Since Hurricane Katrina and Rita, there are more organizations making a special effort to try to save pets that are lost or stranded during a disaster. Many shelters both near and far help out when disaster strikes based on the sheer volume of pets that have been separated from their owners during past disasters. However, locating your pet can be a challenge. Though you should act quickly to file a lost pet report, understand the process can take longer when the scope of the disaster is so large. Try not to panic, though, as the professionals at disaster shelters are going to do their best to get your pet back to you.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of losing your pet during a disaster, here are some steps you can follow to be reunited with your lost pet. Keep in mind as you read these steps that during or after a disaster there could be thousands of people trying to find lost pets, so the systems in place are likely to work slower than in a non-disaster situation. Also, depending on the extent of the disaster, neighborhoods may be destroyed or look extremely different than they did prior to the disaster, which can make it difficult for your pet to find its way home and can make your search more challenging. That is why perseverance is so important.
1) File a report. Your local police department, disaster assistance organization and other national agencies all have systems in place to document your situation.
2) Check with animal shelters. Contact your surrounding animal shelters and ask if there is an animal matching the description of your pet. Some animal shelters will post pictures of animals on their website. Keep in mind that shelters are going to be inundated with animals after a disaster, so if you don't locate your pet at a shelter, keep trying back as they get in new ones.
Be aware it is possible your pet may be taken to an alternate location. With Hurricane Katrina, for example, some pets were taken as far away as California because local shelters were overcrowded and shelters further way were able to help. Your local shelters will tell you if they have enlisted outside help and how to contact them.
3) Make a flyer. Place flyers around your neighborhood, on bulletin boards at stores, and at places where pets might be taken such as local veterinarian offices. The flyer should have a picture of your pet, its name, and any helpful or unique information to identify them is always a good idea. It is important to list your contact information and make a note about where your pet was lost. Keep in mind, in such instances, your pet may have wandered far from home -- so don't assume your pet is still in the area.
4) Spread the word. Talk to neighbors and friends in your area, as they may have seen your pet. Even if they didn't, it is helpful to get the word out your pet is missing so you can have as many people as possible keeping a watchful eye out. In addition, they may be able to give you advice or tips on locating your pet based on their own experience.
5) Place a "lost" ad. You can place a "lost" ad in the local newspapers as well as in many online communities such as Craigslist. These days there are many places you can place ads that won't cost you any money, which means you can post your "lost" ad in several places without it costing you a fortune. Also make sure to look in the "found" ads for your pet.
6) Don't lose hope. While there is a chance your pet may not be located, keep in mind pets can be found even months after they go missing. And remember that it is normal for the process of finding a pet to take longer after a disaster.
There are many situations in which a pet might become lost, whether it gets out of the yard when someone leaves the gate open, runs away during Fourth of July fireworks, or gets lost during a disaster. Just remember shelters all over the United States work hard every day to do what they can for the animal community. Many people have been reunited with their pets they lost or left behind in Hurricane Katrina and Rita, which goes to show, with determination, pets can be found.
If you feel discouraged, read this story about a man who lost his dog J.J. during Hurricane Katrina and was reunited with J.J. four years later.
Here is a website where you can go to make a flyer. All you have to do is fill out the form and then print it out.