Your pet is lost — now what do you do?



Mercedes was lost for two weeks after escaping from a doggie day care. Her owner spotted her on a camera one night and drove to the spot and waited for her dog to come to her. CINDY MAJEWSKI / COURTESY PHOTO

Mercedes was lost for two weeks after escaping from a doggie day care. Her owner spotted her on a camera one night and drove to the spot and waited for her dog to come to her. CINDY MAJEWSKI / COURTESY PHOTO

Bethany Bohall’s dog was playing in a fenced-in yard. Then it was gone. Sarajane Sullivan’s dog slipped its collar and dashed away. Cindy Majewski’s beloved pet escaped from doggie day care and Holly Kendrick was devastated when her cat snuck out the door and disappeared. This happens every day, leaving pet owners terrified, teary and tormented by grief.

Most commonly it occurs because someone left a fence open. The gardener or the pool worker or a child might have forgotten to latch it. Sometimes a dog slips its collar, or an untrained pet sitter lets a pet escape. It occurs during a storm or a holiday with fireworks that spooks an animal and sends it running. It happens during the holidays when guests keep opening the door. The pet owner’s instinct is to chase the animal and shout for it to come back, but experts say that just sends their pet further away. Instead there is a long list of things people can do to increase their chances of a reunion.

Each county has a place to file a lost pet report. In Collier and Lee counties it is Domestic Animal Services. In Charlotte County it’s the Animal Welfare League and in Palm Beach County it’s Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control or Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League. Humane societies and smaller rescues refer everyone to these locations.

Bethany Bohall was devastated when her dog Selah went missing for two weeks. She never gave up hope, but she began to stop believing a bit as the days went on. Now she is happily reunited with her beloved hound mix. BETHANY BOHALL / COURTESY PHOTO

Bethany Bohall was devastated when her dog Selah went missing for two weeks. She never gave up hope, but she began to stop believing a bit as the days went on. Now she is happily reunited with her beloved hound mix. BETHANY BOHALL / COURTESY PHOTO

Official places

Marcie Perry, director of Collier County Domestic Animal Services, encourages people to fill out a lost pet report online or by phone. Then they should check the website to see the animals at the shelter and stop by to view them in person.

“We get them every day,” Ms. Perry says. “Every day people are reporting it. Every day somebody comes in to look. Every day someone finds their pets and takes them home. I want to always encourage them to check the local shelter. We need to get our name out there. If you lost your pet, come in.”

Dogs and cats with identification stay in the lost area for five days before being put up for adoption. Cats without identification go immediately to the adoption area.

Bethany Bohall was so happy when she finally found her hound mix, Selah. The dog had been missing for two weeks and was finally found on Christmas Eve 2021, more than nine miles away, by a golf course attendant at Grey Oaks in Naples. BETHANY BOHALL / COURTESY PHOTO

Bethany Bohall was so happy when she finally found her hound mix, Selah. The dog had been missing for two weeks and was finally found on Christmas Eve 2021, more than nine miles away, by a golf course attendant at Grey Oaks in Naples. BETHANY BOHALL / COURTESY PHOTO

It’s similar in Lee County, except there, lost animals must be reported by phone.

Someone is available to take the information 24/7. Lee County Domestic Animal Services updates its website every hour with new animals that have been brought in.

“The reason why all strays come to us, is it is one central place,” said Karen Fordiani, public information specialist. “Everyone knows there is one place to go.”

Ms. Fordiani stresses the need for pet owners to act fast. Dogs and cats brought into DAS that are microchipped are held for five days before being put up for adoption. Dogs that are not microchipped are held for only three days. Un-microchipped cats go right to adoption.

In Charlotte County all strays are held for five days before heading to adoption areas.

“We are the first stop people should make,” said Diana Mitchell, co-director of the Animal Welfare League of Charlotte County.

Fiona slipped out the door of a Bonita Shores home sending her owner frantically searching. After getting advice from a lost pet expert, her owner set a trap with smelly sardines and was reunited with her beloved cat. HOLLY KENDRICK / COURTESY PHOTO

Fiona slipped out the door of a Bonita Shores home sending her owner frantically searching. After getting advice from a lost pet expert, her owner set a trap with smelly sardines and was reunited with her beloved cat. HOLLY KENDRICK / COURTESY PHOTO

Palm Beach County has the most thorough website for lost pets. Two facilities there not only have a section with animals at the shelters, but a section where people can post photos and information about their missing pet. This week Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control had 82 dogs, and 119 cats that people posted as missing. Peggy Adams had a whopping 418 pages of photos and descriptions of lost and found pets dating back to 2018. In the first 29 pages, listing those missing in 2022, there were 91 lost dogs and 108 missing cats.

“On our website you can post if you lost a pet or you have found one, with as much information as possible and pictures,” said Hannah Sifon, admission coordinator at Peggy Adams. “We would only delete it if we got an email or phone call that it was found.”

Kelly Diegert, manager of customer relations, at Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control, says lost pet photos stay up for 30 days unless a pet owner updates the information.

Sue Law is the administrator of Lost Pet Finders of Collier County and Lost and Found Pets of Labelle and Alva. She serves on the Collier County Domestic Animal Services Advisory Board. SUE LAW / COURTESY PHOTO

Sue Law is the administrator of Lost Pet Finders of Collier County and Lost and Found Pets of Labelle and Alva. She serves on the Collier County Domestic Animal Services Advisory Board. SUE LAW / COURTESY PHOTO

“The nice thing about our page it is interactive,” Ms. Diegert said. “If you put in a found report, it is up there in 15 minutes with a picture.”

All the shelters require a person to bring proof of ownership when claiming a lost pet. It can be anything from a dog license, to vet records. to photos of the family with the animal.

The pet finders

There are good Samaritans out there that have spent thousands of volunteer hours reuniting hundreds of pets with their owners. Sometimes it’s as simple as advice by phone. Other times it involves late nights crawling under fences, scouring woods and setting traps. Maranda Wyatt, of Lehigh Acres, has been doing this since 2016. She says the number one thing people need to do is put up big, waterproof, easy to read signs. But it’s not just the things people should do, it’s the things people should not do.

Maranda Wyatt has helped hundreds of people find their lost dogs. The Lehigh Acres resident gives advice and helps search for and trap missing dogs and cats. She does this all as a volunteer. MARANDA WYATT / COURTESY PHOTO

Maranda Wyatt has helped hundreds of people find their lost dogs. The Lehigh Acres resident gives advice and helps search for and trap missing dogs and cats. She does this all as a volunteer. MARANDA WYATT / COURTESY PHOTO

“If someone sees a dog, their instinct is to chase the dog and that is the worst thing to do,” Ms. Wyatt advises. “Nobody has ever caught a dog when it is running, but it is instinct. All it does is send the dog further away; much further away than it ever would have gone. If they take the advice, that works so often, it is such a higher chance of the dog being reunited. The best thing is to drop some food. Get them used to eating in a certain spot and then put up a trap.”

Dogs go into a flight mode when they are on the streets and often won’t even come to an owner. Ms. Wyatt waits until people start calling in sightings and then advises people to set a trap and cameras in the area where the pet was spotted.

Ms. Wyatt says missing cats usually don’t wander more than three houses away.

“Going out and calling the cat’s name or going into the bushes, sometimes you can scare it away,” she explains. “The best thing is to put out food, something smelly like a can of tuna, where the cat escaped. The cat has to come back to get food. If there is no food, the cat will go away to find a food source.”

Ms. Wyatt not only gives advice, but she also helps put up signs, traps and cameras. She helps get the word out on social media and says it’s important to go beyond Facebook and post on a variety of sites.

“But the most important thing is the signs,” she concluded. “The sign matters. And it cannot be the wrong type of sign. They will never get a sighting if their sign is not 100% visible.”

Sue Law, of Naples, is the administrator of Lost Pet Finders of Collier County and Lost and Found Pets of Labelle and Alva. She serves on the Collier County Domestic Animal Services Advisory Board. She was trained by one of the best pet detectives in the country, Kat Albrecht, with the Missing Animal Response network. People post on her Facebook group and she offers advice on the steps to take for a successful reunion. She also helps people hang signs, establishes feeding stations with night cameras and sets traps. Ms. Law uses huge colorful signs with a photo of the missing pet, a very short description and a phone number. She calls it the Five + Five + Fifty-five. Here’s how it works: at any typical intersection you have only five seconds and five words to get your message across to drivers who are zipping by at 55 miles per hour.

“As frantic and distressed as the owners usually are, we are constantly in touch by phone or text,” Ms. Law said. “They need a lifeline, someone who has been through it before and can encourage them by sharing past rescue stories, which gives them hope to keep going. Their emotions go from zero to a hundred and back down again, over and over until their pet is reunited.”

Melisa York, of Cape Coral, founder of Pet Finders of SWFL, does similar volunteer work.

“I have been doing this forever because I don’t like seeing helpless animals on the street,” she said. “Number one thing is getting huge signs up and plastering the entire neighborhood.”

In Palm Beach County, Dawn DiBari and Gail Bass run the volunteer group Loxahatchee Lost and Found Pets Inc. They have purchased two microchip scanners for local fire departments and have their own scanners so people can take found dogs to be scanned for identification. The group also helps people put up flyers, loans traps and offers advice.

“We have over 15,000 members. They will go out and help us look for the dog and try to get it home or hold the dog overnight so we can find the owner,” Ms. DiBari said.

Having hope

As the days pass with a missing pet, hope can fade. Visions of a reunion get harder to imagine. But they do happen over and over again. Bethany Bohall lost her hound mix Selah in Golden Gate when the dog escaped from a fenced in yard. Ms. Bohall, her family and friends began the frantic search. They put up signs, posted on social media and scoured the woods, culverts and water sources. She followed all the advice that Ms. Law gave her but didn’t get any sightings. Two weeks went by.

“It was awful,” she described. “Grief, ambiguity, that is 100% what I was going through. It is almost easier to grieve a death. You don’t have anything to grieve because you still have hope and you don’t want to give up hope. I was losing belief that I would find her, but not hope.”

Then on Christmas Eve 2021, she got a phone call from a worker at the golf course at Grey Oaks, more than nine miles from where the dog was lost.

“I was thinking, it’s a scam,” said Ms. Bohall who had already received several scam calls.

She went to the golf course with little hope of seeing Selah.

“I turn this corner and there is Selah standing there and she ran over to me,” Ms. Bohall described. “I was crying and I was seriously just in disbelief. It was the best Christmas of my life.”

Sarajane Sullivan was at Mercato in North Naples when her Chihuahua-pug mix, Pearl, slipped her collar and ran off.

“For five days it was hell on earth,” Ms. Sullivan began.

She took Ms. Law’s advice. Signs led to people calling in sightings and narrowed down a location.

“A few times she was feet away from me and she did not recognize me,” Ms. Sullivan said. “Sue said she would not recognize me. She just thinks you are a person trying to capture her. It was very emotional and very stressful to have her look at me and have no clue who I was. We put a bunch of meatballs in a trap and the trap closed behind her and that is how we ended up getting her.”

Cindy Majewski’s Yorkshire terrier, Mercedes, escaped from doggie day care in North Fort Myers.

“She was gone for a whole week, and it was 30-degree weather some of those nights,” Ms. Majewski said.

Ms. Wyatt gave her lots of advice, stressing the need to not call or chase the dog when spotted.

“She was already in a flight mode,” Ms. Majewski said. “She was scared to death. Anyone calling her, she would run away.”

When Ms. Majewski saw an image of her dog on a camera in the middle of the night, she drove her from Naples home back to North Fort Myers.

“I got a smelly McDonalds sausage,” Ms. Majewski described. “I did exactly what they told me to do, just lay down. I knew she was there I could see her. I could hear her whimper. I whimpered back and I started hysterically crying, and as I was crying she came over to me. And she ran and jumped on my face and licked me all over.”

Holly Kendrick’s tiny black and white cat slipped out the door in Bonita Shores and disappeared.

“So I started with walking the neighborhood calling her,” Ms. Kendrick described. “I was shaking the dry food walking down the road. Then Maranda said ‘you won’t find her that way. She’s hiding. The more you call her, the deeper she will go.’ She said the only way to get her is to trap her.”

Ms. Kendrick got a camera and a trap. She left a trail of sardine juice in her yard leading up to the trap that had sardines inside. Less than three hours after setting the trap, her cat, Fiona, was caught.

“I was so happy,” Ms. Kendrick said. “My pets are like kids to me. It breaks my heart when I hear of all these lost pets.” ¦

In the KNOW

Where to search for your lost pet

Collier County Domestic Animal Services, 239-252-7387, www.colliercountyfl.gov/government/publicservices/ divisions/domestic-animalservices

Lee County Domestic Animal Services, 239-533-7387, www.leegov.com/ animalservices

Animal Welfare League of Charlotte County, 941- 625-6720, awlshelter.org

Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control 561-233-1200,discover.pbcgov.org/publicsafety/animalcare

Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, 561- 686-3663, www.peggyadams.org

Next Door

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Facebook pages: Lost Pet Finders of Collier County, Lost and Found Pets of Labelle and Alva, Lost Animals of Collier County, Lost/Found Pets of Lee County, Cape Coral/Fort Myers Pet Lost and Found, Lost/Found Pets of Charlotte County, Lost and Found Pets of SE Florida – Broward, Dade & Palm Beach County’s

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Top Tips for Finding a Lost Pet

Put up large plastic signs (sheets that can be cut can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowes, Amazon).

Use minimal wording on the signs so people passing in vehicles can read it quickly.

Hand out flyers.

Contact your local Domestic Animal Services.

Post on social media.

Search for dogs near a fresh water source, dawn and dusk are the best times.

Search for cats in the middle of the night.

Set traps for cats with food.

Don’t chase or call the pet.

Talk to all your neighbors.

Prepare Your Pet

Have your pet microchipped and make sure the microchip information is updated.

Have identification on your dog’s collar — either a tag or write a phone number with a Sharpie.

For dogs and cats that are a flight risk, look at GPS trackers or pet trackers. Some only track up to 100 yards while others use GPS to track anywhere.

Have a plan in place for hurricane season, by having a pet carrier or seatbelt harness to keep your pet from escaping a vehicle when you are evacuating.

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