What’s the Best Way to Find a Lost Dog?

Tech help includes a smartphone-scannable pet ID tag
By Lisa Wogan, March 2011, Updated February 2015

Last week, my friend John’s dog slipped her collar during a walk and sprinted off. It was two long, miserable days and sleepless nights before Lily was discovered, dirty and shivering not so far from where she had made her ill-advised dash. The man who discovered her wrapped her in his coat, created a little leash from string in his bag (à la McGyver) and took a cell phone photo that he sent to his girlfriend. She checked Craig’s List and made the connection. When John got the call, he was in a van with a professional dog-sniffing dog about to search the scene. Cue happy music.

Anyone whose dog has disappeared knows the horrible, sinking feeling and the response. Search the area. Call shelters. Place ads. Put up flyers. Even, hire a pet detective. In the last decade, technology has taken a growing role in the search. Craig’s List for one. Lost dogs are also posted on Facebook. And there are websites exclusively for posting lost pets, such as pets911.com. Community Leash is an iPhone app that sends out lost/found pet announcements. Several companies have created amber alert–type services, such as FindToto.com, that robocall all the phones in the area where your dog went missing.
A recent entry into the business of keeping track of your dog comes from a company in my neck of the woods. PetHub, Inc., of Issaquah, Wash., has created the Link ID tag that is laser-etched with a 2D barcode that can be scanned and read by a smartphone. The selling point on the PetHub tag is that owners can create a profile that can more easily be kept up-to-date and provide more detailed information than old-fashioned printed tags or even microchips.
At any time, the pet parent can modify the pet’s online profile and control what’s shown when that tag is scanned. PetHub claims that only about 5 percent of dogs in the U.S. have microchips and that 58 percent of those contain outdated information. The Pet Hub profile can also include timely information, such as the pet’s medications, vaccinations and medical history. There’s also a simple “Contact Pet Owner” button that won’t reveal the owner’s number but facilitates direct notification.
Here’s the thing: The idea sounds good, especially if you’re all about your smartphone, but it wouldn’t have helped Lily. She slipped her collar. All that technology would have just dangled at the end of the leash in John’s hand. (Now, she walks on a harness.) She was chipped, so if she’d ended up in a shelter or vet’s office, there’s a good chance a scan would have reunited the pair.
I like the old fashioned tag (although my dogs are also chipped): You’re not required to subscribe to an ongoing service, nor does the person who finds your dog need a smartphone to access all your pup’s data.
Of all the options out there, other than not losing our dogs in the first place, I wonder what is the most effective strategy for getting them back. And, is technology really making it easier. What’s your story?


Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.