Whom to Contact
Please read about the various entities that deal with lost and found pets. Then scroll down to learn how to identify and contact the ones near you.
Police and Animal Control
These are government agencies, usually municipal or county, that are responsible for dealing with lost and found pets, among other animal related issues.
Municipalities often have an animal control department. Except for large cities, they usually do not have a shelter, but they may have a temporary holding area. In small communities there may not be a dedicated animal control person. In that case the police may be able to help.
Use a search engine, like Google, or dial 411, to get phone numbers for police and animal control in your community.
Pounds and Shelters
Most urban municipalities maintain a “pound” or a shelter. Many states, like Ohio, have a shelter for each county. As government agencies, these shelters are “open admission” which means they take in all animals that they pick up or are surrendered. The holding period for animals that have been picked up or surrendered is usually governed by law. It varies from state to state but averages about four days. It is imperative to visit in person any shelters where your pet might turn up as soon and as often as possible. Just contacting shelters or paying a service to contact them is usually ineffective.
See below to learn how to identify the shelters where a lost pet may be held.
These are generally private entities and usually non-profit. They depend on public support to pay the bills. Some humane societies have a policy of never euthanizing animals for want of space. They must limit how many animals they can take in. Other humane societies have open admission, which means that they will take in all pets that are surrendered but they may be put down if they are not adopted.
Nationwide, less than 20% of cats that enter a shelter ever find a home.According to the Humane Society of the United States, based on a survey of the 3,500 shelters and humane societies in the U.S. about 30% of shelter dogs are reclaimed by owners, but only 2 to 5% of cats. People are quick to report a stray dog, but free-roaming cats go largely unnoticed. They may surface only after many weeks or months and by that time their family may have given up. We encourage you not to abandon your search too soon. We've had numerous cases of very belated happy reunions.
See below for ways to identify the humane societies in your ares where a lost pet may be taken in.
It often happens that when someone loses a pet they leave a flyer with local veterinarians. Most vets have a lost and found bulletin board or file of some kind, either digital or on paper. People who find pets will often take them to a vet to be scanned for a microchip in an effort to trace the owner by themselves rather than turn the pet into a shelter right away. If you find or lose a pet you should try to leave a flyer with as many local vets as practical. You could fax, email, or snail mail the information.
Just use a search engine like Google and key in "Veterinarians in [your area].
Rescues are usually small organizations, sometimes only a single individual. Some specialize in a certain type of animal, like ferrets or birds, or in a certain breed of dog or cat.
They often save companion animals from situations of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Some rescue groups “pull” dogs or cats from shelters and foster them until they can be placed. Rescue groups do not usually have a shelter. Instead they foster the animals in their homes.
A lost pet may turn up with a rescue group after being found as a stray, or “rescued” from a bad situation, or after spending time in a shelter. Especially if your lost pet is a special breed, it would be a good idea to contact the appropriate rescue group.
See below for advice on how to identify rescue groups in your community.
How To Identify the Agencies Near You
It is vital to check all the agencies near you where a lost pet might turn up, or where someone who has lost a pet might have left information. If you live in a large urban area, there may be many, but usually there are just a few key agencies. You should be able to determine the most important agencies to contact simply by asking.
Using the suggestions on this page, draw up a list: police, animal control, shelters, humane societies, vets and rescue groups. Recruit friends and family to help you. Divvy up the work and tick off your list.
Sites with Directories For Shelters, Humane Societies and Rescue Groups
There are several sites that list shelters, humane societies and rescue groups.
PetFinder (opens new window)Petfinder has the most comprehensive, and it has the best system. It gives information for 14,000 agencies nationwide. You just put in your zip code and you get a list with links in order of their distance from you.Petfinder is also an adoption site where shelters can post information about the pets available for adoption. Sometimes a lost pet will turn up on an adoption list.If you live in a heavily populated area your search may turn up dozens of animal agencies. Do not despair! Just ask any one of them for advice on the most important ones to call, the ones where a recently lost pet is most likely to turn up. Chances are there are just a few likely ones. Over time you can contact them all at the rate of a few each day. Being thorough and being persistent is important!
The Shelter Project (opens new window) Information mostly overlaps Petfinder
Another directory with humane societies and rescues. There may be some additional listings but also some missing listings. The problem is many rescue groups come and go - it is very stressful business!
Internet Search Engines
You can also take advantage of search engines to identify the agencies near you.We recommend using the following keywords in the query box:"Animal shelters near (your city)?"or"Animal shelters near (your zip)?" In the same way, you can access information about "veterinarians", "animal emergency clinics", and "pet rescue groups" near you.
Web Sites That Offer Pet Finding Contact Services For a Fee
You will find several by searching "lost pet finder service". Some can be very helpful; others are really just out to make a fast buck with claims to unrealistically high success rates. Before you pay for such a service we recommend that you read their reviews. (Search "reviews of name of web site") also check with the Better Business Bureau in the area they are located. Note that some of these services try to outrun their bad reputation by changing their name. Beware of sites that operate under several names. Some of these contact services are fairly pricey. We think postcard mailings to neighbors and vets can be very helpful but robo-calls, emails and even faxes to shelters are really NOT effective. You must go to the shelters in person and often.