The most recent issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association had a review article about how people go about finding a lost pet. Researchers surveyed several hundred pet-owners who had lost a pet and asked what they tried in order to recover it. If they did recover the pet, the researchers also asked how long their method (or methods) took to get results. If they were not re-united with their pet, there were some additional questions.
Some of the findings were intuitively obvious: the pets who were wearing identification tags were those who were recovered the fastest.
Owners who visited animal contol agencies and shelters to look for their pet were next on the list, followed closely by those who just called to contact those agencies. The phone-call thing suprised me. When I worked full-time in a shelter, we had lots of calls from people who asked (and I quote) "Have you all got my dog?" No name, no description, just an anonymous "Have you all got my dog?" I’d ask for a description and get "You can’t miss him. He’s a little brown dog." That description could be variously applied to most of the dogs in the shelter. These folks would become incensed when I suggested that it would be best if they came and looked for themselves. They felt I was just too lazy to compare their detailed description with our inmates for a match. Oh, well…
Folks who put up fliers around the neighborhood were better off than those who put ads in the newspaper. Those who actually placed ads had better results than those who just scanned the ads to see if some Good Samaritan was advertising the lost dog they had rescued.
One thing that I had not anticipated was the power of a negative attitude. People who believed that their pet had been stolen had the lowest likelihood of recovering their pet. This might be because it actually had been stolen, but generally these people were anticipating failure, so they just gave up and made very little effort.
One thing that will not surprise you cat-lovers: the vast majority of lost cats were recovered when they came home on their own. It did not add "when they got darn good and ready", but I think we know that.