Whether it's a pet or a pest, a purebred or a potpourri, a missing animal precipitates an intense and stressful reaction.
Animals leave home for many reasons. The strongest lure to unneutered male dogs and cats is the promise of a female in heat. Even the most loyal forget their vows of fidelity and find inventive ways to woo the alluring canine or feline.
Also, thunderstorms, fireworks and other sudden noises prompt erratic behavior and can trigger an "escape-at-all-costs" reaction. Dogs are known to jump through windows to get away from a disturbance.
An open gate or door is, of course, the most obvious way to lose a pet.
According to Dyer Huston, public relations specialist with the City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation, there are about 425,000 dogs in the city. Of these, only 200,000 are licensed.
City ordinance specifies that animals be held at a shelter for only three days, but as a courtesy, most shelters keep adult dogs and cats for seven days. On the eighth day, they become available for adoption by the public.
Puppies and kittens (under 4 months) are kept for four days. It is essential, therefore, that owners get right to the search for the lost pet.
Many owners, unaware of the brief holding time and the methods of search, arrive on the scene too late. Unfortunately, in some cases, the animal has been either sold or destroyed.
Finding your lost pet among the thousands in the city may seem like an impossible task, but there are some measures that can be taken to better the odds of locating your wanderer.
First, visit the shelter servicing your area. There are six animal shelters listed in the white pages for the City of Los Angeles and two for the County of Los Angeles.
Legally, all strays must be turned in to the area shelter; no rescue groups or citizens are permitted to keep a stray animal. This does not mean that some well-intentioned citizens do not take in a lost pet, but they usually report the details to the volunteers who staff the six city shelters and the many shelters in the outlying areas.
When you visit the shelter, check the runs inside and outside, in addition to the hospital facilities located on the premises. The Department of Animal Regulation trucks come and go all day, so you should check often if you have reason to believe that your animal has been picked up.
Fill out a "lost" card with the volunteers and indicate your animal's breed, color, size, weight, collar and any important characteristic. The temptation to describe the animal's personality should be avoided--the fact that it likes to fetch is interesting but not helpful.
Search the neighborhood thoroughly. Many animals, especially cats, are inadvertently locked in garages. Listen for familiar barking--your dog may be nearby. Post legible, waterproof notices with a good, simple description of the pet.
Place ads in the local newspaper. These notices may be brief but should include the breed, sex, age and area from which the animal was lost.
Do not include the animal's name. This knowledge is useful only to the owner as a positive means of identification and could enable the finder to keep the pet by easily making friends with it.
Check the "found" notices every day. They usually are run only once. Call the local veterinarian and grooming establishments, as they are often contacted by the finders.
Of course, the most important suggestion is that of prevention. All pets should wear identification tags. They come in varied sizes and materials. The heavyweight colored plastic is legible from a distance and does not require the finder to establish a "close relationship" with a strange animal.
Because tags are sometimes lost, it is advisable to write the vital information with indelible ink inside the collar. Authorities do check.
Tattooing an animal is advantageous for many breeds. For long-haired animals, the coat may have to be clipped for this form of permanent identification to be effective. Tattooing is done by specialists and is useful for positive identification. Many breeds have specially designated places for tattooing: Schnauzers are usually marked on the ear and beagles on the flank.
Cats also should wear identification. Breakaway collars, available at most pet shops, eliminate the danger of the animal strangling or becoming trapped while climbing or jumping.
Be certain to notify the Department of Animal Regulation should you change your address. Licenses may not be transferred; however, your change of residence and/or telephone number should be noted.
When you visit the shelter in the hope of retrieving your pet, be sure to bring identification, such as a picture of you with your pet. Other suggestions include license papers or pedigree registration. You must also have identification--driver's license, or even a letter addressed to you.