Nobody wants to lose a pet, much less while traveling. We recently lost our dog while hiking near our home in Ensenada. We searched for three heartbreaking weeks before finding her. Our story has a happy ending but one statistic we read said that about 80% of dogs lost are never recovered. We know how upsetting this experience is so we’d like to share what we learned about how to get attention and improve your chances of finding your pet.
First, go back every day to the place where you last saw her. Many times dogs return to that place looking for you, too. Walk all around the area and any other places nearby where she might be. She could be hiding or trapped. Call and whistle for her and listen for barking in case she has gotten trapped somewhere. Tracking experts we consulted suggested leaving an article of clothing or sheet that smells like you, or leaving the dog’s blanket or even a crate, along with food and water. Oftentimes your dog will wait there for your return, so keep checking back. This is in fact what happened with our dog. After three weeks neighbors found her stuck inside a 3’x3’ closet behind an empty house a few yards from where the car was parked the day we lost her. If at all possible, walk from where your dog was lost back to your home. Dogs are capable of tracking your scent (which comes from shedding skin cells) along your route.
Next make a flyer to post and give out. We printed about 200 flyers at first, and as the weeks progressed we distributed close to 1000 (you can get copies for as little as 4 for 1 peso if you shop around). We developed the following format (since we live in a tourist area with both English and Spanish speakers, we included the info in both languages): We put a clear photo of our dog on the bottom on 1/3 of the page. We placed the word “reward / recompensa” LARGE at the top. We also included the amount of the reward and used colored markers to underline it. We decided to put the amount of the reward, reasoning that it would inspire some people to look, and it seemed to work. Everyone we met on the street who saw our reward of 2000 pesos felt that it was a very good amount. Between kind-hearted dog lovers and people wanting the reward, we had eyes everywhere. That’s what you want! In general, you should choose an amount that seems generous to the average person in your area, an amount that is more than the “street value” of the dog but not so high that someone might want to keep the dog, thinking it has great monetary value.
Give a brief description (no more than 5 lines of each language on font size 24-26). Include the dog’s name, breed, color, sex, size, any highly noticeable mark, collar and tag color, ID chip (if any), where the dog was last seen and contact information (a local phone is best in Mexico because it’s free to call, but you may also want to include a cell phone with area code). State that the dog is spade or neutered (even if it isn’t) to prevent anyone from deciding to keep your dog to breed it. State that the dog is a family pet so that people understand you are seeking a loved one, not just a piece of property (this may seem obvious to you, a dog lover, but it isn’t obvious to everyone). If you suspect the dog may have been stolen you might want to specify, “no questions asked.” Finally, you may want to include tabs at the bottom with your phone number to tear off so that people who want to search don’t take the whole flyer with them.
Next plan a search and advertising strategy. Contact or visit the following places: shelters, dog rescue organizations, and every vet you can find in your city and nearby towns (listed online and on the local yellow pages). Place flyers more densely in a radius of a couple of miles around where you lost your dog, and gradually expand your area of search and flyer posting. We got calls and looked at dogs as far as 30 miles away. Phone poles are wood and easy to staple with a regular stapler. Also, bring (2”) tape to glue flyers on other structures.
Get someone to help you put up flyers. You can move faster if one person drives and the other jumps out the car to post flyers. The best places are where people are on foot so they’ll notice the flyers, such as bus stops, taco stands, or in store windows. Study a map of your city/town and bus routes to decide where your flyers will be visible to more people. Ask popular stores owners to let you place flyers inside because they will last longer away from the elements and from people who may remove them. In our experience, chain stores usually said no but most privately owned businesses said yes. A lot of the flyers posted outside will be taken after you place them, so keep checking back that the key ones are in place.
Give flyers and talk to the following personnel who visit many neighborhoods per day: trash collectors, mailmen, propane and water delivery drivers, CFE technicians, utility personnel on trucks, and especially the local police stations. Also post, if possible, at the offices or entrances to the places where these people work. Some have bulletin boards they read when going in and out of work.
Look at dumps. Many lost dogs gather at dumps looking for food. Some of these dogs even have tags. Illegal dumps are everywhere in Baja, but mostly on outskirts of towns or cities.
Media: Use as many free internet sites as possible because these are the most visited. Our town has a yahoo group’s newsletter that we used to reach the English-speaking community; we also posted notices in other online Spanish and English publications. You can post on forums, craigslist, in local newspapers, Instantips, and anywhere that runs classified ads.
Some radio stations also offer spots for free as part of community service. Call your local stations (which you can find listed online). Choose those that are most popular in your area (not necessarily your favorites). We paid one “ranchera” music station to air a message three times a day for 2 days for less than $40. A local cable TV station also gave us a free ad.
Finally, we need to mention one more important strategy. Prayer and visualization. It’s easy to get caught in a loop of fear and anxiety, but that doesn’t help you or your lost dog. If this seems farfetched to you consider that Temple Grandin (an autistic woman renowned for her work with animals) says that the reason many autistic people have the ability to communicate with animals in extraordinary ways is because both autistics and animals think in pictures. Take some time every day to close your eyes, breathe deeply and send your dog love. See her coming home; see her there with you and your family, everyone happy and well. Hopefully, if you apply all these strategies with patience and dedication that vision will soon be your reality again.
By: Melanie Lamaga