As much as we think our pets would never leave our side, millions of animals do end up wandering away from their homes every year. Some will rejoin their families, thanks to high tech identification like microchips, but many end up in shelters, some go to new homes and a few are even taken for illegal activities. What can you do to make sure your pet comes home safely?

Jessie never went anywhere without her “wiener dog brigade”. So, it was not surprising to see her loading up the four dachshunds and making a weekend trip from Colorado to New Mexico. Her Mother’s Day visit, however, would not end as happily as previous excursions. As Jessie and her husband stopped to give the dogs a much needed bathroom break, the weary travelers did not do a head count as they climbed back into the car. It would be more than an hour until they noticed that one of their pups, six month old “Tequila”, was left behind.

As shocking as this story sounds, one out of every three pets will be lost and away from their family at least once in their lives. More than five million dogs and cats leave home every year, either walking away or carried off by unscrupulous individuals. So, if a pet owner finds out that his or her four legged companion is gone, what’s the best steps for reuniting?

Prevention, of course is the best option and veterinarians have long advocated the importance of some sort of identification on your pet. Most people opt for simple ID tags or collars, but these are easily lost or even removed. Tattoos have been used, but many pet owners, animal shelters or even veterinarians are unsure of where to call if they find a pet with a tattoo. Microchips are a safe and effective means of permanent identification, but only about 5% of pets in North America have had this device implanted.

Some pet owners have opted for GPS collars and devices, but results have been mixed. Complaints about battery life, difficult collar attachments and slow notifications when the pet leaves the designated area have all been reported.

Regardless of whether any identification is available or not, fast action is needed when your pet comes up missing. Veterinarians recommend that you contact local animal shelters, veterinary offices and even pet stores within a five to ten mile radius of your home to be on the lookout for your lost animal. Websites like or also offer services to registered members. These might include faxing or calling all pet related businesses within a 50 mile radius or even creating flyers for you to print and post in your community.

“Of course, we immediately drove back to the rest stop to look for Tequila,” says Jessie, “but he was nowhere to be found. I was able to connect with the local animal control office and police department right away, but there was no word about our little guy.” Jessie then called various animal rescue groups and other shelters in the area once she returned home.

Having a current picture of your pet is also vital in your efforts to get the lost animal back home. In Jessie’s case, she used her pictures of Tequila to create a new page on Facebook as well as flyers she sent in the mail. The outreach in social media connected her with even more empathetic pet owners who, in turn, helped spread the word of Tequila’s situation. In fact, Jessie was able to connect with a very well known and media savvy pet personality, Travelin’ Jack, New Mexico’s Roving Bulldog Reporter. “All of these folks were so helpful,” adds Jessie, “they really helped me keep my sanity”.

If your pet is lost, involve your veterinarian in the quest to get the wayward animal back home. Often, your veterinary team may have ideas and resources that can help quickly spread the word.

Jessie’s story does have a happy ending. Tequila was found by the local animal control office and a dachshund rescue group volunteered to drive him back to Colorado. Safely back home, Tequila is now properly microchipped and Jessie has a whole new set of online friends.