People Want to Help Lost Pets Get Back Home. Here’s How to Help Them Do Just That.

Key insights from the new world of lost pet reunification by our guest bloggers Gina Knepp, Kristen Hassen, and Arin Greenwood

Here are some statistics about lost and found pets that may surprise you, and should guide everyone’s lost pet reunification efforts:

  • 47 to 65% of pets who enter shelters are lost or stray.
  • Only 20 to 25% of pets who enter shelters are owner surrenders.
  • 70% of lost dogs that were reunified with their owers in a recent study were found less than one mile from their homes.
  • 9 out of 10 shelters we interviewed said they do not have even one full-time staff position dedicated to getting lost pets home and even fewer have volunteer roles aimed at lost pet reunification.
  • When the Human Animal Support Services data team surveyed lost pet finders, 37% of people who showed up in an animal shelter intake lobby with a found pet said they would be willing to hold the pet and try to help get them home. 57% of finders said they had not taken any measures to get the pet home before bringing it to the animal shelter.
  • In the first city to pilot a program asking people to hold found pets for two days and try to get them home, 77% of people who were asked to help said yes. 65% of those people were able to reunite the pets with their owners without the animals ever coming to the shelter. Of the reunited pets, 71% were medium or large dogs.
Illustrated graphic stating that only 17% of pets that end up in shelters get reclaimed by their families

The bottom line is that people want to help get lost pets home. The existing system tells them the best way to do that is to bring them to the shelter to be taken in. When we ask our community to help in another way, they often say yes!

While most animal shelters allocate a great amount of time and money to getting pets adopted, the same cannot be said for getting lost pets home. When organizations invest in lost pet reunification staff positions, volunteer programs, technology, and messaging, the potential for reducing shelter intake is significant. Much of this actually costs very little, especially when you consider reduced costs of care.

The best part? The shelters that do this best are always there to be the safety net when someone simply cannot hold a lost pet or help with the reunification effort. This model puts the community solution first, instead of shelter intake as the first option.

There are a lot of easy, inexpensive ways to get started—like these things you can do right now, to reduce lost pet intake and get more lost pets back home:

  • Start a lost pet texting system to double your lost pet return rate.
  • Implement one or more of these cheap and free ways to get more lost pets back home today.
  • Implement a finder-to-foster program to allow the public to hold found pets with special medical needs. These programs are a good option for communities that require found pets to be in animal services’ custody for a stray hold period.
  • Change your websites to reflect a community-first animal services approach. We advocate asking (not forcing) the community to help. The great part is even when someone cannot hold a pet, they can often take the time to post signs or share the pet’s info on social media. Check out Cabot Animal Support Services’ found pet web page for a great example of engaging the community differently. Lifeline Animal Project’s website is another awesome demonstration of how to ask the public to help.
  • Remember, when we fail to ask, the answer is always no. When we do ask, the answer is usually yes!
  • Volunteers can do ANY of the lost pet reunification functions, both at the shelter and from home. Do you have a volunteer lost pet reunification program? If not, start one!
  • Use the new technologies to get lost pets home, like Petco Love Lost’s facial recognition system, remote collars (free and so easy!) that track location and movement, and Pethub QR code tags.
  • Ensure every dog leaves your shelter or rescue with a microchip AND collar and simple tag (with contact info on the tag) and should be registered with Petco Love Lost and the microchip company. As Gina Knepp says, “The microchip is the VIN number and the tag is the license plate.”
illustrated graphic showing a woman hugging her dog representing the reunification of lost pets

Human Animal Support Services

Lost Pet Reunification Toolkit

Learn from frontline staff working with the most successful lost pet reunification programs ensure lost animals are returned quickly and safely, build community partnerships to utilize people’s willingness and desire to help, develop an organizational culture and a community expectation that promotes reunification, involve dedicated staff and volunteers to focus on reunification efforts. The Toolkit is loaded with case examples, protocols, templates, scripts, marketing materials, training, job descriptions, and everything else your team needs to get more pets safely back to their families.

At this difficult moment, we don’t need to euthanize more pets nor do we need to close our doors to pets who need shelter. Rather, we can use the tools available to us, ask the community for help, tell them why, and make it easy for pets to get back with their families instead of waiting in a full shelter.

And importantly, we can and must celebrate our partnerships with people and thank them for helping us get pets home. Pets belong at home, and using these insights and tools to harness the power of our community, that’s just where they will be.