Monday, October 6, 2014

Pet Loss: When A Pet Goes Missing

[Reviewed and Updated April 13, 2024]

A reader writes: I can't stand it. My boxer dog ran from my pet sitter and did not return. I have posted ads, sent out fliers, visited pound, websites, done everything. It has been 6 weeks and I thought I was over him, but I am not. How do I get closure? How long does it take? I had him for 8 loving years and he was closer to me than any friend I ever had. I pray God to lead me to him. What do I do?

My response: I'm so sorry to learn that your beloved boxer disappeared six weeks ago, and I can only imagine how devastating this must be for you. Because this kind of loss can be extremely difficult, it is not at all unusual that you would be feeling and reacting the way that you describe.

I have a special place in my heart for pet parents like yourself, who are seeking support for pet loss not because their pets have died, but rather because they're missing. These animals may have escaped from their home or yard, run off while traveling with their owners, been taken in by a stranger, or even outright stolen. I can relate to what you’re feeling because I’ve been there, too – as I describe in this excerpt from my book, The Final Farewell:
One Christmas Eve my beloved cockapoo, Muffin, went off hunting for rabbits and was gone for four long days. It was the saddest and most painful holiday I had ever known. I was inconsolable. How does one resolve that kind of grief? Was he dead? Was he hurt and lying in some cold, dark ditch somewhere? Had someone picked him up and stolen him? Would I ever find out what had happened to him? How could I go on with celebrations with family and friends when my heart was breaking? How could I leave the house even for a moment, knowing that he might come back home while I was gone? Shouldn’t we search for him one more time? How could I be so upset over a dog?
Whatever the circumstances, because of the uncertainty involved, this experience can be a most devastating kind of loss, in some ways even worse than a death. That's because you have no idea what happened to your dog, whether he is living or dead, suffering or at peace, homeless and wandering as a stray or living with somebody else.

The feelings associated with this sort of pet loss are the same as if your dog had died, such as sorrow, longing, denial, anger and guilt. But this grief is also complicated by your own need to keep hope alive, which constantly interrupts or delays the process and makes it far more difficult to resolve. It is like harboring a wound that cannot heal.

In circumstances such as these, it’s important to know that putting a careful recovery plan in place could make a significant difference, especially early on.

I understand that you've already taken several steps that I would have recommended in your effort to recover your missing dog, and I'm offering some others below, not only for you, but for others who may be reading this. If you've already found and utilized this information, please forgive me for telling you what you already know.

Recovery plans for a missing pet would include the following:

· Alert local people on Facebook. Start a free alert on PawBoost Lost and Found by entering your pet's information to instantly start spreading local awareness.  

· Initiate a search. Begin to look in your own neighborhood. If your cat is the one who is missing, try to think like your cat: check those favorite haunts; look under shrubs and cars. (According to Pet Detective Kat Albrecht, “Sometimes it takes weeks, even months to find a missing cat.”) Try setting out baited humane traps.

· Rattle some treats in a bag or a dish as you call your pet’s name. If you see anyone along the way, inform them of your search. If you need to search a larger area, use a bicycle. If you go by car, ask someone else to drive so you can focus on watching for and calling your animal.

· Contact your local animal control office and describe your pet (type of animal, name, breed, color, size, distinguishing marks if any, and license number if your pet was wearing a collar and tags).

· Check with local animal shelters, and be willing to visit them to look for your pet in person, if that is required.

· Post “lost cat” (or dog) signs (with large, readable print) throughout your neighborhood, on all four corners of major streets and intersections, in veterinary offices, pet stores and grooming centers; on community bulletin boards in schools, laundromats, grocery stores and libraries, and anyplace else you can think of. Include the following information:

          o Type of animal (i.e., cat, dog, bird)

          o Breed

          o Brief description (size, sex, color)

          o Your pet’s name

          o Location where your animal disappeared (nearest cross streets)

          o Phone number where someone can be reached at any time

          o Reward, without specifying the amount

          o Reproduction of your pet’s photograph if available

· Place a notice in the Lost Pets section of your local newspaper’s classified section, and check every day for notices in the Found Pets section.

· Alert your neighbors, mail and newspaper carriers. Take your pet’s photograph with you and leave a copy of your “lost pet” flyer with them. Enlist the help of neighborhood children, and offer them a reward.

· Focus on other pets in the household, if there are any, since they too may be missing their animal companions.

· Determine what can be done to prevent such a loss of other animals in the future and take steps to make it happen.

· Find someone to talk to, someone with whom you can identify and express all the feelings and emotions associated with this kind of grief: suspense, frustration, pain, sorrow, anger and guilt.

· Stay in touch with a pet loss helpline, support group, chat room or message board on the Internet, which offer the care and support of others who understand and can empathize with this most difficult kind of loss. (See the resources listed on the Helplines ~ Message Boards ~ Chats page of my Grief Healing Web site.)

· Explore Web sites on the Internet that offer tips and emotional support, and encourage you to remain diligent and persistent in your efforts to bring your displaced animal home. You’ll find many of them listed on my site’s Missing Pets page, including our online Loss of a Pet forum.

Some people whose animals have gone missing have also chosen to use the services of an animal communicator, in an effort to locate or communicate with their lost pets. If you're interested in pursuing this or learning more about it, you might want to visit some of the sites listed on my Animal Communicators page.

Only you can determine how long you’re willing and able to keep hope alive, but I believe that information is powerful in these situations. Please don’t underestimate how difficult this kind of ambiguous loss can be. It is a different sort of grief, but it is grief nonetheless, and you ought not to feel as if you have to endure it all alone. Please know that others are thinking of you and wishing you all the best in your efforts to find your loyal companion.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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