Wally made it home on his own, but with Daisy still missing – and without any identification – I probably only had two ways of seeing her again. Someone should grab her, drive her to an animal shelter, and have her scan a microchip with my contact details. Or someone should see her on a lost dog poster.
It’s good that I didn’t know the odds. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, a nonprofit whose members include the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the American Veterinary Medical Assn., Less 2% of lost cats and less than 20% of lost dogs are returned to their owners – and that’s if the animal has a tag, microchip, or both.
I invested my energy in the posters, but making an effective lost animal flyer turned out to be an art in itself, a fact that I learned the hard way. It was only after posting dozens of flyers around my neighborhood that I realized all the mistakes I made in the one pictured above. Here are six things I would have done differently:
1. Selection of photos. I thought I was smart making a photo of Daisy so prominent – taking half of the 8.5 by 11 inch paper. But as I pasted the flyer next to other posters of lost dogs on a lamppost, I realized that someone else’s sign was more effective: it also used a large photo, but only showed the dog’s distinctive face – not the whole body. As I drove from intersection to intersection, Daisy’s photo was hard to make out, but this close-up of another dog’s face caught my eye and made passers-by to stop and read the signs. Even though my signs were in color, the black and white flyers with the face in detail were better: graphic, easy to see from a distance, and emotionally compelling. If Daisy had any distinctive body markings or a memorable shape, the full body photo would have been wise. But she didn’t. I should have outlined her face in the photo, then let the words express her size.
2. Text selection. The words on my posters were brief, as they should have been. But I made two major mistakes: I used a serif font (Times Roman), whereas a sans serif font (like Arial or Helvetica) would have allowed for bolder and easier to read letters from a passing car. I also wrote the biggest words on my “LOST DOG” flyer. Anyone could tell that these flyers were for a lost pet, even if the text had been in a foreign language. A more effective strategy would have been to put the key visual descriptions in the bigger type: “BLACK LAB” or “TERRIER PUPPY” or “3-LEGGED CAT” or whatever. These keywords can resonate immediately with passers-by and stay etched in their heads as they roam the neighborhood.
3. Sign the locations. As I crazily pasted flyers to streetlights and utility poles, I feared they might be taken down within a day or two – maybe by city workers just doing their jobs. If I had to do it again, I would have made larger signs – notice board, not paper – and I would have asked the key street owners if they would have allowed me to stake these signs in their yard, perhaps near a sidewalk or intersection. . Others who had lost pets then recommended using a fluorescent notice board, either as a sign itself or just as an eye-catching backdrop. Simply glue an 8.5 x 11 inch flyer onto a larger piece of colorful poster board.
4. Number of copies. I underestimated the number of leaflets to be made at the copy center. How? ‘Or’ What? I guessed how much I could put on the streetlights, but I didn’t think about how much I could distribute to people. As I searched for Daisy on foot, I met some friendly neighbors and dog walkers and vowed to keep an eye out for them. I gave them all a flyer and they basically expanded my research team. I printed 75 copies first, but I probably should have made 150, maybe 200.
5. Preparation. As soon as I found this necklace in the backyard, time struck me as incredibly crucial. With each passing minute, I imagined Daisy wandering further from home – and further from where I would post flyers. Superstitious pet owners may think I’m crazy, but I’m convinced that I should now approach a dog that has disappeared like an earthquake: Prepare the kit in advance. Create a flyer now, include the best photo and update it every year. Place the design in several places, including a USB drive stored with a large roll of sturdy tape and a stapler. I wasted two hours calling my partner (who had the laptop where all of our photos are stored) to no avail, then crazily searched for a decent copy of Daisy, then wrote a flyer, then I ran to the copy center, then bought duct tape from CVS because the copy center was sold out. It was two agonizing hours during which I just wanted to be looking for my dog.
6. Hope. Don’t lose it. Because I was looking for a dog that had no identification, no inclination to come when called by name and no spectacular sense of direction or intelligence (I love him, but let’s be honest), I was pretty sure I would never see Daisy again. As night fell on the day she disappeared, a neighborhood dog walker told me to hold my head up. She lost her springer spaniel, and two months later it was found in a park miles away, she said. Indeed, the SPCALA has a Advice sheet “Animal Finder” who said, “A lost animal can roam the streets for weeks or months and people who find lost animals can keep them for several weeks before taking them to a shelter.” My local town and the Humane Society shelters have said the same, encouraging me to check their websites daily and walk their kennels regularly, just in case.
I didn’t need it, I’m happy to report it. A dog lover penned Daisy up and drove her to a town shelter, who scanned her microchip and called at night to say my daughter was waiting to be bailed out. I don’t know anything about the good Samaritan woman, other than she told a shelter worker that Daisy “looked like a nice dog.” Daisy found Wally and my fence was fixed. And now I have a lost dog flyer on a flash drive ready to go, garden stakes in the garage, and a roll of duct tape tucked away in the den, just in case.
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– Craig Nakano