I highly recommend “Where the Lost Dogs Go: A Story of Love, Search, and the Power of Reunion,” by Susannah Charleson (author of “Scent of the Missing” and “The Possibility Dogs”).
I knew I had to read this book after scanning only one paragraph of the book’s description printed on the inside cover:
“One is six dogs goes missing at some point, leaving bereft owners to search high and low, hang missing posters, check shelters, and hope for good news. But amid these grim statistics, countless happy endings are forged. Tails wag again. Best friends are reunited.”
Like most animal lovers, I have had experiences with animals going missing over the years or wondering about the former lives of pets I have adopted. Fortunately, most of my experiences with missing pets have had happy endings. But, my first cat, Cuddles, whom we got when I was about 8 or so, went missing. He was an outdoor cat. That’s actually how we got him. He just showed up at our house one day. We were never really sure whether he had another owner. My mother bought him numerous collars, but he always came back home without them. We could never figure out if Cuddles had another owner out there who didn’t appreciate the collars and took them off, or if Cuddles was squirming out of them because he didn’t like the way they felt. That was back in the days when most cats were indoor/outdoor and we didn’t have to worry so much about their safety. Cuddles would roam all day, but at night he would always be at the backdoor of my childhood home, waiting to be let in. Then, one night he didn’t come back. I continued looking at the back door for him for months. That was in the 70s, and I still have dreams about going to that back door and seeing him standing there again. So, based on that and other experiences, I have always been extremely curious about what the missing pets do go, and how to find them.
Charleson’s narrative is about how, after years of doing search and rescue work to find humans, along with the help of her trained Golden Retriever puzzle, she got involved in helping locate missing pets.
Along the way, Charleson began training her Maltipoo, Ace, to search for missing animals by teaching them to track the scent of cat fur.
Ace, by the way, most likely was a lost dog himself. Charleson rescues him from a Texas shelter. The little white dog is initially in bad shape, with missing fur and bite marks. Charleson gets him veterinary care and nurses him back to health. As Ace transforms back to a healthy and happy dog, Charleson notices his house manners and has the distinct impression that he must have been separated from a good owner through some unfortunate circumstances. She goes to great pains to try and find his original owners but with no luck.
The book is also about Charleson’s relationships with her parents who themselves rescued numerous animals over the years, as well an ode to her pets, including Puzzle, who has a gift for not only finding humans but also attracting animals in need of help.
And, of course, the book is about how to find lost animals. It’s more of a series of different experiences that the author has with various reuniting various pets with their owners and what she learns along the way than a how-to find lost animals guide. However, there is a lot of helpful information about finding lost pets on the book’s pages, along with good advice for helping to prevent animals from getting lost in the first place.
For example, Charleson notes that many animals get lost after escaping from a week spot in a fence that the owner had been meaning to fix (but usually didn’t because they thought their pet wasn’t the wandering kind or that their pet wouldn’t notice the week spot). Making a repair today can mean preventing the need to search for a lost animal tomorrow or down the road. Similarly, she notes that pets will sometimes slip by a distracted owner or otherwise get out of the house and, when this happens, the animal’s best chance of a quick reunion is through an ID tag. But, again, because most people aren’t expecting their mostly or completely indoor animal to get out, the pet usually isn’t wearing a tag and/or collar. Also, interestingly, when cats get out, they tend to dart from one location to the next safe location, but many dogs tend to run and keep on running.
And, even the tiniest bits of information about a pet’s likes/dislikes or habits might help with recovery efforts. For example, the author relates one instances when she is able to help an owner find a lost pug. That lost pug loves June bugs, so Charleson advises the owner to keep her porch light on at night and to tell the neighbors to do so as well. The pug is found soon after dozing on someone’s front porch surrounded by June bug wings.
The appendix of the book has two guides with extremely important information for pet owners: One is about what you should always have on hand in case your pet goes missing, and the second list has expert tips for how to find a missing pet.
In short, Charleson writes beautifully about her dogs and cats, and informatively and interestingly about her experiences searching for and finding lost pets. Her willingness to go the extra mile to time and again to help people and animals is also noteworthy and inspiring.