The fellow coming to give an estimate for some work on a family member’s house the other day was late. When he showed up, he had a huge smile on his face as he apologized for his tardiness. It turns out that his dog had been lost since early yesterday, and he had just received a call that animal services had her, and she was safe.
He was a chatty guy and he proceeded to tell me about his experience. It was quite eye-opening, and I suspect there may be some nuggets for you if your organization handles strays.
One pet owner’s panicked experience with a shelter’s lost and found listings
He first noted that he went to the animal services website, which has an extensive lost and found section, and he clicked on the “Lost Pets” section to search the pictures of dogs. He said it took him awhile in his panicked state to realize these were not pets that the shelter had in their care, but instead was a section where other folks like him who had lost their pet had posted pictures in hopes finders would make a match. It was so interesting to hear his perspective of what that “lost” label meant to him.
He then found the page that showed the photos of the animals who were strays at animal services. He saw a dog on the site late in the afternoon yesterday that looked a little bit like his dog, but the picture was tiny and blurry so it was very hard to see. So he read the description, which listed the dog as an unspayed female shepherd mix and his heart fell—his dog was a spayed hound mix. He continued his search.
When he came to the house to do the work for us, he had just received the call from the shelter telling him they had his dog—as she had a chip and they could track her back to him. But guess what? That “unspayed female shepherd mix” he saw on the site yesterday was in fact his spayed hound mix!
"Is each photo clear enough so that someone can see if that dog or cat is their dog or cat?"
Assess your listings in 6 simple steps
I thought there were a few opportunities to share from this story:
- Try some usability testing on your lost and found pages—is it intuitive? Can folks navigate it easily? Do they understand the labels?
- Check those photos. Is each photo clear enough so that someone can see if that dog or cat is their dog or cat?
- Avoid definitive identification for breed mixes. While she may look like a shepherd mix, that owner may not see her as such and dismiss that dog as potentially his. Instead, think about focusing on identifying features—e.g., a black spot on the top of the head or scar on his cheek—as opposed to using breed mix ID.
- If it is not clear if the dog or cat is spayed, it is better to use a label of “unknown” than to guess.
- Make sure microchip scans are conducted at intake and that the wand is passed low and slow and more than once to best ensure quick reunites.
- Think about doing some follow-up interviews with those who found their pets through you. What worked well for them? What could have been improved?
Have you made improvements to your lost and found section? Has it made a difference on your RTO? Leave a comment and share your experiences.
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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