The simple tag on a collar is the best chance for a dog to get home again. Failing that, it helps to have good neighbors.

Recently while out walking with our Skip, we noticed a little dog trotting off leash behind a young man who was talking on his cell phone. My first instinct was to silently scold him for talking on his phone instead of attending to his dog. No dog should be trusted off leash unless her human companion is totally attentive; even then, I don’t recommend letting a dog run off-leash in town.

Then the dog suddenly darted across the street toward us. I yelled, “Hey, call you dog!” The young man shrugged, “That’s not my dog. She started following me a while ago.” He described the place where he first encountered her. It was more than a half mile away.

What should we do? I briefly panic, even though (as a volunteer for the local Humane Society) I know what to do. Our website ( even has a list of tips for people who have found or lost dogs. It’s Sunday, when the shelter is closed, which complicates things a little. But there are a few steps we can take before we need to think about the shelter anyway.

First, we check for ID. The little dog had a collar (yay!) but it had no tags on it (boo!). That’s unfortunate. Even if she only had a Kirksville city tag, the police (animal control) could have easily traced the number back to her people. By the way, that Kirksville city tag is required by law for dogs living within the city limits and is FREE with proof of rabies vaccination from the Kirksville police station. (While the tag is free, the fine for an animal who is picked up by Animal Control without a tag is steep. Get tags for your animals!)

Our little lost friend has no city tag and no other ID on her collar. So what’s the next step? Luckily she is small and very friendly, so I pick her up and start walking. We are only two blocks from our house. Once we get there, I grab a leash, attach it to her collar, and walk several more blocks toward the neighborhood where the little dog apparently started her journey.

I walk our dogs in this neighborhood fairly often, but still this pooch is not familiar to me. I have no idea where she lives and neither does she. So I start looking for people to talk to. It’s a warm spring morning, but we don’t meet too many other pedestrians. I see a family getting out of a van and ask them if they know the dog. They are just visitors to the neighborhood, though, and they don’t know her. A teenager comments that the dog is cute and he would keep her -- an innocent little remark, but I see this all the time on the Kirksville Swap Meet (Facebook group) and it bugs me: people find dogs and then offer them free to a good home. I always think (and sometimes type), “Let’s not rush things, people! This dog is lost! She is not yours to give away!”

So we are still walking and looking for people. Then I spot a man out in his yard with his daughter. We head straight for them. The lost dog seems excited. “Do you know this dog?” I ask. The man looks toward his daughter. “It could be Nancy*. What do you think? She looks a little like her, but we haven't seen her in a few months, since she was a little puppy.” [*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.]

I kneel on the ground in front of the dog and try out the name. She seems to respond to it, but then again she is a very friendly puppy. The man offers to call his neighbor and find out if she is missing her dog. Perfect! But she doesn’t answer her cell phone. He tells me where she lives and works, and we are off again with a new plan: we’ll see if anyone is home, and if not I will take little Nancy to my house and call the owner at work.

Here’s your happy ending: we call the man’s neighbor and get a description of the dog she left in her yard that morning. It sounds like a match. She comes over to collect her little friend ten minutes later. She is extremely grateful that we tracked her down. We are relieved to have the problem solved. This all happened a few weeks ago. We just walked by her house the other day and saw little Nancy in her yard. I’m glad to know that she is home where she belongs.

But what if this had been a false lead? Then what? Our next move would have been to hang FOUND posters with the dog’s basic info on telephone poles in the neighborhood. We also would have posted a description of the dog on Kirksville Lost Pets (Facebook group). We would have kept the little one in our kitchen overnight. We would have called the shelter first thing on Monday morning to file a Found Pet report and let them know that we might need to drop her off later, if no one responded to our posts or posters. Anyone responding to the posts or posters would have been asked to provide details about the animal so that we could be sure that she really belonged to them.

All of this trouble could have been avoided had the dog’s owner just attached a simple tag to her collar.

My dogs carry three forms of ID: their Kirksville city tag (because it’s the law), another tag that features the dog’s name, our name, and our home and cell phone numbers, and finally a microchip. The microchip is the back-up ID, in case the dog slips out of his collar, but it’s not a perfect form of ID, since most people can’t read it. (You need a special device.) A found dog has to be taken to a veterinary clinic or the animal shelter to find out if she even has a microchip. And even then it’s not fool-proof since people routinely move and forget to update their microchip registry.

The simple tag on a collar is the best chance for a dog to get home again. Failing that, it helps to have good neighbors.