Here is a directory of communicators who may be able to assist you: http://findalostpetresources.com/communicators/
Visit Wynter Worsthorne's site to download her helpful e-book on what to do when your animal goes missing: http://animaltalkafrica.co.za/shop/
You may also read or download this informative, helpful article written by Barbara George to assist you with practical and energetic advice when your animal has gone missing.
When is an animal missing?
All references are to "he" and "him" although of course females and neuters also go missing.
At what point is he considered missing?
This depends on many factors including his usual habits, the environment, the weather, changes in the household, females on heat, fireworks, stress or injury.
An animal that freely roams over a large territory will take longer to be declared missing than one that is kept permanently indoors.
A rule of thumb is when he has missed one meal, unless he has access to food in another place, he can be considered missing.
Before an animal goes missing.
Do this while he is happy at home; it is easy to forget important information when under stress and panicking!
Keep up-to-date photographs of him showing his face, with eyes open, and any other distinguishing markings. Photograph from different angles if necessary. Have some form of reference as to his size in the photograph (such as a brick wall). It is not necessary to show his face in all photographs.
For adults, update the photographs every year; for growing animals every 3-4 months.
If possible keep electronic (computerised) as well as printed copies of the photographs.
List his favourite foods, treats, games and toys.
List any medical conditions, the medication he is taking for them, and the frequency of the medication.
If he has a microchip make sure that you contact details are up-to-date and correct.
List characteristics that may influence his behaviour when caught or handled by strangers, such as friendly to all, included to bite, climbs into any vehicle, gets car-sick, etc.
Keep a current list of all the animal welfare and rescue organisations in your area. Many of these advertise in the newspapers so their details are freely available.
Update all the lists regularly (birthday and Christmas are good opportunities).
Keep positive and try not to panic. This will upset him and make him more difficult to find.
Try to determine the cause of his going; this may indicate where he may be found.
Visualise him walking home, coming into the house through his normal entrance, eating from his bowl and lying on his bed or blanket.
Believe that somewhere somebody knows something and try to reach that person.
A. Missing from home
Look around the house, home and garden thoroughly. Open all cupboards and doors, including kitchen and bathroom cupboards and the garage. Cats can squeeze into very small spaces and climb up most things, so check in and on top of high cupboards, curtain rails and rafters.
Take the weather into account – is it too hot to move about (he is sleeping in a cool corner away from the heat), is it raining or storming? Where is he likely to go under these conditions? Where will he find appropriate shelter? Think from his perspective, size and abilities.
If there is another dog in the house that is attached to the missing animal take him for a walk in the area and ask him to guide you to the missing animal. Animals communicate too. Cats are generally not as interested in finding missing animals and not as easy to follow when they do lead you there.
Speak to the neighbours, postman, delivery people, dustmen and anyone else who may have seen him. Ask people who walk past on the way to the station or bus stop morning and evenings.
Take note of neighbours that may be away, is it possible that he is locked in their house or garage?
If there is a school near by ask the children that walk past the house on the way to and from school; they are more observant than adults.
Put up posters with a clear photograph showing the most distinguishing markings and his face. Include a contact telephone number. Think carefully before adding your address as this may lead to unwelcome visitors while you are out searching.
Place posters in the library, shopping centres, schools, local shops, churches, sports centres, post offices, and anywhere people are likely to see it. Put some at a convenient height for children to read.
Think carefully before offering a reward. It may be tempting to steal him on a regular basis for a reward. Depending on the circumstances of his return a reward of some description can be made, or a donation to a local charity or rescue organisation on behalf of the rescuer.
Call all the vets in the area to register him as missing.
Call the animal welfare and rescue organisation that cover the area to register him as missing.
If he is likely to be going back to a previous address call the vets and rescue organisations in that area, as well as any neighbours or other people that you still have contact with, such as the new owners of your old house.
If your contact number is a landline ensure that someone is available to answer the phone at reasonable times (evenings and weekends at least). If it is a cell phone make sure the battery is fully charged while you are out looking.
Place an ad in the newspapers, including the local community newspapers. These reach more people as they are delivered free to the houses weekly.
Follow up regularly with the rescue organisations. Many of them have long lists of missing animals and insufficient staff or budget to call all the likely owners.
Keep looking, keep positive, and keep hoping. It is easier to be active.
Everyone in the household, including other animals, will be affected. Spend time with them too.
B. Missing in transit
Always take photographs and the personal lists created above on long journeys.
These searches are usually more difficult unless it is still close to home. Both you and the animal are in unfamiliar territory so the options and environment are unknown.
Search all vehicles thoroughly, including the engine, any storage space (such as a boot and roof-racks) and under the vehicles. Cats can climb into the smallest space and remain hidden.
Search the immediate surroundings.
Ask for help from the locals and anyone attending to any accident. They may know of places to look or may have seen the direction he took.
Try to find the details of the local SPCA or Animal Welfare organisation. Inform them of his details and ask for contact details of other rescue organisations.
If at all possible put up posters in the area with your contact details. In this case a reward may be offered.
If possible place an ad in the local newspapers.
Identify a person in the area to act as search-co-ordinator if it is not possible for you to stay there to look for him. Follow up regularly with this person.
A reward may be offered for his safe return.
C. Missing from another place
Animals can go missing when they are not at home, such as from a boarding kennel, a friend’s house or a show.
When leaving them in someone else’s care provide the photographs and personal lists as above.
Try to determine why the animal is missing; this may help to understand where he is.
Search the premises thoroughly, inside outside and on top (for cats & birds).
Search the immediate neighbourhood.
Search on a route back to his home if it is likely that he will try to return home.
If you have to leave this place to return home leave his blanket or an item of your clothing that he can associate with you should he return or be found.
Identify a person in the area to act as search-co-ordinator if it is not possible for you to stay there to look for him. Follow up regularly with this person Ask for help from the locals. They may know of places to look or may have seen the direction he took.
Find the details of the local SPCA or Animal Welfare organisation. Inform them of his details and ask for contact details of other rescue organisations. Ask the search-co-ordinator to check with them regularly.
Put up posters in the area with your contact details at all places where people will see them. A reward may be offered.
Ask the search co-ordinator to place an ad in the local newspapers.
Inform the vets and rescue organisations in your area that he is missing and may be trying to get home. If possible and practical, inform vets in areas that he may travel through in order to get back home.
Interspecies communicators can assist in missing animal cases by connecting to him and attempting to identify his whereabouts.
Not all animals want to return home, it depends on the reason for leaving and they may impose conditions on their return.
It is possible to connect to animals that are no longer living and possibly identify how, when and where they died, bearing in mind that this is no longer important to them.
Not all missing animals are willing to co-operate; he may be in shock, scared or uninterested in returning until his ‘adventure’ is complete or some changes have taken place.
In order to connect to him it is necessary for the communicator to have a complete description of him; species, breed, name, age, distinguishing features and place from which he went missing. A photograph showing open eyes is extremely useful.
Communicators can ‘mediate’ between him and his humans in an attempt to resolve issues that led to him leaving home.
Communicators can request him to return or make suggestions about how he can make himself found or seek help but cannot force him to do anything or go anywhere that he doesn’t want to.
Other animals in the household may be able to add information relevant to the missing animal, the reason for leaving or the time and method of leaving. They may even know where he is.
The success rate for missing animals found alive and willing to return to their homes is less than 50%.
Missing animal returns home.
Punishment is counter-productive and will make him run away again.
Depending on the circumstances of the return and the length of time he has been missing it may be advisable to take him to the vet for a check-up.
Check for bite wounds, fleas, ticks, burrs etc.
A plate of food, a clean bowl of water and good grooming will be appreciated.
Keep him warm (not too hot in summer) and give him loads of love.
Explain that you were upset, missed him and the anxiety it caused.
Establish how and why he ran away and put measure in place to address any issues (broken fences, disharmony in the home, abuse etc.).
Why does an animal leave home?
He is sensitive to changes in the household such as new additions (human or animal) to the family, people or animals leaving, moving house, arguments, human-to-human abuse and other changes in circumstances. Take time to explain to him what is happening and why, and where he fits into the household. How has his position and/or job changed?
He will leave if he is abused beyond the limit he will bear, either physically or mentally.
Old and sick animals may leave to die in peace without upsetting the household.
Older animals may not be able to keep up the pace of the household and look for calmer surroundings where they can slow down
Animals who have completed their work in a household may leave and move to a place where they are more needed.
He may not enjoy a hyperactive household if he is a quiet, calm-seeking animal.
If he is not neutered he will be interested in all the females he can find; this will cause him to wander extensively. Having him neutered and females spayed is kinder to the animals in many aspects, and to their un-wanted offspring.
If he needs more company or stimulation he will look for it elsewhere. There are many instances of animals, especially cats, having more than one ‘home’. Boredom is as bad for our pets as it is for us.
Burglary or other accidents in the home can cause him to take fright and run away.
Storms or fireworks can frighten and disorient him so that he runs in the wrong direction.
Invasion of his territory by a superior animal or human may force him to look for another home.
Conflict with another animal or human may be a cause.
Asking him to perform functions that are outside his scope or personality may cause him severe stress. He may look for an easier position elsewhere.
He has his own personality, abilities, likes and dislikes. Respect and honour him at all times.
An interspecies communicator can help identify causes of unhappiness in animals and assist in resolving issues so that both animals and humans benefit.
Keep him on your premises. This is easier with dogs and horses than with cats that can jump most fences or birds that can fly. Keep the gates closed and the fences in good repair.
Make sure he is identifiable: collar or microchip or both. Cats must have quick-release or expandable collars (with elastic sections) so they can get their heads out if they are caught in a tree. The gap between the neck and the collar should be sufficient for you to get 2 fingers in without any force. Looser makes it easier to snag, tighter is too tight for the comfort of the cat. Loosen the collar in winter for animals that develop a ruff.
Replace worn collars.
Update name tags when the details change or the details become un-readable.
Keep him stimulated and busy with toys, regular games and walks (for dogs).
Some animals need company. If he is one of these give him a friend. This need not be of the same species. Or consider getting a neighbour or pet-walker/sitter to visit during the day.
Some animals are pack animals and function best with others of the same breed; others are loners and prefer not to share their humans.
He depends on us for food, shelter, love and protection. Most pets cannot survive in the wild, and definitely not in our suburbs. If we do not provide the correct environment for him he will look for a better place to live, as all of us would if we had the opportunity.
Feed at regular times, the correct food for him according to age, size, breed and whether he is a working animal (horse for riding, patrol dog etc.). Fresh water must be available at all times.
He needs a safe, dry, warm, comfortable place to sleep. Inside or outside depends on your circumstances and his function; a guard dog will not sleep on the bed and a cat will not sleep in the yard.
He needs love too, just as we all do. Love him enough to let him be what he is, a dog, cat, horse, bird, fish, rabbit or tortoise. He is not a human child.
See to his needs for stimulation and give him a job to do according to his species and abilities. This may be to guard the house, keep you company, sing a song or smile.
Protect him against abuse of all kinds, mental and physical.
Safely transport him. Try to always have someone with you in the vehicle to control him. Cats, birds and other small animals must always be transported in a closed (locked) carrier; if on a front seat it must be strapped in using the seat belt. Carriers must have his details (name and contact number) on a secure label.
When leaving him at another place such as a boarding kennel or a pet-sitter’s house make sure he understands the reason for this temporary move and when you will return for him. He must be secured before you leave to prevent him from following you.
Finding a missing Animal
When you are on the other end of the equation!
Approach him slowly, carefully, calmly and quietly so as not to frighten him into running further or attacking. Talk in a low, friendly voice.
Always leave an escape route for him if he feels overwhelmed being approached by a stranger.
If you can reach him, slowly and calmly try to ascertain if he has a collar or other form of identification. If feasible, get the details without removing the collar or confining him.
Call the owner before trying to capture him; if he takes fright he may run further away.
If you can identify him from a missing poster contact the owner before approaching him in case he runs further.
Try to ascertain if he is hurt or in need of medical attention.
If he is scared or cornered he may attack in order to defend himself.
Call the local SPCA or rescue organisation to help capture him, they have experience in dealing with unknown, possibly frightened or hurt, animals.