THE BLOG

Lost Vegas! Finding and Preventing Runaway Pets

07/10/2014 11:32 am ET | Updated Sep 09, 2014

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(Photo courtesy of Dr. Barkman Speaks@ doctorbarkman.blogspot.com/)

What does a respected dog trainer do when she loses a pet?

She--ah, me -- freaks out. At least initially. Once that's over, she collects herself and shift into action.

But first, the backstory.

Last Monday, I was on a roll. For once, my kids didn't object to our daily sunscreen ritual, both were wearing matching socks and I still had time to wash my face before we headed out the door to day camp. In the parking lot, both leapt out of the car without shedding a tear and I was back at my desk in time to make an important phone meeting. That done, I piloted my minivan to Greenwich, CT., successfully helping transition in two new puppies and making it home in record time to walk the dogs and start dinner. "Sarah, you rock," I told myself. "You definitely deserve a little bowl of ice cream." I put a scoop in my favorite bowl and headed down to the lizard cage to take Vegas, our bearded dragon, outside for his daily crawl.

Then the phone rang. I knelt down and assured Vegas I'd be right back. "Don't move," I warned.

Apparently lizards do not understand English. Not only did he move, he ran away.

I had twenty minutes before the kids got home. I reassured myself I could find him--how far could a lizard run in under 6 minutes? I beckoned my dogs--none of them are bloodhounds for the record - but they did nothing to aid the search.

One look from me told my husband something was amiss. As the kids tumbled into the house, I mouthed, "I lost the lizard."

"You lost the what? Aren't you the one who always insists on the lizard harness (they really do make such things) and constant supervision?"

Well, yes, but that was beside the point. I had a bigger fish to fry--breaking it to the kids.

A word on young kids and loss - the news never goes over lightly. Whether a pet dies or goes missing, no matter what the species, a hole in their familial fabric is wrenching.

When I made the formal announcement, my daughter cried. No wailed. She wailed. My son sprang into action, like a gallant knight on a mission, certain Vegas would come to him - after all, Vegas was his pet. Clearly we hadn't trained our lizard very well.

It's been a long while since I've lost a pet. Initially, we did all the things one does. We banded together and filed a "Missing Lizard" report with the police. We alerted our direct neighbors. We looked in and under sheds, bushes and porches. Using a recent photo, we made flyers. My son even offered up a new nickname: Lost Vegas. On our flyer we pointed out that Vegas was a friendly, hand-raised dragon who would not bite or cast spells. We drew sad faces and offered up a reward.

And then my daughter had a more modern idea. What about Facebook?

Facebook! Social media! Of course. As we were posting Lost Vegas lizard photos and detailed descriptions of our beloved 18" reptile, I suddenly remembered an online association that contacted me not long ago. Their site, Nextdoor.com, sets out to join residents in neighborhoods around the country, urging people to connect as they once did--through shared events and information. One of their top selling points is helping to rehome lost pets. And now I had one. I joined Nextdoor and sent a shout-out to all my fellow Nextdoorians. And then we waited -- for five long, sad days.

Before I conclude with the rest of the lizard adventure, I want to share a few tips on protecting your pets this summer season. If you're a parent to young kids, there are times when gates and doors will be left open. In addition, your pet's area or crate may come unlatched, transporting can end in a quick escape or a worker may drop the ball and mistakenly let your pet outdoors.

Life is that funny thing that happens when you blink. Before you end up in my shoes, take a few necessary precautions:

  • Make sure your pet's ID and rabies tags are up-to-date and accurate. If you're traveling make sure the tags show a current cell phone or local number.
  • Get your pet micro chipped if possible. I've chipped our mammals--down to Matilda Grace, our new little bunny, but the lizard... I hadn't even thought of it.
  • Socialize the pets you have. While Nextdoor states the frightening statistic that only 14% of lost pets are ever returned, you can pad your chances by insuring that your pet will move towards people, not away from them. A quick tip in socialization? Discover your pet's passion - food or toys - and encourage everyone from the postman to your neighbors to feed or play with your pet.
  • If you have a fence (which I do), secure it. Walking the periphery, I found three gaping holes. While they were not big enough to arouse a dog's attention, they made great exit holes for an adventurous reptile.
  • Take some photos. Keep them handy, just in case.

Where is Lost Vegas Now?

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Lost Vegas is safe and sound in his glass terrarium, although once I post this piece, I think I'll take him out for his daily crawl. This time I will keep my eyes on him.

How he found his way back home was a story in itself. No, he didn't march in on two legs shouting, "I'm baaacccckkkk!"

In the midst of this season's biggest storm, Hurricane Arthur, we got a call from Sandy, a neighbor who'd seen our flyers around the 'hood. She asked us to go on Facebook and directed us to a post from the Mount Kisco Veterinary Clinic.

"Is that your lizard?" Sandy asked.

"Why yes, Sandy," I replied, "I think it is."

Apparently, he'd been found sunning himself on the roadway - how he got there we can't imagine - and the man who found him drove him to his veterinarian. His photo was posted with the caption, "Help us reunite this friendly little dragon!" And so they did.

If Vegas could talk, I'm rather certain he'd say: "Now THAT was interesting!"

Excuse me while I get a bowl of ice cream.