The most important step in finding a lost pet

The South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s adoption fees for all animals include microchips.

This weekend, my foster cat escaped – her first attempt at door darting. She leaped into the front yard and froze. We looked at each other and I prayed that she wouldn’t make a run for it as I leaped toward her. Fortunately, she seemed sufficiently overwhelmed by the great outdoors and allowed me to grab her and haul her back inside. As she ran back upstairs, I flopped down and thought about what could have happened. A great chase – but if a cat doesn’t want to be caught, it’s not going to be. Then posters, phone calls, humane traps, panic and fear …

The most proactive thing any family can do is to microchip their pet. I read several articles about cats and dogs being reunited with their families after being lost for years, and the common denominator in each story was that the pet was microchipped. A microchip is permanent proof that your pet belongs to you. All incoming animals at the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter are required to be scanned for a microchip. If a pet is chipped, we immediately contact the company, which provides us with the family’s information that was registered to the chip. This is why it is so important to make sure you fill out, send in and update the paperwork that goes along with your pet’s chip. We have had way too many microchipped animals unable to be reunited with their families because phone numbers changed or the chip was never registered.

When pets get lost, there are many things a family can do to increase their chances of finding them and bringing them home. Some family members should resume searching for the pet, while another quickly contacts your local police department, animal control officer, local animal shelters and veterinarians. If your pet is chipped, the chip company will help you with this when you report them lost. There is a form that can be filled out on our website at any time for lost or found pets. Go to www.southjerseyregionalanimalshelter.org and select “services” and the “lost or found.” This form goes to our front office, who enter it into our shelter management computer program. Our new software automatically scans incoming pets with lost reports, comparing ZIP codes, animal description and dates.

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Social media offers new ways to look for and find your lost pet. The South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter has a volunteer-run page called “Stray and Lost Pets at SJRAS/CCSPCA.” We do not guarantee that we can post all animals that arrive at the shelter as strays, but we do our best. Photos, identification numbers, locations and dates of stray animals are posted at least weekly. The page is a helping hand for lost pet owners. If you see a pet that could be your own, you must immediately contact the shelter by calling 856-691-1500. We guarantee that strays are held for the state’s required seven-day stray hold, but after that time is up they can be immediately transferred, adopted or (if there are behavioral or medical concerns we cannot address in the shelter) euthanized.

There also are several location-specific lost and found pages in our area. These pages are a great way to get the word out about a lost pet and to find people to help you. Many of the people who run these pages have lots of experience with finding and reuniting lost pets with their owners and can be a wealth of information. However, if you have questions about the legality of a situation (especially what to do with a pet you found), you should contact your local animal control officer or the shelter. There are many laws that govern lost and found pets, and you don’t want your good deed to wind up getting you on the wrong side of the law.

You can also decrease the chance of losing a pet by making sure fences are properly secured, using tie-outs, and (like I learned) being aware of pets by the door and opening and closing doors quickly. Teach children about the importance of closing gates and doors, and make sure your pet is always on a leash when not in a securely fenced yard. While seeing the reunion between a lost pet and an owner is a heartwarming part of shelter work, we would prefer for lost pets to stay home where they belong.

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