One of the biggest mistakes people make when a pet goes missing is waiting a day or so to see if he'll wander back home.
So says Liz Blackman, owner of 1-800-HELP4PETS, a company that helps reunite lost pets with their owners. "The first thing that people need to know when they lose a pet is that they need to act quickly -- and broadly," says Blackman.
First on the "to do" list: a lost pet sign. "Don't get into too much detail," says Blackman. "You do not have to get down to the color of your dog's toenails. Think large, and think basic. 'Lost dog' in big letters, and a phone number with area code, also large. And put the word 'reward' in there, because it motivates some people who wouldn't care otherwise."
To motivate others, Blackman suggests a measure of "sappiness." "You need to get people emotionally involved," she says. "So tell them how you feel, how much you care. Put 'Child is heartbroken' or 'My best friend is missing.' I have seen total strangers take off work to help look because they were motivated by a sign."
Blackman says other mistakes people make are not printing enough signs and not displaying them properly. "Print a minimum of 100," she says, "and put half facing the street where drivers can see them, half facing the sidewalk so pedestrians can." Also, put signs in places where pet people go: veterinary offices, dog parks, pet-supply stores. And don't forget to place a lost-pet ad in your local paper.
Because you'll be out looking for your pet, Blackman suggests changing the message on your answering machine. "You want to encourage people to leave a message and keep them involved," she says. Her suggestion: "Thank you for calling. I'm out looking for my lost pet right now. Please leave a message, and I'll call you right back as soon as I come in."
Enlist the help of friends, family and neighbors in the search, and go door-to-door in your area. Ask neighbors to check garages, tool sheds and crawl spaces. Cats often slip into such spaces unnoticed and are trapped when doors are shut, says Blackman.
You'll need to visit every shelter in your area, and look through the cages and runs yourself. Shelter staff workers are busy, says Blackman, and they might not remember seeing your pet or recognize it from your verbal description.
Ask to see the pets in the infirmary as well as the general runs; your pet might have been injured. And don't stop at one shelter. Go to all the shelters in the area. Animals can travel a good distance on their own, and sometimes people pick up a lost pet and take it home, only to have it escape again into an area even farther away from home.
Try to enlist the help of the media -- newspapers and radio and TV stations. In a big city, you won't get much interest, says Blackman, but in a small town you might get a lot of help. Even in a big city, though, if there's something interesting, odd or unique about your pet, you may get some media interest. It's always worth trying.
Blackman's final piece of advice: Don't give up. "Don't get discouraged," she says. "Focus and visualize. These both help. And it doesn't hurt to pray."
Next week, I'll share Blackman's advice on what to do when you find a pet.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Denver Dumb Friends League (www.ddfl.org) has assembled one of the best collections of articles on solving pet-behavior problems that I've seen. The articles are clear and concise, and offer not only suggestions on how to solve various problems, but also provide an understanding of the natural instincts behind behaviors we humans find hard to live with.
To get to the collection, click on Information and Tips from the front screen. Before you do, though, go to the bottom and click on the link explaining this group's unusual name. I was just at this shelter, and I asked the group's president, Bob Rohde, if a name change had been considered. It has, he admitted, then added quickly, "But when you have 94 percent name recognition in your target market, would you change?"
The name may be old-fashioned, but the group is not. And its motto, "We speak for those who cannot speak for themselves," remains current.
I've long accepted the fact that as much as my niece, Kate, likes to see me, she's always more excited at my arrival if I've brought one or more of my dogs. Kate's not alone in her love of animals. If you're looking for a special gift for the animal-loving youngster in your life, Lisa Rosenthal's new book, "A Dog's Best Friend: An Activity Book for Kids and Their Dogs" (Chicago Review Press, $12.95) should be on your gift list. The book offers plans for dog-related crafts such as making collars, dog treats and food mats, and provides great basic advice on care and training.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: One of our members faxed your column about how to pick the best puppy. Your advice is to "alpha-roll" your puppy (roll him onto his back) to become top dog.
During my studies in animal science at the University of California, Davis, we were given a research project about the various breeds of dogs that went through dog obedience classes. We discovered there was still a very high percentage that became aggressive and bit someone in the family, mainly children.
Our findings were that out of 100 dog-bite incidents, every one of the dog owners was instructed to be the "leader of the pack," and 85 percent took their puppies through kindergarten puppy class, where they were taught the alpha-roll. This seemed to work until the puppy grew up and was too large to be alpha-rolled. One woman from San Francisco wrote that she was able to alpha-roll her young German shepherd up to the age of 8 months. Because he started growling, she had her husband alpha-roll the dog. Two months later, as she went to pet her German shepherd, he lunged and bit her hand severely.
The point is teaching a dog to submit to dominance, the strong over the weak, which teaches it to dominate something smaller/weaker than itself.
Do you know of any animals that can be trained with an alpha-roll? I am sure Siegfried and Roy would never even attempt to alpha-roll their once-wild Bengal tigers. -- Matt Sanchez, director, People Protecting the Future of Man's Best Friend Inc., Encinitas, Calif.
A: You might want to take another look at that column. It had absolutely nothing to do with dog training and everything to do with some simple tests to help someone who's looking for a puppy.
Within most litters you'll find bold puppies, shy puppies, pushy puppies and puppies happy to go along with the flow. Paired with a human companion who's the right fit, every puppy has the potential to become a great pet. In the wrong hands, though, some puppies have the potential for disaster. The key is in recognizing and dealing with problems early, and some people aren't capable of either.
Since puppies (and dogs) don't like the being put on their back, gently rolling a young pup over for a few seconds is one way to see how he reacts to stress and authority. For most families the "right" puppy is the one who wants to get along -- he squirms a little, settles down and, when released, comes back seeking more affection.
That's all I was talking about in reference to the "alpha roll." Using the technique to train your dog -- or to retrain an aggressive animal -- is not only unnecessary, but it can also get you bitten.
My advice for anyone with an aggressive dog: Get help. The dog who growls is on the road to trouble; the one who tries to bite has already arrived. Fixing canine aggression is absolutely not a do-it-yourself project. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist who can help.
Q: I have an issue that sounds funny, but it's not: Mice are eating the cat food.
I am often away on weekends, and I leave a self-feeder full of dry cat food for Tigger. By the time I get home on Sunday night, she is hungry and may have caught a couple of mice.
I cannot put down poison because then Tigger would eat the mouse and get poisoned herself. I do not have the heart to put down traps, and I am concerned that Tigger might get caught in them.
This is also causing a financial drain. It's getting expensive to feed all the mice in the neighborhood. Tigger is overweight but seems to have lost some weight lately. It could be because these days her plate is often empty. Do you have any suggestions? -- A.F., via e-mail
A: Call a pest-control service!
Nobody really likes killing mice, but the situation you describe is dangerous. Mice carry diseases that can significantly affect your health. If you have so many mice that they're starving your cat, you have a serious problem. You and Tigger may even have to vacate your home for a few days so a professional can get the problem under control.
After the mice are gone, you'll need to work on preventing a reinfestation. According to the Humane Society of the United States' excellent book "Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living With Wildlife" (Fulcrum, $16.95), mice gain access through tiny holes and cracks in the foundation, and tiny gaps where pipes and wires enter the house. Sealing these up is not only good for preventing mice from entering, but also helps keep heating costs down.
I'd also start asking a friend, neighbor or pet-sitting service to come in and feed Tigger. And get rid of the self-feeder. Mice don't stay where they can't find food.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to WriteToGina(at)YourPetPlace.com.
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