- Learn how to stay calm if your pet goes missing
- Meet the animal lovers and volunteers who work tirelessly to find lost animals
- Hear inspiring stories from two owners reunited with their pets
As a nation of devoted pet parents, keeping them safe is paramount. But take a walk around any village or town and you'll find posters of dogs, cats and cherished family pets who have gone missing.
So what should owners do if they've lost a pet?
- Report your pet missing to a professional pet finding service
- Ring or visit all local vets, dog wardens, council pounds and rescue centres
- Make sure your microchip information is up to date
- Contact your pet insurance company
- Spread the word on social media
- Search offline
- Leave a smell they will recognise at key places
- Never give up hope
Rachel Spencer from the Paw Post spoke to Tom Watkins of Animal Search UK and Jayne Hayes of DogLost who have spent decades reuniting pets with owners. You can read about some of Tom's experiences in The Real Pet Detective. They explained the eight steps owners should take when they are searching for a missing pet.
Report your pet missing to a professional pet finding service
If your pet is missing, contact a service such as Animal Search UK or DogLost. Both organisations understand the process and know exactly what to do, and have tens of thousands of volunteers in the UK to help.
First, they create a profile with the pet's name, age, breed, colour, distinguishing features, photos from each side, whether they are microchipped and the owner's phone number – plus printable posters and flyers.
'Owners then circulate them in their neighbourhood, at the vets, shops, stations, as many places as possible,' explains Jayne. 'Not everyone is online and other dog owners are the people most likely to spot a dog.
'That's why we urge people to use posters, particularly if a dog is stolen, because friends, neighbours, even the postman will see them.'
Ring or visit all local vets, dog wardens, council pounds and rescue centres
DogLost has 50 regional co-ordinators who compile lists of contact details and addresses for local rescues, vets, councils and pounds in their area.
'We suggest owners call every day and tick each one off, and visit to drop off a poster,' says Jayne.
'Plenty of people who find a dog or cat don't take it to the vet,' adds Tom. 'They call and report it, meaning there isn't the chance to scan the microchip.
'Ring and ideally visit all the places you think your pet might turn up, and make them aware your pet is missing.'
Make sure your microchip information is up to date
It became compulsory for dogs to be microchipped in the UK in April 2016.
While it's not a legal requirement for cats, it's highly recommended as it is the quickest way for a vet or rescue to find the owner when a pet is handed in.
'If your pet is missing, ring Petlog who register your pet's microchip,' says Tom. 'Make sure they have the right details, especially if you've changed phone number or address since owning your pet.'
Contact your insurance company
Contact your pet insurance provider, as they may help with costs to find your pet. For example, LV= will reimburse you the advertising costs if you try and get your pet back when it goes missing or is stolen, and may also help fund a reward.
'This is something I would urge owners to do beforehand,' says Tom. 'Insure your pet with a company that offers advertising and reward cover, so you're prepared should the worst happen.'
Spread the word on social media
It's better to share the post created by the pet tracing service, rather than just create your own, to maximise the number of people who see it.
'An appeal on your own Facebook may only reach friends,' explains Jayne. 'It will understandably be highly emotional and may not contain the information people need.
'By sharing the posts search organisations create, you're reaching tens of thousands of people committed to finding pets.'
Walk around the area where you last saw your pet.
'Search at dawn when it's quiet,' advises Tom. 'Take a friend or relative with you and carry a torch and a cat basket, or your dog's lead and collar.'
Leave a smell they will recognise at key places
A missing pet may be unwell and confused, so finding their way home is a struggle. They'll search for you with their sense of smell.
'Put an item of clothing or a tea towel you've rubbed on your skin by the front and back door,' says Tom. 'It's a smell that they'll recognise and may help them identify home.'
Dogs will often return to the spot where they last saw you.
'Keep looking and listening,' says Jayne. 'Put up a poster where they went missing and leave something that smells familiar, like a blanket or toy.'
Never give up hope
'Keep everyone in the family positive and never give up hope,' is Tom's advice and Jayne agrees: 'We've reunited people with dogs who were missing for eight years,' she said.
Tom's Missing Pet Search Team success rate is 80%, and Jayne estimates she has reunited 80,000 pets with their owners in 15 years.
For more information, follow DogLost on Twitter @DoglostUK, or find them on their Facebook page. You can follow Animal Trust UK on Twitter @AnimalSearchUK, or find them on Facebook page. Follow Rachel Spencer on Twitter @rachelspenceruk.
We spoke to two owners who followed these steps and were reunited with their dogs.
Samantha and Zee (left), Karen and Bailey.
Samantha and Zee
Zee, a five-year-old Belgian and German Shepherd cross, pulled his lead from Samantha's hand while out walking in Clocaenog Forest near their home in Wales.
She contacted DogLost and shared their appeal on Facebook and her local community rallied to help, with a drone firm offering a free search for Zee.
For four days, Samantha, husband Paul and children Isabella and Solomon searched for him and finally heard him whimpering. His lead was wrapped around a tree.
Samantha said: 'He was cold, thirsty and hungry, but thankfully was soon back to his old self.'
Karen and Bailey
Karen was visiting her mother near Croydon on Boxing Day 2017 with Jack Russell and Corgi cross Bailey.
The 11-year-old was let off his lead on a walk and bolted, but was far away from where he lives in Hartfield, East Sussex, and couldn't find his way home.
Karen contacted DogLost and shared his appeal on Facebook. The following morning she had a message from a friend telling her to look at the DogLost found page.
She said: 'Bailey had been picked up in a different postcode. The dog warden dropped him off at my mum's. I was so relieved to have him home.'