Last week's column mentioned ways to keep pets safe over New Year's and other holidays involving fireworks. However, pets can become lost despite our best efforts, especially during holiday festivities.
This week's column will focus on helping to reunite lost pets with their people.
First steps after finding a lost pet
If you find a lost pet in your neighborhood, the steps to follow will depend on whether the pet is confident or skittish.
If the pet is friendly, place the pet safely indoors or in an enclosed space with adequate shelter. If you have pets in the home, it's advisable to keep them separate from the found animal due to not knowing the pet's vaccination status, if they're friendly with other animals and other unknown factors.
Next, set up a time with a local vet office or shelter to have the pet scanned for a microchip.
If the pet is skittish, it's crucial to exercise caution and use a trap if needed. A frightened and disoriented pet may bite if a person sneaks up on them or grabs them.
Alabama law requires that if a pet bites or scratches and draws blood, the pet either undergo a 10-day rabies quarantine, which is very expensive for the pet owner, or be euthanized. Also, cats and larger dogs can easily outrun humans and attempts to chase them may drive them further away from home.
In cats, another consideration is whether they are genuinely lost, or rather, feral.
A cat that is brand new in your neighborhood, especially after New Year's Eve, is likely to be a lost pet even if skittish, especially if they're vocal and approach your door. Lost indoor cats are typically unable to fend for themselves and need the help of their finders.
On the other hand, most feral cats are consistently wary of interaction with humans. A tipped ear indicates a known community cat that has been trapped, neutered and released, meaning that no action is needed.
For feral cats that are not ear-tipped, TNR is a humane solution to prevent the cycle of cat overpopulation from continuing. For more information, visit https://www.leecountyhumane.org/tnr.
How to reunite a lost pet with its owners
After finding a lost pet or losing a pet, it's critical to get the word out in the community.
Start by taking pictures of the animal and then share these to your social media accounts, as well as to any local Lost and Found social media pages. Examples in our area are the Facebook pages Opelika-Auburn Lost and Found Pets, Lost Pets of Lee/Russell & Muscogee County and Auburn, AL - Lost Dogs, Cats & Pets.
Posting fliers with the pet's picture and asking neighbors if they know anything can help because lost pets most often are only up to a few blocks away from their home. Share the photos with the local animal shelter and animal control departments, who can help pet owners get in touch with finders.
For pets that have been lost or found in the Auburn-Opelika area, email the pet's picture and your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org. That way, if a pet owner comes by the shelter looking for their animal, or if someone finds the pet, we can put the pet owner in touch with the pet's finder.
Please note that the Lee County Humane Society cannot take in pets outside of our jurisdiction within the Auburn and Opelika city limits.
When to bring a found pet to a shelter
If you're able to safely care for a lost pet for a few days while searching for the owners, it helps local shelters and animal control departments; plus, keeping the pet close to home may facilitate a faster reunification.
In the meantime, finders can search for placement for the animal at closed-admission shelters and rescues to avoid overburdening open-admission facilities, which must take in pets regardless of overcrowdedness.
More information is available at https://www.leecountyhumane.org/lost-found-pets. By reserving open-admission facilities for emergency cases in which animals cannot be safely kept, citizens can help those facilities to assist those most in need and avoid making the impossible decision to euthanize for space.
Of course, in some cases, finders of lost pets understandably cannot keep the animal. Especially over the holidays, finders may be visiting from out of town. Others may live in a home that doesn't allow pets or otherwise have a living situation or schedule that prevents safe and effective care.
In these and other cases, finders of lost pets should contact the animal control department or an open-admission shelter that corresponds with the jurisdiction where the pet was found. LCHS, for example, is an open-admission shelter that is allowed to take in pets only for a specific jurisdiction within Auburn and Opelika city limits.
Please visit https://www.leecountyhumane.org/lost-found-pets for more information. Please note that many animal shelters, such as LCHS, don't have animal control officers on staff and thus cannot pick up lost animals or strays. Please call the corresponding animal control department for pickups.
Preventing future escapes
Dogs who escape frequently may need to be observed when outdoors. It may also help to train them to come when called.
For dogs that jump fences, a fence extension that tilts inward may be required, and for those that dig under the fence, burying chicken wire under the base of the fence may help. These and additional tips can be found in this article by The Humane Society of the United States: https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/how-keep-your-dog-escaping.
Besides having pets microchipped by your veterinarian, it can help to have a tag on the pet's collar with contact information or to have contact information sewn into the collar.
Indoor-outdoor cats that become lost or injured during their explorations may need to become strictly indoor cats for their safety. Catios and leash training are potential options to allow such cats to enjoy the outdoors safely.
We appreciate everyone who helps lost pets to find their way back home, which saves the lives of the pets and helps neighbors missing their beloved pup or kitty.
Column by Kelly Daniel, volunteer coordinator with the Lee County Humane Society.