“The greatest fear dogs know is the fear that you will not come back when you go out the door without them.” Stanley Coren
Technique: Collect Information - the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence
Initial contact with the pet owner
Contacting the pets owner implies you have become aware of the missing pet's plight, or by whatever means the owner has contacted you for help. Either way, it's important to convey some basic information to the owner and to establish some agreement before you fully commit to help. Now is the time to decide if this recovery mission is for you or not.
Your first objective is to show credibility and confidence for conducting a recovery effort which has much greater odds of success as compared to the typical casual search using no plan or strategy. Start by providing the owner your contact information to include your name, phone number, email address and city of residence. This action will establish some credibility, however slight, with the owner. Contact cards made with this information are easy to hand out as needed. You need to be the leader of the search to prevent others from undermining your well planned actions. This is not to say others can't help, but you do not want other activities to conflict with your strategy. Doing so is usually a quick conversation and the owner will clearly see that odds of recovery are better in your hands as compared to others with no plan at all.
Be clear that you do not accept compensation for your work. This lends itself to the integrity of your actions and clears the way for doing what needs to be done, no matter the length of time or resources needed. People that get paid for these actions charge a lot of of money, usually with written contracts that have many stipulations and options which really run up the bill. Consequently, the odds of success by paying for help are greatly reduced because the length of a search is limited by the cost of the persons time and materials.
Collect information about the pet
Be sure to obtain the essential physical information about the animal. The bare minimum includes gender, size/weight, color, breed, collar/no collar, tags/no tags, chipped/not chipped, physical limitations or odd features (e.g. limp, deaf or blind, and so on). Get a photo if possible.
Then get information about the pet's behavior and history. Has it gone missing before, what areas does it normally travel, how long has the pet belonged to the owner, does it chase other animals or cars, does it go on walks with the owner, does anyone else look after the pet, how long has the pet been at the current address, was the pet lost while away from home, and so on. The objective is to create a profile for the pet which feeds into the search actions.
Collect additional information in the field
Everything you do after your initial contact with the pet owner will be about collecting and assessing information. It is important to always have a camera, notepad and pen with you at all times. Do not hesitate to recontact the pet owner to resolve open issues or questions. Be prepared to take notes and photos of all future actions during your initial and expanded search, contacting people, actions taken to communicate, mapping activities, and even follow-up actions. Details are important, make time for them. Do not rely on your memory alone, for example, if you are speaking to someone about a lost pet, do not be afraid to use your notebook while holding a discussion - they will understand that you find their words important. Put a date and time on everything.
Here are a few, yet essential types of information you will document:
1. Any sightings, specific location
2. Any obvious tracks or scat from the pet
3. Any unusual activity in the area
4. People familiar with the pet
5. People that can provide access to areas normally off limits
6. People reporting unusual barking (or meowing)
The list is endless, the point is to document most everything you observe, hear, reveal and discover while implementing the other techniques.
Analyze the Information
When your field work is completed for the day (or night) and you return home, your mind will be busy thing about all you have learned. It will almost motivate you to go back out and do more, but instead it is time to analyze the information. Doing so is really a step in critical thinking, it will help you form conclusions, determine what to do next, figure out what not to do and what to focus on, and resolve open issues or apparent mysteries.
Analyzing the information you have will cause you to better understand it by way of :
1. Cause and effect,
2. Relationships between various observations
3. Differences, similarities, gaps identified
4. Big picture perspective of what's happening
5. Problem solving
Ask yourself questions about the information collected using "who, what, where, why and how".
1. If the dog was seen by the person at 123 Elm Street, who else along that street has seen it?
2. Given the time and dates of known sightings, what direction is the dog likely traveling?
3. Using a map, where would the dog likely be finding food or water?
4. Lost dog posters were placed around town, but no one has reported a sighting, why is that?
5. The private property near the sighting has not been searched, how can permission to search there be obtained?
Continue asking these types questions from the information you've collected. Compare what you've found with your initial thoughts. Are there conclusions to be made, new actions to be taken, indications of the pets location, actions to drop? Analyzing the information is a powerful skill which greatly compliments your actions in the field. Your attention to detail and focus will increase, making search efforts more effective.