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Lost & Found

Lost a Pet  |  Found a Pet

We hope the following articles will prove helpful to you if you have found a stray  or if you have lost your pet.

How to Find a Lost Pet


As soon as you notice your pet is missing, you MUST call all local Animal Control agencies and Humane Societies to file a Lost Report!  This step is most important.

Don’t mess around.  Many shelters hold animals only 3 days, possibly less if the animal is injured, sick, or appears feral.  You don’t want to be too late.

In Howard County, the number is (410) 313-2780. 

Do NOT limit your call to your county only.  Lost pets can travel great distances, or be found by someone en route to another county where it is more convenient for them to turn in the pet.

Animal Control Agencies:

  • Anne Arundel County Animal Control: (410) 222-8900
  • Baltimore City Animal Control: (410) 396-4688
  • Baltimore County Animal Control: (410) 887-5961
  • Carroll County Humane Society: (410) 875-5379
  • District of Columbia Animal Control:  (202) 576-6664
  • Frederick County Animal Control: (301) 600-1546
  • Greenbelt Animal Control: (301) 474-6124
  • City of Laurel Animal Control: (301) 498-0092
  • Montgomery County Animal Control: (240) 773-5960
  • Prince George’s Co. Animal Management Division: (301) 780-7200

Visit in person, as often as possible.  Bring shelters a color photo of your pet.  Ask them to attach it directly to your filed report.  What you identify as your Boxer mix could very well be identified by them as a Pit Bull mix.  Or your Brown Tiger might be their Grey Tabby.

True local stories: 

People found a dog and their vet identified it as a Peke-A-Poo, which is how they filed their found report with the shelter.  The people who lost him filed a lost report with the shelter for their Shih Zhu/Llasa Apso mix.  A savvy volunteer happened to notice the similarities, 30 days later. The dog and his family were re-united.

A cat identified by his Dad as “black and white, like a checkerboard” was actually a white cat with a few black patches, and not so much like his description.  His Dad eventually stopped by the shelter, after searching for the cat for weeks.  The cat and his person were reunited.  This cat was becoming unfriendly due to stress in a shelter situation, and could easily have been put down.

A rescue group took a found dog to a vet who identified him as a black Pit Bull Mix with “scars from being fought”.  By some miracle, his person was found, and the dog was actually a purebred Black Lab with short legs who had scars from a bad case of Ringworm as a puppy. 

Purebred pets may not look like their breed standards, and it gets even worse with the mixed breeds.  Plus, shelter workers, vets, and rescue personnel are human and can make mistakes.  Breed mixes are VERY subjective.  Your visit, in person, and often, is critical. 

You must ask to see all areas of the shelter—not all animals are in the public areas.


  • Flyers produce excellent results.
  • Never underestimate the value of outdoor signs.  Laminate or use waterproof marker in case of rain. Post at intersections, at the eye-level of people in a car.  Ask for calls regarding sightings, so you may track and better pinpoint the direction your pet is moving. 
  • Make it BIG—a 2’ by 3’ piece of cardboard is ideal to be seen by people at stop signs and traffic lights.   
  • Include a current photo of the pet, description of the pet, and day and evening phone numbers.
  • Do NOT put your name or address on the flyer. 
  • Offer a monetary reward if you can, but use care when screening calls.  
  • Always withhold one or more distinguishing markings or characteristics that will help you identify your pet, and weed out possible nasty people.
  • State that you would also like calls involving sightings of your pet. 
  • Begin by posting in a radius close to the area in which the pet was lost, then work outward.
  • There is no such thing as “too far away”.
  • Post 8” by 11” posters at eye level in vet offices, shelters, pet supply stores, as well as the less obvious: grocery stores, convenience stores, churches, pizza parlors, hair salons, etc
  • For all flyers, check back frequently and replace as necessary. 

True local stories:

A woman from New Jersey lost her dog in Howard County Maryland.  She and her friends swamped the area with posters asking for sightings.  The sightings revealed the dog was on the move for many days, then settled down in a wooded area miles away from where it was lost.  The help of a roadside fruit vendor was enlisted to report frequently, and the owner of the property allowed food to be put out to keep the dog in this area.  People were asked NOT to try to catch the dog for fear of putting it on the move again.  The woman made many trips back to Maryland, and finally, more than a month later, the weary dog came up to her Mom, and it was a happy ending.

A shy Beagle who had been a former laboratory animal was lost from his adoptive home.  Posters led to phone calls from much further away than the people imagined.  They followed the trail, put out food, and were persistent.  Several weeks later, the dog was back home with them.


  • For safety, take a friend and visit each and every house in as large an area as you can.
  • This area includes both the area where you live, and the area where the pet was lost. 
  • Print out a small flyer for each home---you can get several per page of paper. “LOST: brown and white dog, please call (your phone number) even if you just see him, anytime day or night.  We miss him”. 
  • Tape it to their door if they are not home.
  • Mail carriers, newspaper deliverers, school crossing guards, people waiting for the bus, garbage men, lawn care personnel, people who walk for exercise, bicyclists are all great resources.
  • Children are outside more often than adults, so may be the first to see your lost pet. 
  • While developing your network of people who may help, you will also be looking for your pet as well. 
  • If your pet has a favorite toy that makes a sound, bring it and use it.
  • Rattle a treat bag or biscuit box while calling your pet’s name. 
  • Be aware of roads and highways, and do NOT call the animal across them. 
  • STOP, periodically, and be QUIET.  Listen for your pet, or any movement indicating you have been heard.
  • Bring a flashlight to check in dark places. Under houses, porches, sheds, dumpsters, are all places injured or scared animals will hide.
  • Don’t forget SCENTS.  Their bedding, your bedding, their litter box, your shoes, your underwear are all strong reminders of where “home” is, and placed outside, can help an animal find its way back home.   
  • These same items, plus their favorite food, may help you use a humane trap to catch your pet, especially if it has been sighted a distance from your home.  Call us before you use a trap.


  • In rural areas, this may be only a few.  In more populated areas, it can be a nightmare. 
  • But make the effort!  Do a phone book or internet search for veterinarians, and visit as many vet offices as possible. 
  • The well-meaning staff at some vet offices attempt to “adopt” out a pet who comes in.  Make sure they know who you are, and that you are looking for your pet! 


  • Newspapers do this for free, or very cheap. 
  • If you lose a pet in Howard County, at the very least, place a LOST PET ad in the Howard County Times/Columbia Flyer, the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.   
  • Don’t forget the Sunday paper, as well as the dailies. 
  • Also, the Pennysaver, HoCoMo Freddies, Route 108 Paper, etc. 
  • The point is, no matter where you live, there are a bunch of resources—USE THEM! 
  • It goes without saying, but we will say it anyway.  Get all of these papers, and look in the “found” section as well.


  • Contact local breed rescue or all-breed rescue groups.  Reputable ones will not take an animal unless they have taken it from a shelter, or have verified that “Found Pet Protocols” have been followed.  But sadly, there are exceptions.
  • Select the ones most likely to resemble your breed, and start there.
  • You may have a Pointer, but it could be identified by others as a Dalmatian mix. Your Goldennoodle may look to others like a Terrier mix.   
  • My own dog was adopted as a Rottweiler mix, but he is really a mix of many mixes.  If he was lost, I would be contacting all the Rottie, Doberman, Shepherd, Lab, Pit Bull, Great Dane, and Catahoula Leopard Dog people I could find. 
  • Ask them to forward your email to anyone they can think of.  There is a powerful rescue network in place.
  • You must include a photo. 
  • Put your photo in the body of the email to save the recipients time. 
  • Make sure the email file is not too large. Rescue people are busy, and may not take the time to open large files or attachments.
  • The same applies to sending your email to everyone you know personally, and asking them to forward it.  Include your pet’s photo in the body of the email, and the date it was lost.


  • Notice this is far down on the list.  That’s because very few pets are found this way.  The best ways are still the traditional ones detailed in the steps we present. 
  • There are many, many sites out there.  Use them only after you have completed the other steps.  You should not have to pay a fee to have your pet listed. 


  • This is an awful undertaking, but it may bring you closure and save you and others a lot of heartache while they help you search for your pet.
  • State and local road crews pick up dead animals.  In Howard County, Animal Control has a contractor who performs this task for county roads with names.  The number is the same as for lost pets 410.313.2780.  Ask them for the number for the State Roads crew, which picks up dead animals from roads with a numbered route.
  • Be prepared to call frequently.  Befriend them, and leave a photo of your pet with them also, so they know how serious you are.  
  • The only reason we include this section is that, sadly, a lot of pets are found this way.


  • You are very vulnerable when you have lost a pet.  Bad people prey on this. 
  • Don’t search for a lost pet alone.
  • Don’t ever respond to a “found” pet contact alone. Always meet in a public place.
  • Always withhold some identifying piece of information about your pet, to eliminate would-be scammers. 
  • A common money scam:  A person claiming to be a long-distance trucker has miraculously picked up your pet.  Unfortunately, he is out of state now, but can return your pet if you pay to ship it back.  It’s likely this person does NOT have your pet, but is playing on your emotions and wants to take your money. 


  • Let the local agencies you contacted know, so they can remove your info.
  • Collect your posters, so they don’t trash the landscape, or take up room for other pet emergencies.
  • Thank all the people who helped you. 
  • PLEASE, view the next section so your pet isn’t endangered again.


  • A collar with your CURRENT phone numbers on it is recommended. 
  • Collars do have a small risk of choking hazard.  Consider a harness with ID tag instead. Or use a permanent ink to write your phone numbers on the collar itself. 
  • A microchip is a permanent ID embedded between the shoulder blades of the pet.
  • There are no known health issues associated with a microchip. 
  • The only downside of microchips is that, rarely, they can migrate.  Shelters and vets are supposed to perform a whole body scan, but humans can err.  
  • Ask your vet to scan for your chip at your annual visit.  In the rare event your chip has migrated, consider implanting and registering a second one. 
  • Make sure to have a CURRENT clear, color photo of your pet.
  • A close up, and full-body view are recommended. 
  • Keep your vet records organized, and readily accessible.

These previous recommendations fit the needs of emergency disaster preparedness for your pet as well.


  • Cats are safest when they live an indoor-only life.
  • NEVER transport your cat without it being in a secure carrier.
  • There is a no-climb cat system of fencing that can be added to your existing physical fence if you must let your cat outdoors.
  • Your dog or cat should NEVER be off leash unless in a secure, physically fenced area.
  • There is no better way to keep your pet safe than to have a secure physical fence.
  • Even within a secure physical fence, pets should never be left unattended.
  • The fireworks associated with the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve can cause pets to bolt and become disoriented.
  • Inspect your fence often and repair holes under it, and within it.
  • Do not place woodpiles, outbuildings, play equipment, or debris near, or next to, your fence.  They can be climbed, which provides a route of escape.
  • Underground fence systems do not protect your pet from people. 
  • Underground fence systems do not protect your pet from other roaming pets or wildlife.
  • Underground fence systems fail because animals can break through them. 
  • Underground fence systems do not work during power outages.
  • Electrical shocks and burns to the neck have been reported with the use of underground fence systems.  
  • Aggression has been documented due to the use of underground fences. 
  • Doggie doors/ cat doors should NEVER be used without a physical fence.
  • Even with a physical fence, doggie doors/ cat doors should never be used when an adult isn’t home to supervise.
  • Spaying or neutering your pet helps reduce the urge to run away. 


For more information about how to make an Excellent Poster, or Behaviors of Lost Pets, visit: http://www.lostapet.org/recoverytips.php

Also, for Search and Rescue Dog contact in Maryland:


If you find an animal and want to help, you are to be congratulated.  You have saved a pet from being hurt or killed.  Now what to do?  Here’s how to proceed in an ethical manner:

You can take the animal to “The Pound”. Every locality has a Shelter tasked with accepting stray pets.  The animal may be evaluated for adoption, and the time these facilities hold the animal varies widely.  They try their best.  The behavior of the animal, the space the shelter has, and how well the animal holds up over time are all factors. Once you turn the animal into them, you may lose control of what happens.

For this reason, an increasing number of people are opting to take the matter of a found animal into their own hands.   

The words “rescue” and “adoption” conjure up warm and noble feelings in most of us, as well they should.  Helping homeless animals is indeed a worthy undertaking, and we are thrilled that rescue and adoption have become a popular way of acquiring a new pet.  

However, a very disturbing trend is taking place.  We receive several inquiries per week from people who have found a pet, and want to “adopt” it to a new home----the day they find it!  Many well-intentioned people assume if they find an animal who is thin, flea-infested, or injured that it must have come from an abusive home.  Even professionals such as veterinarians may assume that animals who are fearful, hand-shy, or just plain awful looking have been mistreated.  This may or may not be true.  Lost animals are usually scared, and could have been hurt while lost.  They may have been on the run for days, weeks, or months, and their behavior and physical condition often reflect this.  

Please first consider the possibility that the pet belongs to someone, and that they may be frantically looking for it.  Kat Albrect, a nationally recognized “Pet Detective” who helps locate missing animals states, “Always Think Lost, Not Stray.  Don’t write off the owner based on the (animal’s) physical appearance”.  

If you choose instead to take responsibility yourself for a found animal, it is imperative that you immediately call all the area Animal Control and Humane Societies, and file a “Found Report”.  These facilities can match your “Found Report” with their “Lost Reports”.  

The next steps include having the pet scanned for a microchip, contacting local newspapers, veterinarians, breed rescue groups, and posting flyers.  Lost animals can travel great distances, so target a large area.  While there are numerous internet lost pet web sites, there is no “main” one that is recognizable to all people, so this in itself is not adequate.  In all communications, keep private one or more details about the pet, so you can weed out bad people looking for an animal for the wrong reasons.

These steps are not only common-sense, but there may be legal implications as well. Deborah Baracco, Howard County Animal Control Administrator, reports that in her county, a person finding a lost animal is required to contact Animal Control, post a found ad in a newspaper, and hold the animal for 30 days, after which time it is theirs to keep or re-home.  Anything less is considered theft.  Ms Baracco explains “These steps are in place to ensure owners have an opportunity to find a missing pet”.  

Once these hurdles are crossed, only then is it appropriate to look for a new home for a found pet.  Prior to completing these steps, no reputable rescue group will accept a found animal.  But afterward, a rescue group can be a strong ally and great resource.  Good rescue groups have the experience and ability to evaluate the animal, as well as potential adopters, and help make a permanent match.   

Sounds complicated?  Yes, but for a reason.  

Even animals whose people love them can escape through a fence, lose their collar, or go missing during a vacation or emergency.  If you ever lose a beloved pet, you will be happy these steps are in place. 


A concerned person called about a fearful emaciated un-neutered dog.  Certainly, we were inclined to agree this dog had not come from a good home.  But it turned out the dog was newly adopted and could not be neutered yet because he was due to undergo heartworm treatment, which also explained his physical condition.  

A distraught family returned from a two-week vacation to find that the teenage neighbor hired to care for their cat had lost her the first day.  He told no one because he feared the repercussions and was hoping the cat would return home.  

A starving dog was found covered with burrs, ticks, and numerous wounds. An abused dog?  No.  She had been a passenger in a serious car accident.  Her people were hospitalized and unable to report her as missing.  

These three pets were reunited with their grateful humans.  We owe it to lost pets and their people to assume an animal is lost before we try to place it in a new home.


Animal Advocates of Howard County | PO Box 1403 • Ellicott City, MD 21041
(410) 880-2488 •