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What to Do When a Pet Runs Away

We give them shelter, affection, food, and entertaining toys. But once the front door opens, some pets have their minds set on escape. A cat may dart, a dog may sneak. Either way, getting outdoors unattended can spell trouble.

It's impossible to count all of the runaway pets, but estimates suggest hundreds of thousands of pets go missing every year. Many of these pets end up in shelters where, unless they're adopted, they face euthanasia.

A lost pet can be devastating for an owner. Pets are extended members of the family, and their presence in the home can be immediately missed. Should a pet get loose, there are some steps to take.

* Cats are territorial and aren't likely to venture where other cats reside. If you know where stray cats often congregate, look elsewhere for your kitty. Bring along a cat carrier and urge the cat inside with a treat.

* Some dogs will see something interesting in the distance and chase after it. Others will run a perimeter around the neighborhood. Focus on a 5- or 6-block radius around your home to find a lost dog.

* If a pet is located, do not chase the animal. He or she may see it as a game and evade capture. Lure the pet in with a treat.

* Some animals can find their ways home. Give it a little time and the pet might just return home.

* If it's been several hours and the pet hasn't been found, visit area shelters to see if he or she has been picked up. Check with shelters that aren't in the immediate vicinity, too. Animals can wander great distances when lost.

* Post pictures of the pet around the neighborhood and ask if the mail carrier can distribute "lost pet" fliers.

* Shelters have different rules regarding how long they hold an animal. Some will do so for a few days before putting the animal up for adoption or putting it down if it's a shelter that euthanizes.

Preventing pets from getting lost is the key to avoiding the heartache and lost sleep searching for a missing pet.

* If a dog is allowed to remain outdoors unleashed, do so only in a fenced-in yard.

* Be sure to license and register the pet with the city or town in which you live. Display the license and an ID tag on the pet's collar.

* Use leashes and animal crates when transporting pets to and from the car.

* Invest in a permanent radio-frequency identification microchip. An RFID chip is the size of a grain of rice and is injected under the excess skin by the shoulders of the pet. It contains contact information should the pet be found. Many shelters have the scanners necessary to read the chip's frequency.

* Be aware of your pet when opening the door. Don't leave doors and windows open if your pet is a known escape artist.