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When Your Lost Pet Won't Come to You: Survival Mode

If your pet ran away from home in fear or panic due to noise (ex: thunderstorms, fireworks, gunshots, etc.), there are a few important things you should know to help recover your lost pet.

A pet in survival mode is searching for food, water, shelter and safety. You cannot expect that this pet will recognize the owner’s appearance or voice. A pet that’s in a state of survival should be considered feral, or wild.

How would you catch a wild animal? Would you yell at it to come to you? Move toward or chase after it? No way! Chasing after it, or yelling at it (i.e., calling it to come) will only result in that animal fleeing. We have to get the pet to come to us the same way we would a wild animal. We have to be quiet, stealthy, and full of smelly, tasty food. Any amount of movement or noise could spook the animal into flight.

Here are my top tips for trying to recover a lost and panicked pet:

1. Don't chase or call the animal if they are in survival mode. It will only cause your pet to flee.

2. Don't shake cans of food or treats, and don’t use squeaky toys to entice them home. If the animal is panicked, these noises will only scare it and cause it to run further away.

3. If you have people to help you find your pet, have them bring a portable camping chair or blanket and stake out a spot near where the pet was last seen. Have everyone spread out and stake out different spots. If they don’t have a chair, they can sit on the ground. But sitting (or lying down) is imperative.

4. Have smelly food ready to go. Each volunteer should have cooked hot dogs or canned pet food. Pupperoni is a favorite among those who search for lost dogs. Volunteers can hold the food in their hand as it rests on their chair, and they can scatter it around their space as well.

5. If it’s possible to give each volunteer a water bowl, that would be fantastic.

6. Remember to be quiet and make next to no movement. You want to be like a ninja with food.

7. If you should see the animal, report it to the owner via text message if possible (it's quieter and requires less movement than calling). Do NOT approach!!! If the animal approaches you and settles nearby, contact the owners.

8. Gather some things that might be familiar to your pet and put them out for your pet to happen upon. Have food and water there, too. Don’t put these things in the middle of an open field - that place won’t make your pet feel safe. Place these things in a spot where you think a wild animal might feel safe. Then leave. Pick a spot in which to sit that is far away from your things but still within sight (use binoculars if you have to).

9. Once your pet can find a safe place to rest and fill it’s belly with food and water, it may recover from Survival Mode and be able to recognize your appearance, voice, and/or smell.

10. Don’t approach the pet!!! The goal is for the animal to approach you. This will likely take a great amount of restraint and patience but it is imperative to the success of recovering your pet.

11. Set a trap if necessary. Here is a resource for humane animal traps.

This post is dedicated to Nore. We are so glad you found your way home.

Additional Resources:

“Understanding Survival Mode”

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