For 14 years, Laura Totis went on search-and-rescue missions with her dogs. She worked with her rottweiler, Tori, on the Pentagon recovery efforts after 9/11. Now she helps find lost pets.
Based outside of Baltimore, Totis receives calls from shelters, vets, rescue organizations, and more than 150 pet owners each year. We asked Totis, who has six dogs and a cat, what to do if you lose a pet—and how to make sure you don’t.
How can an owner prevent pets from getting lost?
Be sure they have up-to-date tags, and get them microchipped. Microchips are tiny computer chips put underneath the skin, usually on the back of the neck. It’s not painful—and it’s quick and inexpensive. Each chip has an ID number that’s connected to the owner’s contact information.
Train your dog to come to a whistle instead of your voice; the sound carries farther, and the pitch doesn’t change when you’re panicked.
Opt for a physical fence rather than an invisible one—if a dog or cat ends up on the other side of an invisible fence, he gets shocked and can’t get home.
Besides putting up posters and handing out fliers, what should you do if your pet goes missing?
Spend time calling your pet; many stay in familiar areas. For pets with companions, try using a familiar animal that yours will come to. A Carroll County woman had three dachshunds, and when the oldest one wandered away, she put one of the others in a crate outside her house. When that dog started barking, her missing dog barked back. He was trapped in a nearby construction site.
Can a pet’s personality offer clues?
Personality can be a good starting point. A friendly, happy-go-lucky dog is probably in the neighborhood. He didn’t run out of fear—he followed his nose or chased a butterfly. But the skittish hound, frightened by fireworks, might run for miles until he’s exhausted.
Another indicator is breed. Dogs that are hard-wired to race, run, and chase—beagles, huskies, greyhounds, whippets—are more likely to get lost than territorial breeds, such as shepherds and rottweilers, which protect the family and property and tend to stay closer to home.
What tricks do you use?
I use search dogs, trained in pet detection, who point me in the direction of the lost pet based on clues that humans miss, like smells. Then I set up gear to help catch the pet. Humane traps, which lure pets with food, are one of the best tools.
Wildlife cameras with motion detectors are another option. You can set up the camera, with a feeding station, and if the lost pet comes to eat, the camera takes a time-and-date-stamped picture so you know when your pet might come back.
How can the Internet help?
There are Web sites and message boards dedicated to finding missing animals. The most widely used are Petfinder.com and Craigslist.org, where you can post free messages about your pet. K9amberalert@yahoo.com and Feline-Amber-Alert@yahoogroups.com are great listservs.
Do most people find lost pets?
Lost animals are returned more than 50 percent of the time. If an animal is hiding, like a cat camped out under the porch, it might not move for days. If pets bolt out of panic and run for miles and aren’t found within a few weeks, the likelihood of their returning is slim, but it happens.