There’s a page called ‘Lost and Found Dogs (Nepal)’ on Facebook. Every day, there are at least a couple of posts—pictures of dogs of different breeds found roaming the streets. People also share photos of their lost pets, seeking help to find them. Some dogs are reunited with their families. Most (around seven out of 10), unfortunately, never make it back home.
“It’s difficult to find your dog once it runs away, which is why pet owners need to be extra careful to ensure their safety,” says Raina Byanjankar, founder of Oxsa Nepal Animal Welfare Society. She says the society’s rescue team has come across many lost dogs without any identification on them. There is no way to know whom they belong to. Even when they put up pictures of the dogs on their social media handles, most of the time, they can’t find the owners.
In Nepal, there isn’t a system, like microchipping, to keep track of pets. This not only makes it easy to abandon dogs when they get old or sick and it becomes difficult to take care of them, or when the novelty of having a certain breed of dog wears off. But that also makes it next to impossible to locate dogs if they go missing.
And dogs often run away from their homes, for various reasons, says Shristi Singh Shrestha, an animal rights activist. Dogs that are kept in small spaces or chained or caged tend to escape when they can. They could run off when they are frightened or in heat. If you have a male dog at home, it could be set off by the scent of a female dog in heat nearby. Then, there are instances where dogs are stolen for selling or breeding purposes, adds Shristi.
Spaying or neutering your dog could help tackle these issues. Spaying eliminates a female dog’s heat cycle, which can last up to 21 days and happens twice a year. Neutering has a similar effect on male dogs. They are then less likely to seek out female dogs in heat. Additionally, spayed or neutered dogs are of no use to breeders so it also cuts the chances of them being stolen.
“Many people don’t know that spaying or neutering is actually good for their dog’s overall health as well as it reduces the chances of reproductive health issues,” says Shristi, adding that studies have also shown that spayed or neutered dogs live longer than those that haven’t undergone the procedures.
People bring a dog into their homes for different purposes. Some want to scare away possible intruders, or their children want a pet. For others, it’s a status symbol. If their neighbor has a Labrador, they need to have a similar expensive breed, without factoring in the needs of the dog or the responsibilities that come with having a pet.
How your dog behaves, and that includes running away, depends on the environment around it and the treatment it’s given. If your dog has ample space to play, is taken out on walks, and has been spayed or neutered, it’s less likely to run off at the first possible chance of escape. Regular walks also help familiarize your dogs with the area, says Raina. “These dogs will be able to find their way back home if they do get out.”
Sometimes, despite doing everything to keep your furry friends happy, they might get confused or anxious, which can make them flee. Fear (of loud noises, like thunderstorms and firecrackers) can also trigger their fight or flight response. Boredom is yet another reason why dogs run away. When they are left alone with nothing to do, they will try to entertain themselves. Exploring unfamiliar territory is one of the many ways in which they do it. “Understanding your dog and its needs is the first step in preventing it from running away,” says Shristi.
There’s no hard and fast rule to finding a lost pet. But there are a few things you can and must do, say those who work for animal welfare in Nepal. When looking around your neighborhood, you should also check hiding places like behind bins and bushes. Many times, people only comb the streets and the obvious places. As dogs are extremely territorial, local street dogs can attack pet dogs, which is why they might go into hiding.
Then, reach out to your local community and inform as many people as you can. Put up photos of your pet and promise a reward if possible. Raina says she has seen locals being indifferent about lost dogs. They think it’s just a dog, you can easily replace it. So a reward might provide these kinds of people an incentive to be on the lookout.
Social media can be your ally as well. There are many pages on Facebook and Instagram to circulate information. This has proved to be useful in many cases, says Raina. Dog lovers are quick to put up photos of animals they think are lost and it has helped reconnect many pets with their families. Shristi, on the other hand, thinks the process could be made simpler by using dog tags with engraved names and phone numbers of the owners.
Sushant Acharya, veterinary technician at Animal Nepal, a non-profit animal welfare organization, says every month they find at least four to five lost pet dogs on the streets. Though they circulate the message through social media, they aren’t always able to find the owners. “If the dogs had tags on their collars, we would be able to get in touch with their owners,” he says.
During Tihar, many dogs ran away, scared by the bursting of crackers. Some apparently hid in tight spaces and were unable to get out. Shristi says dogs are capable of things they don’t normally do—like crawling into tiny hideouts and scaling the wall to escape from the garden—when they are terrified. People tend to assume their dogs will react in a certain way, but there’s no way you can predict that, she says. “The best thing you can do is exercise extra caution during festivals and seasons when they are in heat but also ensure their needs are being met during other times as well.”
Isha Poudel, whose dog ran away recently, says losing a pet is a traumatic experience but when it runs away, you don’t have a sense of closure, and that’s even worse. “You’re always wondering where it is, what it’s doing, whether it’s cold or hungry. It’s a nightmare.”