There are few things more gut-wrenching than realizing a beloved pet is missing. Wayward pets are sometimes seen walking along roadsides or attempting to cross a busy street.
It’s an unfortunate fact that animals often scale fences or take advantage of opened doors for a taste of freedom. In other cases, pet owners simply let their animals run at large, despite prohibitive ordinances.
According to the American Humane Association, more than 10 million dogs go missing each year in the U.S. Lost Pet Research & Recover estimates 1 in 3 pets will go missing in their lifetime.
When Huntsville citizens see animals roaming at large, especially if they are in danger, they often contact Huntsville Animal Services (HAS). An animal officer is then dispatched to safely retrieve the dog. In the case of stray cats and kittens, traps are often used.
An anguished pet owner missing a fur baby will issue a desperate plea on social media to locate the animal, but don’t often think to call or visit HAS to see if it’s been picked up.
“Always check with us first,” said Dr. Karen Sheppard, Director of HAS.
In 2021, HAS took in more than 4,200 stray or at-large dogs and cats. Of those, about 627 (14%) were returned to an owner.
“It’s a great thing when we can reunite a lost pet with its owner,” Sheppard said. “It not only helps the lost pet, but it also helps the other animals in our care because it’s one less pet taking up space in a crowded kennel.”
Sheppard said identification tags on an animal’s collar can help reunite pets with their owners more quickly and easily.
“I really encourage a personalized identification tag with the pet’s address and several phone numbers on the tag,” she said. “A rabies tag or City license works, but those businesses must be open to run the tag’s number and hopefully connect to correct data on the owner.”
There’s also microchipping, which can be just as effective. The small chip, about the size of a piece of rice, is embedded under the skin. Pet owners can then register the chip and include their contact information.
When a stray is brought into HAS, one of the first steps is to wave a microchip scanner over the animal’s body to see if a chip is present. The scanner will display an identification code tied to that chip, which can then be entered into a database to retrieve contact information.
Each animal adopted at HAS is spayed/neutered and microchipped before it leaves the facility. However, the responsibility of registering the microchip and entering in contact information falls to the new owner.
“Microchips are a great tool in helping people recover their lost pets, but they are worthless if there’s no contact information associated with the chip,” Sheppard said.
Reuniting lost pets with their owners is especially important now as HAS deals with an increasing number of intakes. The shelter is experiencing a high volume of surrenders and strays, and Sheppard hopes both of those numbers go down soon.
HAS places a seven-day hold on most stray pets unless owner information can be found on a tag or microchip. Anyone wanting to foster or adopt a stray must sign a document that states if the animal’s owner is located within seven days, the animal must be returned.
“We want to give owners every opportunity to reclaim their pet,” Sheppard said. “If they haven’t done so within that time, we’re more than happy to have the animal placed in a new, loving home.”
Protect your pet
There are many steps pet owners can take to safeguard their animals, such as ensuring fencing, doors and windows are secure. If you own a pure-breed or exotic dog, keep a close eye on it when outdoors to protect against theft. Spaying and neutering can also decrease chances of a dog wandering off to look for a mate and prevents unwanted litters of puppies.
Sheppard reiterated that identification tags and microchipping are the best ways to recover a lost pet, especially one that turns up at the shelter. She also recommended that owners ensure all vet and vaccination records are updated regularly.
If an animal does go missing, call the shelter first. Owners should also thoroughly search their own neighborhood and check with local veterinary offices. If an owner suspects an animal was stolen, they should file a police report. Finally, social media can help mobilize friends to be on the lookout for a pet.
To contact Huntsville Animal Services, call 256-883-3782. Click here to see photos, ages and descriptions of available animals.