Pets of the Midsouth on Facebook: http://facebook.com/lostandfoundmidsouth

• Facebook groups or bulletin boards for specific neighborhoods

• NextDoor: http://nextdoor.com, or use the smartphone app

Check out Find a Lost Cat (missionreunite.org) for guidelines that match your specific situation and lots of good information on how to recover your feline friend.


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