When Your Dog Goes Missing, How Long Do You Hold Out Hope?


I’ll start this article by saying I’ve never really lost one of my pets (and then I’ll go knock on wood). My family had an escape artist of a dog when I was a kid, but he just roamed the neighborhood harassing squirrels, accompanied by the neighbor’s dog, until we found him, or the dog warden did. He was never gone very long.

Once, one of my cats got stuck behind the neighbor’s fence and stayed out overnight. I found him the next day, meowing up a storm. When I pulled him out from under the fence, I was on the verge of happy tears. But lately, a spate of lost pets in my area has left me wondering: How long do you hold out hope?

Maybelle is not lost, just on the trail of a deer. (Photo by Theresa Cramer)
Maybelle is not lost, just on the trail of a deer. (Photo by Theresa Cramer)

According to a 2012 study, “93 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats reported lost were returned safely to their homes.” But I had trouble finding statistics on just how long it typically takes to find your lost dog. Is it a matter of hours, days, weeks?

In February of 2014, a woman, not far from my house, came home to find her apartment had been broken into and her dogs were missing. A massive social media campaign ensued, and people came from all over the region to help this woman comb the city for her dogs, Burton and Zuzu. In the process, they turned up a number of other stray dogs, but more than a year later, her pups are still missing. Earlier this year, on the occasion of the dogs’ fourth birthday, she wrote a Facebook post that read, in part, “I hope that by their 5th birthdays, we are all back together …”

Neither one of us is getting off this couch.
Neither one of us is getting off this couch. (Photo by Theresa Cramer)

I, too, hope that she is reunited with her beloved dogs. There is something especially gut wrenching about not knowing what has become of an animal you loved. It is sad when a dog dies, and you may spend an extended amount of time mourning that loss — but at least you know that she is gone. You may choose not to put yourself through the inevitable loss of another companion, but you can make that choice with full knowledge that your buddy won’t turn up on your doorstep one day in the future.

When your pet just goes missing, you’re left in limbo. Headlines like “Dog Found in Iowa Returned to Louisiana Owner After Missing Nearly 4 Years” don’t help matters much. These remarkable — and undeniably happy — stories are great news for the lucky owners, but they aren’t the norm and can give false hope to many who haven’t been able to find their lost pet within a few days, much less a few years. Thanks to social media, you can spread the word about your missing dog far and wide, and microchips mean that no matter how far your pet might wander, there’s hope that someone might discover the stray on her doorstep.

Sit. Stay. Good dog. (Photo by Theresa Cramer)
Sit. Stay. Good dog. (Photo by Theresa Cramer)

Reunions do happen. Last summer, a friend of mine who is an animal control officer came to my house, stopping at the telephone pole at the end of my driveway. She pulled down a lost-dog poster that had been hanging there for months. “You can throw this away,” she told me. “They found her.” But if you’re the person awaiting the return of your beloved dog months after her disappearance, hope can be an anchor, keeping you from moving on and adopting another dog in need.

Figuring out when to move on is personal. Maybe, one day, after a few months of searching and grieving, you come home and start wishing you had a furry friend to greet you at the door again. Or perhaps you just stick your toe back into the water by deciding to be a foster parent to a new dog, which allows you the comfort to know you haven’t given away your old pal’s bed.

Let’s hear from you, readers. Have you lost a dog? Did she find her way home? If not, how did you eventually decide when it was time to open your heart to a new friend? Tell us in the comments!

Read more by Theresa Cramer

About the author: Theresa Cramer is a journalist and editor by trade, an NPR addict, and an avid gardener. She blogs at Writer on the Prowl, where you will find pictures of her garden, her pets, and musings about whatever is on her mind. She is working on a book about content marketing and how to make the transition from journalist to brand journalist.

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