Tip: Pets do not run away; they run around and get lost.
Who -- What --
Where -- Why -- How
WHERE LOST PETS GO;
ANIMAL BEHAVIORS; STATISTICS; PROBLEMS
Applicable to any U.S. area --
Applicable to some International areas
Lost Pets - attitudes,
Where lost pets go; behaviors; statistics; problems
You are here
Section II tips:
Even a small pet can travel 24
miles in 8 hours by
itself. Read info in this section for more details; some pets hide,
some pets run, some pets just stay and wait. There are no
so it's important to cover all the bases.
facility may eventually get your pet and why
How to search for a lost pet
Example Search Schedule,
How to change the lost and surrendered pet system
Our information has been carefully checked many
times, from many angles; however, laws change, facilities change,
numbers change, situations change.
Everything you read here about the lost pet
impoundment system can be verified or proven erroneous as you work to
find your pet; you
will find tips here on how to verify information as you learn how to
accomplish a serious search.
We encourage you to verify verify verify.
In this section are many important details that
are easily overlooked.
Some information in this report is painful to read and difficult to cope with.
Plan for a thorough and efficient search; it can take weeks or
months to find the lost.
Although this document is written
mostly in reference to dogs and cats, the principles can be applied to
other critters as well. Use your best judgment regarding your particular
lost pet and conduct your search accordingly.
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for Section II - Where lost pets go
SPEED, TIME, DISTANCE (dogs, cats, others).
Veterinarians have confirmed that even a small pet such as a small
dog or cat can trot indefinitely at 3 miles per hour. So, if
for some reason your pet must run frantically non-stop, and if he does so at
just 3 mph, he could travel 24 miles in just 8 hours;
in 12 hours;
in a full 24-hour day.
(Although this document is written mostly in reference to dogs and cats, the
principles can be applied to other critters as well. Use your best judgment
regarding your particular lost pet and conduct your search accordingly)
Compare this information with how long your pet has been gone, his size, his speed, his
condition. Is he larger, and can he run faster and longer than a small pet? How
far could he be from home right now? Will he run in a straight line, or hole up
somewhere near home? To verify for yourself how fast a pet can travel, simply call three
veterinarians whom you trust and ask: "How fast do you feel a pet such as a
small dog or cat can travel, hour after hour if necessary?" or "How fast do you
believe a large animal such as a German Shepherd can trot indefinitely?"
and "How long is 'indefinitely'?" You may
get three different responses to each question, but this can help you reach your own conclusions
as to speed and distance.
B. NEIGHBOR PICKUP.
Although it is highly unlikely your pet will be taken in permanently by a
neighbor (also see neighbor lost pets statistics at Section I, item H), if some kind person is
helping, what will that neighborly person do with a lost pet they have found?
1. Someone may take him in and keep him indefinitely.
2. They may take him home, keep him for a week or a month
or more, and then dump him or give him away.
3. They may keep him locally, or transport him elsewhere.
They may dump him immediately or give him away to
acquaintances immediately who may do any or all of the above.
5. They might call a pound or shelter and bring him there
either right away, or weeks or months from now.
WHERE LOST PETS GO INITIALLY. (We'll cover other issues and transported pets
later). Although not always true, when lost and on his own, a dog tends to roam,
sometimes in circles, sometimes in rather straight lines. A cat on the other
hand, will tend to run/hide, run/hide, until he finds a safe spot in which to
hole up that is not already occupied by a tough opponent, a spot which is dry,
and one which offers some protection from the elements. In inclement weather, a dog
will also need to find shelter. If the lost pet gets kicked out of his
shelter by a human or by another animal, he again must search until he lucks out
and finds another safe and sheltered hideout.
This effort for the pet is complicated by the
fact that most cities require property owners to keep their homes and
outbuildings in proper repair, meaning no holes, no loosely-hanging doors, and
meaning porches must be closed-in to keep varmints from living under them. Where
is a lost pet going to go if there are no openings in any garages or other
out-buildings? If the pet finds an accessible building, will that building have
a cozy warm spot for sleeping, with bedding and with body-sized "roof and sides"
to help hold in body heat during cold months? Many fenced-in yards have closed
gates; if your cat or dog
finds an unoccupied dog house, will a gate block his way, and if not, will there
be bedding in the doghouse to aid in survival?
Keep in mind that lost pets have no conception of municipal or county
borders and will cross these invisible dividers at will. Also, if
kindly people pick up your pet and bring it to a pound or shelter,
they will normally take it to the only one they know about, or the one
that is closest to their home, or closest to where they work or
otherwise venture. This could be far across one or more municipal or
county borders, but still within your search area.
Continued below ....
examples of how pets get
Neighbors, “friends” and family members have been known to “get rid of”
pets they see as aggravating, dropping them off away from home.
b) Cats and dogs have been known to sneak into cars or trunks
and then run when the door is opened … miles from home.
Even a small dog or cat can lope indefinitely at 3 miles per hour …
meaning in only 8 hours, that
animal could be 24 miles away. And most pets lose their
sense of direction easily, once a short ways from home.
municipalities contract their animal control whose wardens pick up and
transport pets many miles away from home to another area’s facility,
sometimes crossing through various other impoundment areas.
LOST PET BEHAVIORS. Each animal is different, and
when on their own typically do
not behave as owners believe they will.
For example, with most pets not being
bloodhounds, they lose their
sense of direction easily once a short ways from home. Animals that are
lost for a considerable period and then suddenly show up at home are not
the norm -- and finding home in this manner does not in any way mean the
animal always knows where home is, nor that each missing animal will
"come home when it wants to".
Pets do not want to be lost, frightened, hungry, thirsty, way hot, or
way cold, or struggling for survival any more than you or I or a little
toddler would want to. Lost pets want to be home and they normally need
help to get there.
Although many people see domestic pets as being
perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, this writer does not. When you
think about it, can a cat or dog go shopping for food? Can it create a heated or
cooled home for itself? Can it reason through exactly why or why not to cross a
street -- and does its instinct allow it to not chase that squirrel running
under a moving vehicle? When a pet is lost, can it read a road map? Of course
not. So this writer chooses to view a domestic pet's mentality as being much
more similar to that of a very young human toddler, where adult control is
required in order to provide safety and security.
Just as each animal is different, each circumstance
is also truly
different. For example, if a dog or cat is dumped or jumps out of a
vehicle in an unfamiliar area, they will often attempt to hang around in
that area waiting for their owner, waiting for a week or more even in
awful circumstances. If weather is bad or no food or water are
available, they may have no choice but to run and search for shelter and
food. If the pet runs in one direction, he might accidentally find home;
if he runs in another direction, he'll simply get even more lost.
Intact males and females: During mating
season(s), intact males and females will often disappear for days or
week(s) at a time. This is especially true with males (since females
will want to be home once they've become pregnant). During the season,
neighbors will be forced to put up with yowling and screaming during
intense catfights and copulation. The cats are subjected to more
dangers, since they are so engrossed in chasing each other around, they
are less likely to notice approaching vehicles or other hazards. If they
survive the hunger, thirst, and other perils while on their own, then
they must later attempt to get a handle on where home went. Frequently
they fail to find home, and are left to fend for themselves on the
Keep in mind that cats are more likely to hole up in
the general neighborhood of loss (assuming they have not been carried elsewhere,
and assuming they have not been chased). Cats revert to wild tendencies easily due to
ongoing fear for safety. See Section
regarding using a humane live trap.
Once a pet is
lost, he is frightened, hungry, confused, disoriented. As such, he may or
may not behave as you are accustomed to seeing him do. Your much-loved
long-term friend may even run from you if you see him. It's not that he
has forgotten you, he has just reverted to survival mode, in which he
can no longer -- at the moment -- be certain of who is a friend vs who is out to get him. Please exercise
patience. On the other hand, if
your lost pet comes racing up to you all excited and jumping for joy,
that does not in any way mean he's been having a good time on his own.
He's just overjoyed, relieved, delighted to see you again, and anxious
to get home to food, comfort, and safety. As a truly lost pet -- one who
has been gone long enough to realize he doesn't know where home is --
he's been to hell and back.
E. GETTING TRAPPED. It is possible your pet may get into a garage or outbuilding or vacant home
through an opening of some sort, or may crawl under a home through a
construction cleanout or loose board-in … and then get snowed in or boarded in and
unable to get out. With dogs, there will be barking. Some cats will meow loudly,
but others have very soft voices even when in trouble. It is important to make
sure your posters ask people to check their
outbuildings and vacant neighborhood buildings and to continue keeping
an ear open for muffled barks, whines, scratches, or meows. Be sure to
ask people you speak with to remain conscious of this issue and to notify you if
they think your pet might be trapped.
F. WHEN LOST AWAY FROM HOME.
If your pet jumped out of your car, or ran off when you were visiting
somewhere, the most-likely thing is that he will hang around in the area and
wait for you to find him. We have heard stories of such pets (cats and dogs)
waiting for as long as two weeks for the owner to show up -- in a vacant lot, in
a wooded park, in a swamp, in or near a vacant building, at a truck stop. Much
longer than two weeks is possible if the animal has found a source of water
and/or food. The fact is, these little guys don't just disappear when you can't
find them. They are likely there somewhere, waiting.
Also, be aware that as long as pets receive adequate
food, water, shelter, and receive the right kind of security, attention and
affection for their particular needs, pets never ever "run away", which implies
something they do on purpose. On the contrary, pets on the loose simply run
around and get lost. On occasion, stories are told about pets who are constantly
wandering over to and staying at a neighbor's house. This is a solid indication
that something important is missing in the animal's life. Security, perhaps.
An example situation might be this: Perhaps your pet spends much of its
outdoor time on a neighbor's porch instead of yours. Perhaps your pet
prefers being there simply because that owner uses that door more than
you use yours where the activity, sounds, and closeness to the people
are all inviting to the pet; maybe the sounds of people inside travel
more easily out to the neighbor's porch, perhaps there is a room
adjoining the porch in which the neighbor spends more time, or maybe
your neighbor leaves enticing food out knowing that pets love to have
food in front of them 24/7. Whatever your own pet's reasons might be, to
prevent any of your pets from wandering, please neuter/spay, and be sure
to keep them all -- both cats and dogs -- lovingly, humanely, and safely
Pets are frequently transported away from their area of loss. There are many
ways this can happen. Here are a few:
1. Purposeful Transport. A caring person may find the animal, assume it's a stray,
take it home hoping to find the owner, but then the animal accidentally
gets loose. Or the caring person may bring the stray across town
or across a metro area to a distant pound or shelter which is the only
one that person knows about. We have also heard from people who lost
pets which were gotten rid of by someone else. One example was a "friend" who
dumped a cat across the city as a joke, another where an irate spouse brought a
beloved family dog to a pound more than 12 miles from home, leaving everyone
else to worry and wonder what had happened to it; and yet another where a
"friend" again dumped a cat in a distant neighborhood. One of these cats was
recovered, due to an intensive week-long search. The other, the owner did not
search for at all. The dog was recovered by the grieving spouse who received an
anonymous call from a pound visitor.
2. Accidental Transport. Cats and dogs have been known to sneak into vehicles or trunks
and then run when the door is opened … sometimes miles from home.
3. Transport by Animal Warden.
Sometimes contracted animal wardens will transport pets many miles away from home, crossing through
one or more other impoundment areas, across city
or county lines, to a distant facility where the animals will be
to see why Animal Warden transport happens.
for more info on why and how Animal Warden transport happens.
H. GETTING HOME ALONE. Of course there's
always a chance that your lost pet could find his own way home. If we're talking a matter of
miles, the chance is slim, but still within the realm of possibility.
For that reason, or if he's holed up nearby but afraid to come home now, it's important to prepare for him. Is the yard fenced? If so, leave a gate open enough for him to get in,
24/7. Is there a garage? Leave a door open a little, and leave food and
a warm place for him ... perhaps a cardboard box on its side with plenty
of bedding in it. No garage? No dog house, shed, or dog igloo? Put an
adequate-sized trashcan out on its side with bedding
and food in it. Live in an apartment? Let neighbors know what the can is
for and ask kids to please not disturb it. When he gets back, he needs someplace to go
for food, shelter, and comfort.
Homing tip: Some people have found that leaving
familiar and scented objects outdoors and accessible to a lost pet can
be helpful in bringing them home if they are hiding in your
neighborhood. For example, the bedding you provide in your outdoor
shelter should be something with your odors on it such as a soiled shirt
-- or perhaps a particular unwashed rug or blanket the animal has slept
on while indoors which has it's own odors on it. Or you might leave a
cat's scratching post out by the back door or in an accessible
outbuilding. Others have also found it helpful to put other items with
your lost pet's own scent on it at each door which your pet normally
used, or in your accessible garage or other shelter.
Home Security. Obviously, when you leave a gate
or garage door or porch door ajar, you need to provide security for yourself.
Install a temporary locked chain, leaving a gap wide enough for your pet to
enter, if that's at all possible.
I. GENERAL STATISTICS.
animal pounds normally have an over-abundance of impounded cats and
dogs. Through the years, it has been normal for an animal pound to adopt
out fewer than 50% of impounded animals, in some
cases being as little as 2%, with the majority being euthanized or
surrendered for research.
For annual nationwide U.S. Humane Society
estimates, visit hsus.org (also see item J below). For information in your own area, use info
found throughout this document on how to gather your own current
statistics. Keep in mind that Humane Society of the United States (hsus.org)
statistics are estimates only. Because of the complexity of the lost and
surrendered pet industry, and because it is not possible to gather
accurate information on numbers of strayed or abandoned pets killed on
streets or dying alone in neighborhood out-buildings, information from
all other sources is also estimated. The actual numbers of dead,
however, are known to be exceedingly high. A few years ago, estimates
were around 18,000,000 (18 million) annually in the U.S. Now, the
estimates are around 6 to 8,000,000. However, since even one moderately
large metro area has an estimate of 1,000,000 (1 million), it's unlikely
the actual figure in the entire U.S. is as low as 8,000,000. And keep in
mind that these estimates are only for stray or surrendered pets euthanized in pounds,
shelters, or other facilities, plus animals who die on the streets or
hidden in neighborhoods. The estimates do not include animals presented
for euthanasia by their owners.
J. HUMANE SHELTER
ISSUES. The following information is taken from
the hsus.org website:
Lost or stolen dogs could end up in the hands of dogfighters
[for use as dogfight bait], or even
Class B dealers, who sell dogs from random sources to research
institutions for use in biomedical
research, testing and education procedures. Beloved family pets can
also become unfortunate victims of bunchers, who have been known to
acquire dogs through lost, stray and "free to a good home" ads—even to
take pets from their owners' backyards—and then sell them to
B dealers. At Class B dog dealer facilities, there have been
numerous documented cases of mistreatment, neglect, and other animal
Of the dogs and cats stolen in the United States every year, only an
estimated 10 percent ever find their homes again
What can pet owners do to make sure that their friends and companions
remain safe at home?
Keep your pet indoors, especially when you are not at home.
Identify your pet with a collar and tag, microchip or tattoo.
Be aware of strangers in the neighborhood, and report anything
unusual to the police
Padlock gates, and make sure people can't access your pets over
Keep your pet on a leash whenever you go outside.
Make neighbors aware of the problem of pet theft.
Know where your pets are at all times.
Support the federal
Pet Safety and Protection Act, now before Congress, which ensures
that cats and dogs used by research facilities are obtained legally.
And here are some things not to do:
Don't let your pet roam free in the neighborhood.
Don't let your pet be visible from the street.
Never leave pets unattended at any time.
Never leave pets outside a store or in the car to wait for you.
CONSIDERATIONS REGARDING ADOPTION.
The chance for any pet being adopted are just that: Chance.
1. If a lost pet is running loose, the
opportunity for someone to take the pet in and keep it is quite slim.
The reason? Because many millions of pets are lost, abandoned, and/or
turned in to pounds and shelters every year. If there were, say, three
kind neighbors on any given square city block, for example, and
throughout their lives, each neighbor continued to take in every stray on that
block that needed help, each of those neighbors (based on numbers of
animals euthanized each year) would have to take in
and keep over a thousand animals, and keep those animals for their full
lives. Obviously these statistics will vary greatly depending on size of
municipality or metro area, with some stats being much much lower and
others being much much higher. The above stats were calculated on
numbers of animals euthanized or assumed deceased in alleys, roadways,
etc., in an area of around 3 million people.
I, item H for
further lost pet statistics details.
2. For those animals which end up impounded or brought to
a shelter, if an animal is terrified, hostile, has other bad behaviors
such as constant loud or shrill barking or meowing, is pregnant, is a female who
has babies with her,
is ill, injured, unsocial, matted and dirty, is
intact/un-neutered, or if another undesired issue exists,
adoption is not as likely.
3. If visitors are looking for a specific size, shape,
color, hair type, age, behavior, etc., and your lost pet does not fit
the right category, then adoption is unlikely.
If a particular breed, or a
mixed-breed is impounded, and if that particular look is popular at the
time, then the animal may have a better chance for adoption. If the
breed is "out of style", then adoption may be unlikely. If there are a
number of your particular pet's breed in that agency at the same time,
then the chance for adoption drops again, since visitors looking for
that breed or type will have a wider selection from which to choose.
But there are variables for some breeds. For example, sometimes there
are associations for some breeds, where the association members
specifically visit pounds and shelters hoping to rescue animals of that
particular breed or type. Not all breeds are honored in this way. Also,
since there are often pounds and shelters that associations may not be aware of
(given the complexities of impoundment systems), a purebred
or popular type could end up
impounded and yet not be rescued by such an association.
6. If there are well-behaved "owner animals" in an agency,
where information about them is readily-available such as temperament,
shots and other medical history, general behaviors, etc., then even if
your strayed purebred or popular type is sitting right there waiting for adoption, many
potential adopters will be likely to gravitate instead to an animal with
a proven background, and yours will be passed by.
7. If your lost pet is generally well-behaved, social, friendly,
with an adorable personality ... that is no guarantee of adoption. Many
pets change once lost and on their own; by the time he ends up in an
agency cage, that once-sweet critter may be hostile, unsocial, nippy,
acting wild or cowering at the back of the
cage, and also may be matted, diseased, injured, or simply unkempt,
making him less likely to be adopted.
8. In the U.S., vast numbers of pets, both purebred and mixed breed,
are euthanized by pounds and shelters, or die on the streets, every
year. If you were to line up all of these pets (we'll use the very low estimate
of 8 million in the U.S. in these calculations), sitting shoulder to shoulder on the side
of a road, allowing 8" per pet, you would have to drive for more than
1,000 miles before you'd pass the last to be euthanized in a
year. These calculations were done awhile back. For current numbers,
look up the number of animals estimated to be killed on the streets and
highways (and dying in alley hiding places) in one year in the U.S. Add the number estimated to be
euthanized in pounds and shelters across the U.S. in a year. Multiply
that number by 8". Divide the total by 12". Divide the new total by
5,280 to determine how many miles you'd have to drive. You can do the
same for your own area. Call your local Humane Society/SPCA for area-wide
info. Call your city or municipality for closer-in info. Then run the
numbers as above.
L. VETERINARY EXPERIENCE IN SHELTERMost pounds and shelters nowadays try very hard to be kindly to
impounded animals. but there are sometimes limitations on what they can
do or are allowed to do.
1. If a stray animal is ill or injured, some pounds and shelters provide immediate
vet care; some transport the ill or injured to a contracted veterinary
office; many do not provide vet care at all, due to the costs. Since most people do not find their lost pets
(often due to not looking, not looking far enough, not doing enough, or
giving up too soon), there would be no one to
cover the veterinary expense. Many animal facilities are typically
strapped for cash or have tight budgets; other facilities simply do not
care; so if you don't show up to claim your ill or injured animal, who
would step up to pay for any vet fees?
2. In facilities which do have veterinary care, you will find some which
do not have "immediate" vet care, since they may not have a 24-hour
staff veterinarian. In some facilities, injured or ill animals are made
as comfortable as possible; in others, the animal is simply put in a
cage as-is. If the animal is brought in late on
Friday or at the start of a longer holiday weekend, the animal may go
untreated -- no matter what the injuries -- for the entire weekend or
holiday period. In some
cases, the animal may be euthanized earlier, depending on staff training. In some facilities, babies
too young to eat, and adult animals too ill or too badly injured to eat,
will simply be left in a cage with only dry food, no hand-feeding, and
no bottle feeding. These problems are becoming more rare, but do not be
surprised if you see these things when you visit some pounds and
shelters regularly. Note that these are not as likely to happen in
Humane Societies and in no-kill shelters, but that many facilities will
not allow you to visit areas where ill and injured are held so it's
difficult to know for sure who does what. Providing
round-the-clock vet care is extremely expensive, and simply not
available to many facilities. Ill or injured pets are typically euthanized,
but not always. In addition, even when ill or injured, these injured
can still go for research.
How can you verify if these issues exist in facilities you visit?
Sometimes you cannot. One way to get a handle on it, however: When you
visit a pound or shelter which allows you to view all animals, including
sick and injured, visit every day, at least once a day. When you notice
an injured or ill animal, make notes as to what is wrong, what date it
came in, what its ID card on the cage says, including ID or intake
number, and note which cage the animal is in. Check each day to see for
yourself what is happening with that particular animal. Also check other
ill or injured in that facility in the same way. Over a period of time,
you may get some idea as to whether this is a facility which provides
immediate vet care and how quickly they might do so.
Note that if you simply visit but do not take notes
when visiting larger agencies, you likely will very soon lose track of
what is happening, since many facilities have heavy impoundment
turnover. When visiting every day, soon each black cat will look like
every other to you, and each German Shepherd will look like the same one
that was in the same cage the day before when in fact it may be a
different dog. Intake ID numbers are crucial to doing an adequate job of
keeping track, as are cage numbers.
M. HUMAN ERROR. It is common for
people looking for lost pets to trust what they see, hear, read, or are told.
Keep an open mind during your own search, since problems are rampant. Whether
you are talking with someone who has found a pet that might be yours, or talking
with someone in an agency, or looking at agency records, watch out for errors. When
reviewing intake lists, for example, you may find a cat on the dog list or a dog on the cat list.
You may find animals listed with wrong color,
wrong breed, wrong gender, wrong size, wrong location, wrong collar, wrong tags,
etc. These records are kept by humans, and humans make mistakes.
More on lost pets and human error in Section IV-c,
E and elsewhere throughout this report.
PUREBRED vs MIXED BREED.
Pet owners tend to believe their pet will never be euthanized by a shelter or
impoundment facility and that he would never be sold for research, simply
because that pet is purebred, or very expensive, or so cute or so sweet, or way
smarter than most pets, or whatever. This is not reality.
Read all pages of this document to understand
Click here if you have your own website and would
like to link to animal-pounds.com
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- (End of Section II
Where Lost Pets Go)
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One little detail may be the one thing that brings your lost pet home,
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Although not always true, when lost and
on his own, a dog tends to roam, a cat tends to run/hide, run/hide.