It’s a sinking, helpless feeling that no one wants to experience. But in a split second, it can happen to even the best of pet owners. Yes, it is beyond scary for a pet parent to realize that a companion animal is missing.

According to the ASPCA, 15 percent of pet guardians had lost a dog or cat in the previous five years. And while about 93 percent of dogs that had gone missing were found, only 75 percent of the lost cats made it back to their families.

Pets go missing for a variety of reasons. Dogs might slip through a compromised spot in a gate or fence. Others bolt out the door at an opportune moment and some find a way to break free from a tie-out or chain. Cats can slip behind their human to sneak through an outside door, and once outside, they might get trapped somewhere.

In Beatrice, most residents are aware that if they find a lost animal, they should call the Animal Control Officer (ACO) or take the animal to the Beatrice Animal Shelter. In some cases, the dog or cat may have identification tags with a contact phone number that you can call and, hopefully, reach the owner in a timely fashion.

Put ID collars on all pets

Staff at the animal shelter have noted that many animals, mostly dogs, come in with collars but no tags. Collars should include an identification tag with contact information, a proof of rabies vaccination tag, and if you live in the Beatrice city limits, you will need a city license tag.

Now pet parents can buy collars that have the pet’s name and contact phone number printed right on the collar. Reading the collar is much easier than trying to grab the tag and read the small print. And it may help to get the animal home sooner instead of going the shelter route.

Microchips offer simple way to reconnect

Microchips are another popular form of identification. The tiny chip is inserted just under the skin in the nape of a pet’s neck in a quick and painless procedure. When a lost animal comes into a shelter, a scanner is used to determine if the animal has a chip.

If so, the chip gives a registry number that is registered with a microchip company. The pet owner’s contact information makes it possible to communicate with them and to start the process of reuniting man and beast.

All cats and dogs adopted from the Beatrice Animal Shelter are microchipped before leaving. This ID system requires that the pet parents notify the microchip registry company when they move to a new residence or change phones.

We have had animals come into our local shelter with chips, but the owners never updated them when they moved, and it becomes impossible to reunite the two parties--a word to the wise!

Think ink for your furry friend

Another lesser-known identification method is a tattoo. There are pros and cons about using this. A series of numbers and letters are tattooed on some part of the animal such as the upper rear leg. The number is registered with a company that maintains a national registry.

Some critics of this method claim that the tattoos become illegible and others maintain that the average person would not think to look for a tattoo on an animal. If you do find a tattooed pet, the best thing to do is to take it to the shelter where staff can begin the search process.

Where has my little dog gone?

Speaking of lost dogs, we recently had our own scary moment here at the Thaut house. Our beautiful “Ruby” did not show up in the kitchen for her early evening feeding as she always does when the food bowls start rattling. We looked all over the house and in the fenced-in backyard. Nothing.

Her buddy, “Rex” was accounted for, but no sign of the young female. We worried that maybe she had been spooked by the fire truck siren that had just roared down our street and had scaled the fence. We sprang into action.

Hal drove the pick-up truck up and down the streets in our neighborhood, and I took off on foot. For three hours, we combed the neighborhood asking adults and kids if they had seen a large black and white dog running loose. Someone on social media had posted that a black dog was running north of the old hospital--that’s just around the corner from us--so we resumed the all-out search. One of our friends took off in her car to join the pursuit, but still, nothing.

As darkness set in, we returned home – me in tears and Hal in frustration. At least the weather was decent that evening, and we knew Ruby was microchipped and wearing identification tags. Hopefully, a kind soul would catch her and take her to the animal shelter, but we were worried sick.

As I stood in the kitchen staring into our backyard, Hal hollered at me from the basement where he had carried groceries to our food pantry. I headed down the stairs, and much to my surprise, up trots Ruby. What?

Apparently, earlier that afternoon, when Hal was putting canned goods in the pantry, she slipped in behind him, and when he exited the room and closed the door, she was left behind. For three hours, she had slept and sniffed and wondered if she was in time-out--lost right under our nose.

This column was written by Bette Anne Thaut, board member of the Beatrice Humane Society.