Think lost, not stray when approaching dogs

For more than two weeks my life has been consumed with trying to find our beloved dog, Charlie.

For more than two weeks my life has been consumed with trying to find our beloved dog, Charlie. Between putting up flyers, chasing tips, social networking, actively looking, and managing emotions on the home front, it’s remained all-consuming.

Educating myself on how to think like a dog has taken some time as well, but it’s been a necessary step to finding our boy.

I’d had this vision of calling out Charlie’s name and him bounding out in front of me, wagging his tail at finally being found. But I’ve learned the longer a dog is missing the less likely they are to respond to their own name or show themselves at all.

At first I was asking people to grab Charlie if they saw him.

I soon learned that was the wrong thing to say.

After a dog’s been on their own for a time they enter a frightened, semi-feral state and even their family can appear threatening. Chasing after a lost pet will often exacerbate the problem since they’re likely to run and become even more lost and in danger.

Now I ask people to take a picture if they can and notify me or dog control immediately. The picture helps to confirm it’s actually our dog and we’re searching in the right area.

I also encourage people who want to help with his actual rescue to try attracting him by lying on the ground and speaking softly, offering food if they have any. This non-threatening stance will feel safer and more inviting.

The notion that lost dogs are stupid because they can’t find their way home or abused because they won’t approach a human is incorrect. We have no idea what they’ve gone through. They might have been chased several times, they may have narrowly missed being hit by a car, or they may be injured. Any harrowing experiences combined with having to suddenly find their own food, water and shelter in unfamiliar surroundings without their families will put them in a survival mode where their animal instincts kick in and they can become skittish of everything and everyone.

Lost dogs usually settle in a residential neighborhood, ranch or farm where their needs can be met and they’re able to hide out undetected for weeks or months on end. They typically stay in places that have a quick getaway route, like a woodsy area they can escape to.

They often seek refuge in garages, workshops, playhouses and under balconies. They will hide if they hear people coming so it’s almost impossible to find them unless a sighting’s reported. At that point, it’s important not to scare them away and call the owner or Dog Control so they can coax them to safety.

There are a lot of helpful tips on the Internet to finding lost pets and for anyone who ends up in the unenviable position that we’re in now, I highly recommend reading up on it right away.

This heartbreaking experience has brought out both the “crazies” and the “compassionates.” I could give you several examples of the former, but I’ll just say one of the worst was the scammer who pretended to have Charlie and threatened to cut off his head and leave it on our doorstep if we didn’t put money in his account.

Thank goodness the wonderful people have far outweighed the terrible, and for us that’s really been the big positive since losing him on March 23. Friends and complete strangers have helped us by sharing our posts on social media, sending us encouragement, telling us their stories, giving us advice, putting up posters, and actively looking for him as well as other lost pets in our community.

So far five people believe they’ve seen Charlie, but none of them said anything until hours after when they saw my ad.

We are grateful for their help, but if we, as a society, automatically respond to an unfamiliar dog out and about on it’s own in the same way we would seeing a toddler on their own, more lost dogs would be found.

In the past two weeks I’ve heard so many stories of people keeping cats and dogs they considered a stray without first reporting them to the SPCA. While they might be well intentioned, this is theft and it’s completely crushing to the family missing their treasured pet.

The idea is to think lost, not stray.

If the animal has been reported to the SPCA and no one claims it, then it can be put up for adoption.

But these steps must be taken or lives can be deeply affected in a devastating way, especially for those of us who see our pets as family.

We still haven’t found our precious Charlie, but every day we wake up hoping this will be the day that we do.

We’re offering a large reward to anyone with a tip that leads to his safe return and we hope we’ll be paying up soon.


Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist from Kelowna. She can be contacted at

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