Lost Dog: Some Guidelines for Search and Rescue

by Alison White 

Recently,  I participated in the search and rescue of Moses, a Newfoundland dog that was lost while hiking. He was found after three days at the bottom of a 200 foot cliff and rescued safely by Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART). I'd like to share some takeaways from the experience and from talking to members of WASART. The purpose is to assist you should your dog be lost or need rescue.

Moses being given water by a member of WASART moments after his rescue

#1 - Animals and outdoor situations are unpredictable. Many owners aren't aware that dogs don't understand danger, or simply misjudge their dogs. Dogs don't all understand that certain terrain and situations are dangerous just because they are animals. Like people, dogs can also exhibit bad judgement. A leash is almost always a good idea.

#2 - Spread the word. When a pet is lost, use the power of networking and social networking to your advantage. The more people who know about your lost animal, the better chance you have of recovering them. Do all the usual things like checking shelters, but think outside the box. New services such as Seattle Pet Detectives use search dogs to find lost pets.

#3 - Do not attempt rescue yourself. If the animal is in a precarious place, call the animal search and rescue experts. Fortunately, we have an excellent organization for animal rescue in Western Washington, WASART. Learn about similar organizations in your area. One of the reasons these organizations exist is so humans don't get injured or die trying to rescue their animals. Earlier this year, WASART rescued another dog from the same location as Moses. Unfortunately, they also had to retrieve the body of his owner, who attempted rescue and fell to her death. 

Just a few of the rescuers who helped Moses

Just a few of the rescuers who helped Moses

#4 - Everyone can help. This is so important! Don't feel like "there's nothing I can do." Dozens of people contributed to Moses' successful rescue. Some random, non-glamorous ways I helped: loaned the Search & Rescue (SAR) coordinator my phone charger, allowed my dog to be used to "size" the rescue sling, manned search headquarters at the trailhead and coordinated with SAR as they arrived. Other volunteers brought food, water, hot coffee, warm clothes, or shuttled information from the trailhead HQ to the rescue location. People who couldn't physically be there helped searchers, owners, and rescuers connect via phone, text, or email. Even if you just bring enthusiasm, emotional support for the owners, or help spread the word on Facebook, you are helping.

#5 - Stay positive and keep searching. Many pets are found weeks or months after they go missing. It can be difficult to keep a positive attitude when your pet has been missing a long time. Tap into whatever support system you have. Never give up, never surrender.

#6 - Don't judge, just help. Whatever your opinions, help the animal and the owners.

We are fortunate to be living in a time where the importance and value of search and rescue efforts for animals are given the emphasis they deserve.

If you would like to support the great work of WASART, you can visit their donation page.