When her dog Molly disappeared, Sappho-Josepha Hanke had almost given up hope of ever finding her again.
They’d taken a drive in southern Germany out to the lake and Molly ran off. She was hit by a car, then disappeared. Then, emaciated, she ran into a live trap for catching animals some 35 days later.
Many animal lovers live in fear that their pet will run away though it is not something you can wholly prevent from happening.
You can, however, try and be prepared if the worst happens.
The most important step, if possible, is to get your cat or dog microchipped.
If you’re travelling abroad, that’s a step that would be needed anyway, says Astrid Behr, a spokesperson for a German veterinary association.
In some places, chips are required but it makes sense to do it either way. Behr says vets will usually chip your pet when they give them their first vaccinations, or at the latest when they get their rabies shot.
Many fear it could hurt their animals but the chip is only the size of a grain of rice. “It’s injected beneath the skin on the left and it’s only a little prick, ” says Behr.
If police pick up a runaway animal, they or a vet can use a special tool to find your contact information.
The chip alone is not enough though; you’ll need to register it too, points out Sonja Slezacek, a spokesperson at Tasso, Germany’s pet registration centre.
The charity maintains a register of pets in Germany, using 15-digit ID numbers on the chip that can be matched against their owners.
Other countries – from Britain to Australia and the United States – have similar services.
And in places where dognapping (or stealing dogs) is increasingly common, including Britain and the United States, experts recommend you get your pet chipped and ensure your information is up to date.
The issue hit the headlines when Lady Gaga’s dogs were stolen. Luckily she got them back but experts say the problem is growing and not only due to the pandemic.
So pet care groups are quick to recommend you register your animal.
“Young pets who aren’t yet used to their new environment, or haven’t been trained, run the risk of straying from home and not finding their way back, ” says Daniela Rohs, head of Findefix, a German pet registration association.
If a lost animal is found and has a microchip, in 90% of cases, they are reunited with their owners.
But if your animal has just run off, whether it’s a dog or a cat or a rodent, the advice is, first, to keep calm.
Rohs says you should get in touch with the registry where your pet is listed, and also contact your local animal welfare group, the police, and the nearest lost-and-found office.
Put up posters
Next, search your neighbourhood, let your neighbours know and put up posters that you’re looking for your pet. Some advice sites say you can write that you are offering a reward – but if you, do don’t say how much.
Posters are particularly helpful if your pet is hiding. After all, if they’re avoiding contact with people, police can’t find them and then find you using the chip.
Molly, gone for five painful weeks, weighed only 8kg when she was found – and also had fleas.
She is now thriving and owner Hanke does not think she will run away again. “She won’t go out again without me.” – dpa