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Updated: 5 days ago

Why Dogs and Cats Roam and What to Do About It

“Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone? Oh where, oh where can he be?” Some of you may remember that popular children’s song, which was written by Septimus Winner, an American 19th century songwriter. While the song may be old, the question sadly remains relevant today. Dogs – and cats – get lost and many of them end of up in shelters. The ASPCA estimates the number of dogs entering U.S. shelters each year at 3.9 million and about twice as many animals enter as strays versus those relinquished by their owners.

Why so many lost pets? Dogs and cats have different reasons for roaming.

Canine Curiosity 

Cats are usually the ones labeled with excessive curiosity, but dogs can be guilty too. You’ve no doubt heard stories (or experienced it yourself) about repair people leaving a door or the gate to the back or front yard open and Fido getting out. Especially, if your dog is inclined to run or is bored being by itself;  it will only take a few seconds for them to take advantage of an escape route to investigate the neighborhood or search for company. After all, dogs are pack animals by nature and may go roaming to find a buddy to “hang with” for a while. Also if your dog sees a squirrel or picks up a strong scent, their instincts may very well lead them out of your house and down the street or even further. 

A dog’s natural desire to follow a scent can turn into a disaster.

Cats, on the other hand, are more likely to get locked in a garage, stuck in a cupboard, or trapped in a vehicle and transported away from the area. Their instincts are to hunker down and remain quiet until the vehicle stops and they have a chance to escape. Cats are also sometimes deliberately removed from an area by someone who wants to get rid of them – often a cat-hating neighbor, pest control company, apartment manager or local animal control.

Habit Forming

Both dogs and cats are creatures of habit. If they’ve been left at a pet sitter’s home or if you move and they haven’t had time to adjust to the new environment they may try to return to familiar territory. Same goes for taking your pet on a trip and leaving it alone in your hotel room. When their routine is broken, they wander off in search of the way home. Sometimes they may be chased out of their territory by another more aggressive dog or cat.

Not all runaways are looking for adventure. Many pets cannot handle the loud noises of cars backfiring and fireworks. In fact, more pets go missing around July 4th because of fireworks, says PetAmberAlert. It cites national statistics indicating animal control officials across the country see a 30% to 60% increase in lost pets each year between July 4th and 6th.

The Dangers of Outdoor Living

Once your pet gets outside, they’re at risk of being harmed by predators. Even urban areas have owls, hawks, coyotes and other predators that prowl the night, and your pet could end up a victim of their search for food. Getting run over by a car is always a danger for animals but cars present another hazard for cats. In the wintertime, cats tend to crawl into the engine area of a car to keep warm, putting them at risk of injury or death when the engine starts. 

Sometimes lost pets end up in shelters, while others wander, hide or even get adopted by another family.

Keep Your Pet At Home and Safe

Since you don’t want to lose your beloved family member, it may be time to make some changes. Training should a priority, since you can’t always count on people who come into your home or yard to leave the gate closed. You want to train your dog to come when you call if you see it taking off down the street. Never get angry and scold your dog with a raised voice for running away. Instead reinforce the training you want with a favorite treat and words that praise your dog and show your affection.

Other things to do to keep your dog from running off:

  • Make sure your dog gets enough physical exercise, including a long walk or a run at a dog park, to work off pent up energy.

  • If you take your dog with you traveling, keep some familiar toys with them so they feel more at home.

  • Consider doggy daycare for your dog that may be craving the companionship of other dogs. Or find a pet sitter who walks more than one dog at a time or takes the dogs to the dog park so your dog can be part of the pack.

  • Have toys on hand to keep your dog stimulated. At Marshall Grain, we’ve got a large toy department to entertain both pooches and kitties, many of them are designed for you and your pets to play together.

  • When it comes to fireworks and other loud noises, make sure your dog or cat doesn’t bolt by keeping doors and windows shut. Don’t leave them outside during these times. Make sure they are in the house.

Stave off boredom by providing your pet with toys and plenty of interaction.

Finding a Lost Pet

If your pet does disappear, be sure to check with all your surrounding local shelters. And don’t give up too soon. Displaced pets often end up in the shelter weeks, and even months, after they were initially lost.

You also should have your pet microchipped. Even with your best efforts, your dog or cat may get out or away from you. If they do end up in a shelter, they will probably be scanned for chips. Also be sure to keep your contact information is up to date so the shelter can get in touch.  If you don’t use a microchip; make sure your pet has a collar with a tag that has your contact information on it.

If your pet does get lost, a microchip can help ensure their safe return.

Dogs and cats want to be by your side. Make sure they  stay there with the proper training, protection, and activity.

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