The realization that a family dog or cat has gone missing can be a scary, if not panic-inducing moment. While some cats seem able to fend for themselves in the outside world, if they’re gone for more than a day, it’s only natural to assume the worst. It goes without saying that cats kept indoors stand the best chance of staying safe and living a long life. However, many cats are determined to explore the outside world regardless of your good intentions, and trying to prevent them from doing so may ultimately be an exercise in futility. To further complicate matters, many cats and dogs are quite resourceful when it comes to spotting and taking advantage of open doors and unlocked backyard gates.

Once they’re outside, cats can easily jump over fences, and dogs — especially puppies — have a knack for finding and escaping through small openings in the fence (often at the bottom) that you may not have noticed. There are a lot of different possible causes for the disappearance of a pet, but the sense of loss families experience when a beloved pet doesn’t return is universal. Since prevention only goes so far with adventurous cats and dogs, it can also be helpful to have a quick response plan ready. Making sure your pet is either micro-chipped or wearing a collar with up-to-date ID tags can increase your chances of getting a lost pet returned to you quickly.

One vital resource to be aware of and connected with is neighborhood social media sites. By finding out if there are any active ones in your area, you can be in a better position to quickly alert your neighbors, in the event your pet suddenly disappears. Since many people are pet owners, they’ll be very sympathetic and responsive to an online post of a missing dog or cat. The bottom line is this: Your prospects of a speedy reunion will often improve in direct proportion to how many neighbors know about your missing animal friend and how to contact you.

There’s also the relatively old-fashioned, but often effective method of printing out and posting “lost pet” flyers. In addition to posting them in various locations, such as dog parks, neighborhood stores, and pet-oriented businesses, you can also hand them out to neighbors you see when conducting your initial search. For maximum effectiveness, the flyer should say “Lost Cat” or “Lost Dog” at the top of the flyer, and include a good photo of your pet, as well as your phone number and information about when and where they were last seen. Other features, such as breed, color, markings, age, weight, gender, your pet’s name, and any unique characteristics should also be included in the flyer to help neighbors identify your pet. Additional tactics and tools for recovering a lost pet are also available through the ASPCA.

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