If your dog, cat, or other pet has escaped or gotten lost, please take quick action to search for them and to alert us that they're missing! Below are some tips on what to do if your pet is lost.
File a lost report with us:
- Fill out a lost report online: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/animalshelter/lostandfoundpets/filereport. You may also want to fill out lost reports at shelters in neighboring counties.
- If you're having trouble with your lost report, email the shelter at email@example.com.
- If you see a probable match to your lost pet at our shelter or another local shelter, visit in person. Speak with shelter staff and if there is a probable match to a lost pet, staff may accompany you back to the stray holding areas to confirm. Remember that your description (including breed) may not match someone else’s description of your pet.
- Provide the shelter with a flyer (information and a photo of your pet) in case your pet is brought into the shelter.
- Virginia law requires municipal shelters to hold animals for five days if found without a collar, microchip, or other form of I.D.. The law requires municipal shelters to hold animals for 10 days if they are found with a collar, microchip, or other form of I.D.. Do not depend on or expect a shelter to hold your lost pet indefinitely; please take quick action to search for your lost pet and make sure to be in touch with local shelters. Keep in mind that most shelters charge an impound fee and a daily boarding fee, so it's best 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 as soon as possible to confirm.
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 your pet’s name repeatedly.
- Use a favorite food or toy to entice them. 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 pet! 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 neighbors 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 your neighbors in the search:
- Let people in the area know your pet is lost.
- Enlist a group to help you search.
- Post or leave flyers with your contact number should your pet be found.
Make flyers to post near the area your pet was lost:
- Put a color or good quality black and white photo of your pet on each flyer.
- Use 8 ½ x 11 paper, and keep in mind that bright paper can draw more attention.
- Include your pet’s species (dog, cat, etc), appearance, gender (including whether it is spayed or neutered), age, weight, color, and 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.
- Consider offering 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.
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 or transport them back to you.
- Post on your Facebook page, and in groups such as neighborhood groups and lost/found pet groups.
- Don't forget to call and/or post flyers at veterinary clinics, in case your pet is found sick or injured and taken to a vet's office. If a vet 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 these rescue groups so they can spread the word through their network of animal welfare contacts.
- Post your lost pet on PawBoost for free, and search PawBoost's lost and found pets database.
- The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) picks up animal remains, including companion animals, that are found deceased on the road. You can call your local VDOT office about animals killed on a roadway.
- Animal Protection Police does not pick up deceased animals found on public or private property, unless there is a suspicion regarding rabies.