You come home and glance out the back door. Your dog is gone. How he escaped is a mystery. The more pressing question: How do you get him back?
A little foresight, of course, could have prevented the crisis. For starters, have your pet microchipped. And because microchips can migrate in a dog's body, always back that up by keeping little Scruffy collared and have an ID, vaccination tags and license attached.
Beyond that, technology has given pet owners some amazing options — GPS collars, lost-pet Internet networks and other wizardry — to facilitate a reunion.
With the Lost Pet Tracker iPhone app (lostpettracker.com), for example, anyone who finds a lost animal can open the free app on their iPhone, photograph the animal, provide some details and hit send. Owners of missing pets in the area then get an email showing the photo and details, as well as a map that shows the GPS location where the animal was located.
There are many strategies, organizations and cool products to help reunite a lost pet with its owner. Here are a few:
Internet help: The Web is chockablock with sites to help. Some examples: Flealess Market's Lost Pets International page (flealess.org/lostpets) lets owners post missing pet information on a state-by-state basis. At FidoFinder.com, owners and finders of lost dogs can post the animals on a lost-dog database. The volunteer-run Missing Pet Network (missingpet.net) and The Center for Lost Pets (thecenterforlostpets.com) both give owners a place to list animals. Twitter, Facebook and Craigslist can also help you get the word out. All are free.
Electronic magic: Technology is now a dog's best friend. Among the advances are pethub.com and getpetshome.com, where a pet owner registers an animal and stores its vital information. If your lost dog is found, the finder can access its information by scanning its tag with a smartphone or by going online. A scan or a click lets the pet owner know Fido has been found. Basic packages for each is free; upgrades available.
GPS: There are a host of GPS-based systems, ranging from the RoamEO pettronix.com/products.php), which uses a handset to track your pooch, to the Garmin GTU 10 (buy.garmin.com) and the Tagg Pet Tracker (pettracker.com), which link to cellphone networks. Prices start at around $100, with additional charges for the cellphone systems. A good tutorial on dog-tracking collars is at mydogtrackingcollars.com.
Neighborhood alert: Lost Pet Cards (lostpetcards.com) is a mailing service that sends out 1,000 postcards ($480 to $550) around the neighborhood, with the pet's photo and description. More immediate is findtoto.com, which takes the location where the dog was last seen, maps it and automatically calls all phones in a given radius from the starting point. Prices begin at $85 for 250 neighbors. Petamberalert.com has three levels of searching, sending posters to animal control facilities, vets and other locations ($39.96), making phone calls to homes in the area ($59.95), and a third level that combines the first two ($99.95).
If your pet disappears, the faster you act, the better your chances for a reunion. First, make a thorough search of the house and neighborhood. Contact animal control. And print fliers (one site is at site.keepdoggiesafe.com/pdfprint/lost-dog-poster.php), then take them door to door and post them around the neighborhood.