Find lost pets fast

Almost nothing feels worse than losing a pet – watching the dog sprinting off after a squirrel at Greyhound speeds; wailing "NOOOOOOO" as the cat hurtles between the UPS guy's legs; coming home to find an open gate creaking ominously and a back yard sadly empty of companion animals.

Your first instinct is to freak out, and we totally relate – but there are things you can do to track down Tiger once you calm down:

Organize a search party. Just a small posse will do – no need to upset an already wigged-out pet with a big crowd – and it won't have to travel far. Many animals won't stray far from home, at least when they first escape, so investigate a three-block radius around your home. And don't forget to look up and/or listen for treetop meowing.

And it might seem logical to call for your pet, but don't yell Fluffy's name unless you actually see her; a pet who's following the sound of your voice could get to the spot where he heard you – and find you gone. If you're calling out to your pet, do it from a stationary spot on your own property so s/he can figure out how to find you.

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Post lots of flyers. And we mean "lots." Don't just post one on the occasional corner; hand them out to everyone – neighbors, delivery-people and postal workers, local business owners, neighborhood-watch folks. Post them at the nearest vets' and groomers' offices too, and make sure the staff know your pet so they'll remember a similar homeless animal if it comes in.

On the flyers, include a clear, recent picture of your pet; a short text description; your phone number and email. Laminate a few of the flyers so they don't turn into mush in wet weather. If you can, offer a reward, and mention that right at the top of the flyer. Emphasize that anyone spotting your pet should call you before/instead of approaching your pet, especially if your pet is fearful of strangers or tends to get aggressive when cornered.

Use social media. You might have seen the recent news stories about Facebook and online communities helping animals in need – why not put your own social-media circle to work finding your lost cat or dog? Post an update on Facebook, and ask your friends who live locally to share it on their timelines. Build a Tumblr ( or something similar – they're cinchy to set up); use your Twitter feed and include a link to the flyer. Post on your local Craigslist.

Check shelters. Call, look on the websites, and physically go down to local shelters or Humane Society to make sure your pet isn't there. Especially in the case of "kill" shelters, space – and time – is limited, and your pet may not stay very long before…well, you know. Many shelters will let you file a lost-pet report that will let shelter staff know to alert you if your fluffball turns up, so make sure to ask about that.

Don't give up. Stories like "The Incredible Journey" really do happen; we've had cats show up after four days (trapped between doors in the garage) or a fortnight (at large on Cape Cod somewhere), and sometimes pets even wind up in other time zones! Keep checking the shelters, updating the Craigslist ad, and asking local vets if they've seen your pet.

And if you haven't already? Get 'em microchipped. That way, a quick scan can reunite you with your little escapee ASAP.

Any special tips about finding lost cats and dogs – or other pets? Funny stories to share? Happy endings months later? Share in the comments!

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