Dr Trudie Prinsloo is a qualified veterinarian and lawyer. In 2015, she started Legalvet services in order to provide legal advice to the animal and veterinary industries in South Africa.

We’ve teamed up with her to get insight into unique situations that only someone with her specialized experience and knowledge can answer.

This month, we asked Dr Prinsloo about the house rules for keeping pets in complexes, and you can read her guest post here.

This must be how the expression “gut-wrenching” originated. That is exactly how you feel when you discover your beloved dog is missing, except that the horrible wrenching feeling goes all the way from your throat, through your chest, your heart, and into your gut.

I know, I had to deal with it when my gorgeous, loyal German shepherd dog, Aeneas, went missing late one Sunday afternoon.

What practical steps should you take to find your dog?

After you have looked in the most likely places and if you could not find your dog, sit down and take a few moments to develop a plan. Each situation is unique, develop your plan around your specific situation.

Think about how and where your dog went missing. Did you just move to a new house (which is what happened when Aeneas went missing)? Did your dog get lost in a park, or jump out of the car window while waiting for you to run an errand?  Did someone leave the gate open at your house? Do you have good reason to suspect that it was stolen? These questions will help you to develop an appropriate plan.

  1. Get a good-quality photo of your dog and write down a short description of the most distinguishing characteristics of your dog. Don’t make it too long or complicated.  This is what you will use for posts on social media, posters, and flyers.  Make sure that you have the microchip number available to give to veterinarians and shelters and have it ready if you are contacted by anyone.
  2. Post it on all the available social media platforms that you have access to. Use the photograph and description discussed above.  Although it is good to let the message go out to as many people as possible, think about posting it in the most relevant places.  For example, if it is a Miniature Schnauzer and there is a local Miniature Schnauzer Facebook group, make sure it is posted there.  If there are any Facebook community groups or WhatsApp community groups, post it there as soon as possible and follow up if you are still looking for your dog a few days later, or if your dog is found.
  3. If you think your dog has been stolen, open a case with the local SAPS as soon as possible and keep the case number in a safe place. This is not just important because they might know of places to look, but it may also become important to show that you have not abandoned your dog.
  4. Go to all the veterinarians and animal shelters close to where your dog went missing and where you think it might have gone. Give them all the details and put posters up in their waiting rooms if they will allow it.  Make sure they have the microchip number and your contact number.  Follow up with them regularly until your dog is found, do not rely on them to do it because they are very busy and might forget.  Please also let them know if you find your dog.
  5. Social media a powerful tool, but there are still many people who still do not use it, so it is important to use the more old-fashioned methods too. This includes making large visible posters and placing them in prominent places.  Great places are lamp poles at busy intersections and the entrance to a busy local shop or shopping centre.  Make sure the letters are large and easy to read from a distance and use a large picture of your dog.  Also, make sure that the posters stand out, so use bright or neon colours.  Give a contact number that will be answered all the time.
  6. Make as many flyers as possible (100 or more) with the same information as on the posters and get your friends and family to help you place them in post boxes in the area where your dog went missing and close to your home too (if the areas differ).
  7. Try to get your local radio station to broadcast it. Many radio stations will not do it, but if there is a local community radio station, they might just be prepared to assist especially if there is something unique about your dog or the story.  When Aeneas went missing, I managed to convince them to broadcast it because he was a blood donor that regularly donated blood and saved other dogs’ lives.
  8. Some people suggest that you leave scented items for your dog to find its way home. This depends on the situation and although it may not be successful in many instances and items might get stolen, it is worth trying if it is practical in the circumstances.
  9. You could also consider giving a reward for the safe return of your dog. There are arguments for and against this, but if you do give a reward, be prepared to pay it if your dog is returned safely.  The amount offered for the reward will depend on your own circumstances.
  10. In my research for this blog, I came across an interesting website based in the USA, called Missing Animal Response Network. They give practical advice about missing dogs, especially dogs that have been frightened.  Visit this website for some interesting reading.  For example, they strongly advocate against the panic calling of a dog since it will likely scare an already frightened dog even more and make the dog run away or hide.  They suggest that you could sing to your dog!

What if you are too late?

Finding a lost dog is a huge relief! But it can also lead to even more drama if you discover that your dog had been adopted by someone else.  In that case, try to be practical and first make sure that this is indeed your dog.  People who adopt dogs care about pets and most likely will be kind and sensible if you can prove that it is your dog and that you have tried to get it back.  Also, be prepared to offer them some compensation for the time and effort they have invested in looking after your dog.

If they refuse to give your dog back, it might be necessary for you to get legal assistance from an attorney.  Things that will help you to successfully get your dog back would be proof that it is your dog, such as a microchip or very unique characteristics of the dog and photos of you and your dog previously.  If you had filed a police report when your dog went missing and proof of all your efforts to find your dog will also be to your advantage.

What can you do if you suspect your dog has been stolen?

If you suspect your dog has been stolen, you open a case with your local SAPS, even if you do not think they will assist you.  This will become important if you ever find your dog and ownership is disputed.  You should continue with all the efforts mentioned above to find your dog, but the places you look and where you place posters will likely be different.  In such a case a substantial reward for the safe return of your dog may be worth it.

Steps you can take to prevent your dogs from getting lost

When something bad happens, we always have those “If I had only done this or that” moments, and there are a few things you can do to prevent dogs from getting lost or to make it easier to be reunited with them.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure your dog is microchipped as soon as possible, keep your information updated with the company that provides the microchips, and pays your annual fees if there are any.
  2. Let your dog wear a collar with a tag that has your name and contact number. This makes it easy for people to contact you in case your dog gets lost.  I recommend both a microchip and a collar because they are not foolproof, and you increase your chances of successful recovery if you have both.
  3. Teach children and people who enter your property to keep gates closed at all times. Putting a sign on the gate might help.
  4. When you move to a new property, do not leave your dogs alone in places where they can jump over a fence or wall until they know that this is their new home and that you will be coming back to them.
  5. When you take your dogs to the park, shopping malls, beaches, or other places away from home, always have them on a leach or within very close proximity and direct sight at all times.

When Aeneas went missing, I did everything to find him, including posters, flyers, using the local radio station, driving around, and knocking on doors. I also offered a reward. And I eventually found him, but sadly only his lifeless body.

My mistake was that I left him in the garden with a fence that he could jump over, only days after I moved to a new house. Thanks to all my efforts, I at least found him, because not knowing where he was and what was happening to him was worse.

To this day, more than 25 years later, it still brings tears to my eyes and I hope this never happens to any of you. But I can tell you that I have learned from it and none of my dogs had ever gone missing since that terrible day.

Anything can happen, but if you put good preventative measures in place, it is far less likely to happen.