Arriving home after a ten-hour drive from Robbinsville, North Carolina, my house only partially feels like home. B and his band are touring Europe and Henry Dog is still in Metairie at his favorite playground, Puppy Love. The cats add some comfort to the structure, but there is a manifest absence: the remarkable and eerie feeling that the essence of my missing loved ones- dog and man- are only embossed on the air, not altogether there yet almost tangible.
The majority of pet owners know the feeling of their homes without their animals and most have had the scare, and sometimes terrifying reality, of a missing pet. Typically, when people think of a missing pet, they imagine their dog wiggling through a hole under the fence in their backyard, or darting out of the front door at the sound of thunder, hoping that if they met their end it was quick and painless; or more optimistically, that the escapee ended with someone taking in the pet as their own. Pets can certainly escape: one of my childhood dogs, a Shetland Sheepdog named Bonnie Jo, loved to dash out the front door as my mom was trying to get me in the car for school. I remember mornings spent running around the neighborhood in my school uniform, chasing a Sheltie who was clearly enjoying the adventure, my mom on the other side of the street running and hoping to block Bonnie Jo’s tricky changes of course. But not everyone is so lucky to be able to find and catch his or her escapee pet. Most pet parents do not think of the possibility of their pet being stolen. Sadly, pets are stolen more often than one would think. The American Kennel Club reported that in 2011, the reports of stolen dogs went up 49%.
Why would someone steal a pet? Fighting rings, bait dog use, puppy mills, resale value and research labs are only some of the reasons. Certain breeds of dogs are more likely to be stolen for twisted entertainment: pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs for fighting or bait dogs and pure-bred dogs for resale value to puppy mills (breeding purposes) and research labs (docile breeds for easy control in scientific research, such as beagles). Craigslist serves as a perfect fence for pet thieves looking to sell, so be careful if you are looking to adopt an animal from it. And then there is what may be the most frightening and upsetting scenario in which your pet could end up: research institutions. Technically, this is supposed to be far less widespread, but not that long ago, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there were very few laws regulating where labs could purchase animals. In 2010, only ten were considered registered “class B dealers.” The fact remains, though, that laboratories do not always follow these guidelines, and any paperwork functioning as “proof” could easily be fraudulent.
If your pet is missing, regardless of why, the first thing you should do is call your local animal shelters. Whereas Craigslist is the first place many pet thieves looking for a quick profit will go, it is also the first place many pet rescuers will go as well. Just a few months ago when I arrived home from the store, a docile, confident black Border Collie mix strolled up to me. She was healthy, shiny and friendly, so I knew she was no stray. I walked her around the neighborhood and asked a few familiar faces if they recognized her; no one did, so I brought her back to my house and posted a generic “found dog” post. Within an hour, the owner had contacted me with the dog’s name, a photo and where she lives, which was right around the corner from me. To confirm that the dog belonged to the woman, I called the dog’s name and her head snapped around to look at me and wag her tail. Case closed! Posting flyers in your area with a photo will also help people locate your missing pet.
Here are some preventative measures you can take to avoid a missing pet: microchip, microchip, microchip! Microchipping provides an “identity tag” that is underneath your pet’s skin- any vet, almost anywhere, can scan the chip. This is also an important step to take if you find an animal that appears to be someone’s. Bring the animal to the vet to see if they have a microchip. Make sure your pet has updated tags on their collar. Do not leave your pet outside and do not let your pet wander freely. If you cannot have an inside pet, then consider finding your pet another home. If you must find another home for your animal, do not offer the pet for free. Charging at least a small adoption fee can help deter those who would use the animal for profit or abuse them. If you see any suspicious behavior, do not hesitate to call your local animal shelter or better yet, try contacting a rescue organization.
Sometimes a shelter can only do so much, but rescue organizations run by volunteers and fosters will sometimes be more willing to do more if they are able. In short, keep your pet safe, and treat your pet like you would treat your own human child: if you wouldn’t want your child sitting outside in the New Orleans sun, chained to a fence with no food or water all day, then don’t do it to your pet.
A few rescue groups and shelters to put you and your pet back together:
Animal Rescue New Orleans
Dogs of the Ninth Ward
504-222-3686 (email preferred)
Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter
(East Bank and West Bank)
N.O. Animal Welfare Society
Pet Adoption Services
The Sula Foundation
Humane Society of Louisiana
888-6 HUMANE (486263)