Why Pets Go Missing; Tips on Retrieval

A Past Seminar From Stafford Animal Control
By Maria Scandale | Jul 03, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Manahawkin — Jax, the boxer mix who escaped into the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Bonnet Island after a June 24 car accident, is far from the first or last dog to flee. Most have less of a traumatic reason to run than Jax did, but many go into an instinctual survival mode that complicates efforts to retrieve them.

Across America, the National Humane Society estimates that a family pet goes missing every two seconds. Holidays with fireworks are especially stressful.

A recent seminar in Stafford Township on lost pets taught owners tips on how to prevent or deal with a dog or cat gone missing. The seminar took place before Jax went viral on social media during the search to corral him.

The workshop was sponsored by the Friends of the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter. Speakers included: Amanda Mamagona and Ashley Donofrio of Mama’s-Gona Rescue; Kelly Karch, Stafford Township animal control officer; and Debbie Geissinger of Lost Dogs Search and Rescue of Ocean County.

“This topic has become so important after having more than one shelter dog go missing shortly after adoption, the time of greatest risk for flight,” said Kathleen Ruskin, a member of the Friends and coordinator of the group’s volunteer dog-walking program.

Karch said even pets that are not skittish or anxious can go into a “fight or flight mode” when they get loose and get frightened, such as when somebody chases them.

“They do go into fight or flight, and they won’t recognize their names; they’re not going to recognize your voice.”

Also, “Skittish, fearful dogs will not respond to calling, yelling, whistling, chasing or slapping of the leg,” said a flyer from Stafford Township Animal Control. “Dogs perceive this as dominance and/or a threat and will often run.”

Once the lost dog’s territory is found, what is recommended is setting up a feeding station with a trail camera to find out the dog’s feeding routine. Even then, approaching the dog could scare it. Sit down on the ground facing sideways, not making eye contact with the dog, but have food on hand with a leash, and pretend to eat while dropping food on the ground. Once your pet feels safe, it should approach you.  If this doesn’t work, contact the animal control department for your town to get a humane trap.

Sometimes, lost dogs roam missing for weeks or even months.

Said Karch, “We have had some that have been missing six months and turn up two towns away. We had one go missing from Ocean Acres, and it was finally found  in Waretown. We had the same thing happen with a smaller dog that made it all the way to Waretown.”

The Stafford Township Animal Control department, like Berkeley Township’s, is active in helping owners locate a lost pet. (Besides Stafford Township, the department is contracted to serve all towns on Long Beach Island except Ship Bottom and Surf City.)

“We do go out and assist them in locating their pets; we want to get these animals home,” said Karch in answer to a question at the seminar. “That’s just something that we are able to provide our residents.” Volunteer organizations and independent services may work alongside animal control or take over the case.

Aside from the car accident from which Jax fled, several other situations can lead a pet to run.

“The majority of calls we receive, it’s usually during storms,” Karch said, “especially for dogs; they’re afraid of the thunder and the loud noise. Also, major holidays with fireworks, like the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, anytime there’s a lot of people around.

“People aren’t paying attention to the entrances and exits, the doors are always left ajar, and it might be an hour or two before they realize their pet is now missing. Family vacation is another one. I’ve had a number of calls come in where they’ve dropped the dog off with a family member, and the dog has met that person a bunch of times but ... they have anxieties because they are separated from their owner, so then the dog will run out the front door the same as any other newly adopted dog. They don’t know where their family went.”

Parties at home are another time when cats and dogs accidentally escape through a door or gate left open. Utility checks are another – a meter reader might leave a gate open.

Maui, a lab mix, is a poster dog, so to speak, for the survival response that runaway dogs go into, making efforts to catch them complicated. Her story inspired the need for the recent presentation, animal groups said.

Maui had all the risk factors for escape. She was shy, skittish, fearful. She was newly adopted and was not familiar with her surroundings.

Maui was one of 15 dogs that came into the shelter in Manahawkin around last Labor Day. She panicked the first time the shelter workers tried to get a collar on her on a leash to get her out of the kennel. Before long, she tolerated it and eagerly greeted her outdoors time.

“About a month after she arrived at the shelter, she was adopted, and she escaped her home within 24 hours. She was out for three weeks before she was captured,” Ruskin said.

Notes on Cats:

They Will Hide

The case studies of cats are a little different but have the similarity that they may hide.

Indoor cats that escape outside may go for seven to 12 days before responding to food or water, said a Stafford Animal Control department flier.

“They tend to be silent and conceal themselves for protection; calling them will be ineffective.

“Once displaced, cats will set up a territory in which they feel safe, usually located close to where they escaped. Average territory span is within a five-house radius of your own home or the location of where they originally escaped. Remember, cats will not stray far from home.”

It added that the pet is lost or scared, even if it is next door, and may become afraid to even go home.

The first step is to report the pet missing to your local animal control agency, animal shelters, veterinarians and social media sites.

The second step is to look thoroughly within a five-house radius. Notify neighbors and find out if any garages, sheds or crawl spaces were recently open. Ask permission to check their properties and look under decks as well as the aforementioned spaces.

The third step, said the information, is to place the cat’s litter box outside, out of the weather. “Cats can detect their own litter pans from a few miles away; placing their litter pan outside will attract your pet back home.”

It adds that a feeding station and trail camera can be used as with a dog; then a humane trap once a feeding pattern is established.

“It’s very important to vaccinate your pets; even your indoor cats that never go outside, because they could get outside,” Karch said.

Microchipping, done by a veterinarian or an animal shelter, will carry the pet’s home contact information in case someone finds the animal

When it hosted the seminar on what to do when pets go missing, Stafford Animal Control said that for more advice or help locating your lost pet, call the Stafford Animal Control Department at 609-597-1000, extension 8525. It also advised calling police.

There are websites such as ilostmydog.com and Facebook pages such as Lost Dogs in Ocean County; Lost Pets in Ocean County, NJ; and Lost Dogs of Ocean County NJ that may be of help.

— Maria Scandale

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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