Use Facebook to Help Increase Your Shelter’s Return to Owner Rate

dogx-topper-mediumMany animal shelters in America have contracts with local municipalities to hold “stray” dogs for the state-mandated stray hold to give owners an opportunity to reclaim their lost dog. This period of time varies from state to state.

A shelter typically has two windows of opportunity to help people find their lost dog:

  1. When a person who has lost a dog comes in or calls to file a report.
  2. When “stray” dogs are picked up and impounded at the facility.

Today we want to talk about using Facebook to maximum potential to help lost dogs get home. We are thrilled to see so many shelters and animal control facilities (big and small) using Facebook to try to reunite lost dogs with their owners.

We have been in the Facebook game since our inception in early 2010 and we’ve seen a lot of changes along the way. We have gained a large following (45,000+ Facebook fans) and have learned many lessons from our successes and failures. We have seen what does and doesn’t work. We have also seen some shelters start to post impounded found dogs on Facebook and then stop, claiming that it isn’t working or that it requires too much time.

We would respectfully like to offer some suggestions that may help make everyone happy:  shelter management, the taxpayer, the shelter donor and volunteer,  the dog’s owner and of course the dog that gets to go back home!

The benefits of posting found dogs on Facebook are numerous:

  1. You will decrease the length of stay for animals in your shelter.
  2. You will free up space for needier animals.
  3. You will increase your shelter’s reputation and goodwill (and possibly generate donations from grateful owners and fans). Nothing tugs at heartstrings better than happy reunion photos when an owner reclaims their dog. Make sure you have a camera handy!
  4. You will become a resource in the community for owners who are missing their dogs. Post articles and tips to help people find their missing dogs. Also post happy reunion stories, microchip clinics in the area, and lost pet flyers for members of your community who are missing their pet.
  5. You will help your community make a “paradigm shift” that not all stray dogs are homeless.

If your “stray” intake is low use your main Facebook page to post them. The beauty of posting lost and found dogs on Facebook is that a neighbor or complete stranger might “happen chance” to see the post of the found dog and know where he/she belongs. Or, they might see the lost dog and then see the post.

Yes, the people that are actively matching (the owner, our volunteers and members of the public who enjoy doing this) will seek out the info where ever it is stored, whether it be on a website or a separate Facebook page but that only takes care of the actual matches (where a lost report matches a found report) which is still a fairly small percentage of the reunions.

The best chance for a “happen chance” reunion is to get the posting in front of the biggest audience possible, which is almost always your main Facebook page that you use for all of your shelter Facebook posts. Pictures of impounded pets are one of the most widely shared posts on Facebook (much more than adoptable pets) so posting them on your main Facebook page has the added benefit of driving traffic to your page so that your adoptables, fundraisers, etc. are also more likely to be seen.

A common mistake we see is shelters that try to run a separate Facebook page for found pets and then not actively working to build the fan base of that page. The average person is not going to stumble across the Found or Stray page by accident and Facebook does not make it easy to search.  So you will only reach those that are actively looking for your page and the likelihood of “happen chance” reunions will be greatly diminished.

If your shelter has such a high intake of “strays” that posting them on your main page is not feasible, then yes, perhaps setting up a separate Facebook page is the best solution.

Here are a few suggestions if you set up a separate page:

  1. Make sure that you include your location name and county in the title of the Facebook page. Make it as easy as possible for people to find it. Include it on your website and in any literature you distribute.
  2. Include links to the Stray page in the “About Us” section of your main Facebook page.
  3. Drive traffic to the Stray page at least once per day (more at the beginning) by sharing a post from it onto your main page and reminding your fans that “All impounded pets at xxxx shelter can be seen by visiting our Stray page”. Use hotlinks and Facebook tags whenever possible so that people can just click and be taken directly to the new page.
  4. Ask one or two volunteers to help you with this page and give them full access to it. They should engage with the fans and commentors. It’s called “social” media for a reason!  Make sure they answer every question and respond to comments. Get your community actively engaged in helping reunite found pets!
  5. Volunteer Facebook administrators can also share the posts on other neighborhood pages – including police departments, newspapers, radio stations, vet clinics, dog parks, town pages, garage sale pages, buy/sell pages and popular neighborhood hangouts like bars and restaurants. This can quickly increase the fan base of your page and makes an excellent and rewarding volunteer opportunity for someone who cannot make it into the shelter to do hands-on work.
  6. Do not get discouraged if the public offers to adopt the dog rather than trying to find the owner. Create some standard responses that your volunteers can copy and paste below these comments. And remember! You are lining up potential adopters if an owner does not come forward.
  7. Link your “Stray” page to a Twitter account with a free Facebook app that will automatically retweet everything you post. Once it is set up it is seamless and maintenance free.  You will reach a much broader audience especially if you use hashtags in front of the location. Many police departments and media outlets monitor twitter via hashtag and will retweet your posts for lost and found dogs.

Thank you for helping more lost dogs get home! You can find more tips to help increase your Return to Owner rate in this blog post: Reuniting Lost Dogs With Their Families – How Shelters Can Help

Posted in Rescues and Shelters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Correct Microchip Scanning Procedures Saves Lives!

Here is an easy to print, clip and hang poster for your shelter or vet clinic that explains good microchip scanning procedures.  (Courtesy of Animal Sheltering magazine)mouthpieces

Posted in Microchips, Rescues and Shelters | Tagged , , ,

Paws and Protect Event in Marathon County was a Success!

10960424_10152592088266333_2556025340602840108_o 10644777_10152592088456333_307783231054848162_o 10710218_10152592088616333_597685852009976701_o“So much fun seeing and meeting all the hundreds of animal people with their furry best friends today at Paws and Protect. Great to see Stacy Cole from WIFC, and Thank You to Ashlee Bishop , Wausau’s animal control officer for inviting us at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin.
HOW AWESOME IS IT TO BUMP INTO 4 DOGS THAT WE HELPED GET HOME WHEN THEY WERE LOST ??
People were lined up at 8 AM and the doors opened at 10.
The line snaked down the sidewalk, through the parking lot and back out to the street for people getting free rabies vaccinations and free microchips for their cats and dogs. Watch for the next one to be held in about 3 weeks. Approximately 250 – 300 animals were served.”

– David Woods, LDOW Marathon County caseworker

Posted in Events, Our Organization | Tagged , , , ,

How Are We Doing? Year to Date January 2015

January 2015

Posted in Statistics | Tagged , , ,

Luring a Shy, Lost Dog Using a Portable Grill

grillingforbryleeUsing a portable grill can be very helpful in catching a shy, scared dog. If you are getting sightings of your dog in a general area, we recommend setting up a feeding station. This can help to keep a lost dog in one area and eventually lead to capture. However, sometimes it is difficult to get a lost dog to find the feeding station. Grilling meats with a portable grill can help!

The smell of bacon or bratwurst cooking on a grill is very strong. Humans can pick up the scent of grilled meats when someone in the neighborhood is grilling out. Which means a hungry dog can also pick up that yummy, tempting scent, but from an even greater distance since dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans.

When you are grilling for a shy, lost dog, you must do it very quietly. You do not want to scare him out of the area. Pick a location near to where your dog’s sightings have been, but make sure it is an area that is people-free and safe for your dog (away from roadways, train tracks and thawing ponds). If your sightings have been consistent and you suspect that your dog is using a regular path of travel, then we recommend grilling near that pathway. This can improve your chances of your dog finding the tempting food. It is also important to get permission from the landowner to grill on their property. Make sure to read and abide by the grilling instructions included with your portable grill. Never leave a grill unattended.

Once you choose the location and receive permission from the owner of the property – you can begin. It is best to only have ONE person grilling to prevent your dog from getting scared away by the sounds of your voices. Remember, for a shy, lost dog – two’s a crowd! Once your grill is set up and the meat is cooking, quietly sit in the area for as long as it takes to cook. When the meat is cooked, you can place it on the ground or in your dog’s dish. If possible, set up a trail camera facing the grilled food, so you will know who has stopped by to eat and when (set the time/date function on the camera).

Don’t be disappointed if your dog does not find the food within 24 hours. Just grill quietly again the next day and leave the area. If your dog is seen eating the grilled food, it is important to continue to keep yummy, tempting food at this location. He or she will be sure to stop by again for more. Once you know that your dog is coming to this feeding station on a regular basis, you can consider setting up a humane live trap near the food. Please see our articles on humane trapping for details.

Good luck and happy grilling! Remember, your lost dog is depending on YOU to bring him safely home.

Colleen Duero, Lost Dogs of Wisconsin caseworker

Posted in Feeding Stations, Shy Lost Dog Strategies, Useful Tools | Tagged , ,

When NOT to Use a Tracking Dog to Find a Lost Dog

Photo couresty of K McPherson

Photo couresty of K McPherson

The idea of using a tracking dog to find a lost dog is very compelling, but most people who pursue this option do not have a good understanding of how a tracking (or trailing) dog works.  In some cases a tracking dog CAN provide useful information for locating a lost dog such as confirming sightings or establishing a direction of travel.  However, very few lost dogs are actually found and captured during the search (i.e. a “walk-up find”), which is what most people are hoping for when they hire a tracking dog team.

What many people do not consider is that there are actually some cases when you should NOT try to use a tracking dog to find a lost dog.  In these situations a tracking dog is not only a waste of money, but they can actually be detrimental to finding and catching the lost dog.  The situations where you should not use a tracking dog to find a lost dog include most cases where there are multiple sightings of the lost dog in a general area, and the dog is running in fear from everyone.  This most often occurs with newly adopted dogs and skittish lost dogs.  However, even an otherwise friendly dog can enter what is known as “survival mode” (where they run from all people including those that they know) if they are lost in a frightening situation (such as a car crash) or if they are on the run for several days, especially if people attempt to chase or capture them.  Sometimes these lost dogs will run for several miles (1-5 is common and 10 or more miles is not unheard of), but in most cases the lost dog will eventually settle down in a place where they feel safe.  Generally this safe place is somewhere with food, water, shelter, and (very importantly) where people are not attempting to approach or catch them.  In some cases the lost dog will actually circle around and come back to close to where they went missing.

If you you get multiple sighting (even 2-3) of the lost dog in a general area (hopefully less than 1 mile apart), then the lost dog has likely found a safe place to hide out.  The last thing that you want to do in this situation is chase the dog out of his newly found haven.  If you use a tracking dog, they may help you find out where your dog has been taking shelter and getting food, but in the process you may scare your dog out of the safe place.  Likewise, it is a very bad idea to have human search teams go into this area and look for the lost dog, especially if it is a wooded area.  Even if they see the dog, they are most likely going to scare him out of the area.  In either of these situations, the lost dog may feel pressured to leave the area and find a new safe place, perhaps miles away.

In these types of cases, it is very important to leave the dog alone and encourage others to report sightings, but not to approach or attempt to catch the dog.  Most of these dogs are ultimately caught using lure and capture techniques such as feeding stations, calming signals, surveillance cameras and/or humane traps.

Thank you Danielle of Lost Pet Research and Recovery for giving us permission to use her article.

Posted in Friendly Lost Dog Strategies, Shy Lost Dog Strategies, Tracking Dog Services | Tagged , , , , , , ,

How Are We Doing? Year to Date December 2014

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Abby’s Story

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One of our greatest challenges at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin is educating  owners, neighbors, family, friends and well-meaning strangers about lost dog behavior. We are often trying to do this in the “heat of the moment” when a dog goes missing and everyone is in a panic. Let’s face it – most people may only lose their dog once in their lifetime and understanding lost dog behavior is not something that is taught in public school.

Lost dogs who are not being pursued, called, whistled to or pressured in any way will make wise decisions and may survive indefinitely. They will find food sources, water,  hiding spots and shelter; even in extreme weather conditions.

But when people panic and pressure a scared lost dog, that dog will make poor choices and be at great risk of getting hit be a car or a train; or falling through thin ice on a lake or river.

We would like to share this excerpt from Sara Miller who assisted in the search for Abby, a German Shorthaired Pointer missing during very cold weather in central Wisconsin.

“I was involved in this search effort and I have to say it was so well done and the public did an amazing job. They listened to all those guiding the search so we didn’t harm the effort – Abby was a runner and was running from every single thing. We spent a lot of time flyering the area, educating the area of sightings on what to do if they saw Abby, and a group of us doing a safe search and alerting the owner of any sightings or information. The owner took LDOW’s advice every step of the way in what to do at her sighting locations and once she was spotted. It was a really hard week with her being lost out there in that frigid cold and a chunk of that time the owner was out of the country unable to help, but we never once gave up on her and those sightings were so crucial. I don’t know this dog and never met the owner before this, but knew I needed to do something for this dog who was lost and helpless. It was the most emotional thing I’ve done in a long time, and all the learning we took from Abby’s case, we were able to apply to Daisy’s, who went missing the next day in Appleton, and that helped her get found yesterday. It’s so important to have the community help, but that they know the right things to do to not jeopardize the search. The public did a great job with Daisy too. The most important thing a person in the general public can do if they want to help is get flyers up around the area so people know what to do if they spot her. Everyone wants to go looking for her, which I totally get, but that isn’t always the most effective thing for the regular person to do. A flyer is what helped the last sighter know where to call and is where Abby was eventually captured. I’m so so ecstatic this girl is home and ok. I love her and I don’t even know her! Hopefully I get to meet her soon though.”  Sara Miller

Thank you Sara for all of your help!  Every person that  educates the public on how to find a lost dog greatly increases the chances that more dogs will get home safely.  Remember, never call or chase a lost dog. Use your volunteer manpower to distribute flyers and let the dog settle into an area and relax. Then you have a very good chance of a happy reunion.

Posted in Reunion Stories, Shy Lost Dog Strategies | Tagged , , , ,

Heidi’s Story

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Trail camera picture

 

In late December 2014, we received a sighting report for a dog that had been hanging around a home in Sturtevant, Racine County. One of our volunteers, Cindy H, made contact with the homeowners and gave them suggestions and advice to help the dog settle and relax so that he/she could be safely caught. The homeowners were wonderful! They said that the dog had been coming around to eat for almost a month but was extremely scared and wouldn’t let anyone approach. They could see that he/she had a collar and tags, but could not get close enough to read the number.

Cindy took over a trail camera and within a couple of days was able to get this really good picture on the camera so that we could search our “still missing” files to see if we had a match. Unfortunately we didn’t. But by this time, the dog (whom we now knew was a Sheltie) was comfortable with the camera and a trap that Cindy had set up.

The owners were feeding the dog pulled pork and bacon. They had also used a heated water bowl and heat pad to make the dog comfortable and encourage her to stay.

Within a very few short days, following Cindy’s instructions, they were able to successfully catch the dog in a humane trap.  Cindy called the number on the tags (an Iowa phone number) and reached the owner.  We now knew that the dog was a female and her name was Heidi! The owner had been visiting family in the area on December 8th when Heidi went missing. He didn’t know about Lost Dogs of Wisconsin so he hadn’t filed a report with us.  Heidi travelled about 15 miles to the spot where she was finally captured.

Heidi’s owner, Harry,  made the 9 hour  journey back this week to pick up Heidi. Everyone met at the owner’s sister’s house, including the homeowners where Heidi was trapped. At first Heidi just shook. Cindy carried Heidi over so she could smell Harry and he touched her and talked to her but she didn’t react at first.  Then she started to smell him while he talked to her some more. Then all at once – the lightbulb went on!  She knew him!  She started to jump on Harry and then wouldn’t leave his side!

Heidi’s story reminds us to Never Give Up! Lost dogs are incredibly resilient and resourceful and we should never doubt their ability to survive. Many thanks to Cindy and the homeowners who helped make sure Heidi got safely back home where she belonged.  Lost 12-8-14, Reunited 1-8-15)

heidi2Heidi1

Posted in Reunion Stories | Tagged , , , , ,

The Dangers of a Dog Bite

 

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An inexpensive pair of leather work gloves can prevent a potentially dangerous dog bite.

Although the title might seem obvious (of course dog bites can be dangerous!) we want to point out some of the not so obvious issues with dog bites and lost dogs. One of the greatest dangers of a dog bite can be to the dog himself.

Lost dogs are usually scared and running on high adrenaline. Many lost dogs will understandly turn and bite out of fear when they are finally caught. Well-meaning but mis-informed owners and Good Samaritans (whose adrenaline is probably also running high) can inflame the situation and cause the dog to bite. In Wisconsin (and most states) every bite or scratch that breaks skin results in a 10 day rabies quarantine for that animal. The bite can be little more than a nip, but in the eyes of the law, they are all the same and will be treated the same.

If the dog’s rabies vaccine is not current (or the status of their rabies vaccine is unknown) then the quarantine must be done at a shelter or stray holding facility.  The stress of the shelter and the close contact with other dogs puts the lost dog at high risk of getting sick. The costs of the quarantine, medical treatment and care for the dog will be transferred back to the owner and may be hundreds of dollars.  If an owner cannot afford the reclaim fees, the dog is at high risk of being put down, because the shelter may not consider the dog “adoptable”.

If the lost dog is a foster dog, a dog lost from a rescue transport,  or a shelter or rescue dog, they may be deemed “unadoptable” if they bite someone (even if they bite out of fear and are normally a friendly dog). Many shelters and rescues will not take on the additional risk of liability of a dog that has bitten and will put him down.   This is a very sad reality.

How can you, as an owner or a Good Samaritan, prevent dog bites? By doing everything possible to avoid them.  Whenever possible, let the owner handle the dog.  If the owner is not there, contact them,  put some food on the ground and retreat. Let the dog eat and get comfortable and wait for the owner to arrive. If you must approach a lost dog do it with great caution. Better yet, let him come to you. Sit on the ground with your back to the dog and gently throw out tasty treats to him. He may creep towards you. ALWAYS carry and wear thick, leather gloves. Completely cover your hands and arms. If you are helping someone with a trap, always wear gloves – especially when releasing wildlife, carrying the trap with the dog in it, or removing a dog from a trap.  Make sure that everyone that is helping with a trap is also equipped with leather gloves.

At the very least – dog bites are expensive. At most – they may result in the death of a dog.  Please do everything possible to avoid being bitten when you are helping someone catch their missing dog.

Posted in Shy Lost Dog Strategies | Tagged , , , ,