Tips for Finding a Lost Pet

Search the area thoroughly

  • Start searching in the area where your pet was lost immediately after you realize they’re missing. Do not delay the search.
  • Take a bright flashlight if you have to search at night or in dark places during the day.
  • Call the pet’s name repeatedly.
  • Use a favorite food or toy to entice the pet. Shake a box or bag of treats or use any other familiar noise such as the rattle of your keys.
  • Stop periodically to listen for your pet—a bark, a meow, a rustle in the leaves.
  • Think like your animal. Get down low and search up high as well.
  • Don’t overlook unusual or small spaces in your search. A scared animal can fit into tight places, especially ones where you might not think to look.
  • Ask a neighbor if you can search their yard or property for your pet.
  • Place items your pet may recognize by scent outside: dirty clothes, bedding, favorite toys, odorous food such as tuna, mackerel, liver, chicken. Placing a litter box outdoors may assist in recovering a lost cat.

Engage the Neighbors in Your Search

  • Let people in the area know your pet is lost.
  • Enlist a group to help you search.
  • Post or leave flyer with your contact number should your pet be found.

Make flyers:

  • Put a color or good quality black and white photo of your pet on each flyer.
  • Use 8 ½ x 11 paper – colored paper can draw more attention.
  • Include your pet’s species (dog, cat, etc), breed or breed mix, sex (including whether it is spayed or neutered), age, weight, color, markings.
  • Leave out one or two distinguishing marks or characteristics—a floppy ear, a stubby tail, a missing canine tooth, one blue eye), so you can determine whether someone claiming to have found your pet actually has.
  • Do not put your name or address on the flyer.
  • Include your telephone number on the flyer – a cell phone number works best, in case you have to be away from home.
  • Offer a reward, but withhold the amount.
  • Post as many flyers as possible within a one to two mile radius of where your pet was lost. At eye level in stores and offices; at waist level on telephone poles and street signs to be visible to people in cars.
  • Replace any damaged or missing flyers and take flyers down when you find your pet.

File a Lost Report with the Animal Shelter:

  • Call the animal shelter and fill out a lost report. Also fill out lost reports at shelters in surrounding jurisdictions.
  • Visit local shelters often—every day or two—to look for your pet. First visit the stray and adoption rooms and if you do not see your pet, ask to be taken to the back to view animals that may be sick or injured. Remember that your description may not match someone else’s description of your pet, so in-person visits are important.
  • Provide the shelter with a flyer (information and a photo of your pet) in case your pet is turned into the shelter.
  • If the pet is lost in Fairfax County, visit, to see if the animal is at the shelter (directions for how to navigate this site are on the lost/found page of the shelter’s Web site).
  • Virginia law requires municipal shelters to hold animals for five days if found without a collar; 10 days if found with a collar. Do not depend on a shelter to hold your lost pet indefinitely. (Most shelters charge a daily impoundment fee, so it is in your best interest to learn whether your pet is in the shelter sooner rather than later.)
  • If a shelter calls to inform you they may have found your pet, visit in person to confirm.

View stray animals at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter:

  • Go to
  • Type in the zip code 22030 or your own zip code
  • Click on Find Shelters
  • Check the box for Fairfax County Animal Services
  • Click on Search Now
  • Click on one of the three buttons
  • I Lost My Pet
  • Click on the species of animal you have lost
  • Dog, Cat or
  • Other (guinea pig, rabbit, reptile, bird, etc.)
  • Click Search Now
  • If you think you see your pet, click on the animal’s picture for more information.

Be careful when searching for a missing pet:

  • Always search for a missing pet with another person or a group of people you know and trust, especially at night. Always respond to a found pet call by taking someone with you and by meeting in a public place.
  • Never tell the person where you live or invite them into your home.
  • Do not give a reward to someone who claims to have your pet until you have the pet back safely with you. The identifying information you purposefully withheld from your flyer/ad will be helpful in determining if a claim is legitimate.
  • Do not allow yourself by being tricked by a money scam. Do not trust someone who claims to have your pet but requires money to ship it back to you.

Call Local Veterinarians

Don’t forget to call and/or post flyers at emergency veterinary clinics in case your pet is found sick or injured. If a veterinary clinic calls to inform you that they may have found your pet, visit in person to confirm.

Provide information about your lost pet to local rescue organizations

Circulate flyers to local rescue organizations that can spread the word through their network of animal welfare contacts.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) picks up animal remains, including pets, found on road. Call your local VDOT office about animals killed on a roadway.

Animal Control does not pick up dead animals found on public or private property.

Use newspapers to assist in your search

Place an advertisement in one or more local newspapers. See if the newspaper offers free ads for lost pets and check the found ads daily.

Keep searching for your pet and good luck!

Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
Technical Questions: Web Administrator

ADA Accessibility | Website Accessibility
Awards | FOIA | Mobile | Using this Site | Web Disclaimer & Privacy Policy | Get Adobe Reader
Official site of the County of Fairfax, Virginia, © Copyright 2015

Website Feedback Website Feedback    Globe with various flags representing Web site language translations   Language Translations

Return to Graphic Version