You’re walking your dog at the dog park, close to sunset. Then, for reasons only your dog understands, she bolts. Gone in less than a minute. You call her, but no response. Frantic, you begin searching in circles. But then the sun goes down and you’re alone in the dark.
What do you do now?
According to a study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about 15 percent of family pets go missing. It can be a traumatic experience, both for a family and pet, to be separated.
For my friend Sheila Beuler, not only was it traumatic, but it set in motion weeks of searching to find her German shepherd mix Xena.
They were out on one of their regular walks at the Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park over the Christmas holidays. A father, playing with his son, came running down the trail, spooked Xena and she bolted. Gone.
First, a word about Beuler. She is a retired battalion commander and paramedic with the Santa Fe Fire Department.
She knows how to organize and respond to emergencies. She is also tough, compassionate and relentless. For the next month, other than work, eating and sleeping, her priority was finding Xena.
Santa Fe County is a little bit of urban surrounded by mountains and high plains. Sheila’s lessons are universal.
u Make sure that you have a good, steel dog tag that is legible. Make sure that your dog is microchipped and that the chip is activated.
u Have a good picture of your dog and your dog’s face.
u Know your dog. Are they skittish, wanderers? Nervous around other people or dogs? Have they bolted or escaped before?
One of our dogs is an escape artist. She bolts and disappears sometimes for up to an hour.
We’ve learned not to let her out of our sight or off leash.
If you have a dog like our Nellie, it might save you a lot of heartache by investing in a GPS collar. It’s not yet a perfect or inexpensive technology, but it’s worth looking into.
What to do
u Act immediately. Don’t wait hoping your dog will show up. Better to over respond early and be a little embarrassed to find your dog lounging on the porch rather than to lose those important first hours.
u Post large laminated color flyers in the area that your dog disappeared and at major intersections, pet stores, veterinary offices and dog parks.
u Contact your local shelter. Give them flyers with the picture of your dog’s face.
u Use social media and local lost pet sites. Refresh these postings with sightings and any change in information.
How to search
Searching for a lost pet is a science. There is lots of information on how to do searches online. But, in general, avoid just randomly searching. You will wear yourself out and quickly lose track of where you’ve actually searched.
u Based on your dog, her health, breed and age, establish a search perimeter. There is help online to create the right perimeter.
u Make sure you preserve any tracks. (Take pictures of them with direction of travel and Google map location of the tracks.) Once these prints are gone, your opportunity to track is diminished.
u Enlist the help of your friends to do an early and coordinated search. Establish a search etiquette. Let everyone know that if your dog is skittish, not to call or try to capture her. Simply put down food and treats to keep the dog in the area.
u Set up a comfort station in the search area. Comfort stations consist of your dog’s bed, toys and other things familiar to the dog.
u The dog’s universe is scent, so “scent mark.” Use your urine in a spray bottle and create a scent trail to your location or a comfort station.
u Be patient. Don’t give up. According to ASPCA, nearly 85 percent of those lost dogs are found.
This article was first published in 2015. Unfortunately, Xena was never recovered. It is sad thing to have a beloved pet lose his or her way. The best thing you can do is be prepared and act quickly if it happens to you.