Contacting people to seek their help is a simple technique, but it is one of the most powerful actions on the path to recovering a lost pet. The objective is to contact as many people face to face as possible to build a network of eyes and ears to acquire sightings, and to gather information and access to the local area. The willingness of people to help can often be 80% of the work required to recover a lost pet.
Who to Contact
Essentially you want to contact about anyone you see during your initial and extended search, given that you can do so safely and appropriately. Beyond that, there are others to contact as shown on this list in no particular order. Always be sure to provide a poster and your contact information.
1. Knock on doors in the areas of interest.
2. Local Law Enforcement Agencies (LLEA) that have regular patrols in the area.
3. Any Fire Station (local, county, federal and so on) that responds in or around the areas of interest.
4. All delivery services, USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc.
5. Public Works for the area (street cleaners, water company, street dept.).
6. Transportation Services (bus companies, taxi services).
7. Contractors doing local work.
This is a short list, many more can be added based on your particular search area.
Empathy - [noun] the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
Why, you might ask, do we need to understand empathy to contact people? Well most people want to help others, and some do not. Since we are seeking help from others, we must understand that our words, actions, and behavior has a direct affect on the empathy of others. Empathy leads to a helping behavior. Conversely, people that do not show empathy generally do so for one of these three reasons:
1. They blame the victim. "How could the dogs owner be so stupid to let the dog get loose, my dog never went missing".
2. They have an internal bias. "I never had a dog, why bother".
3. They think they're different than us. "Around these parts we look out for each other, not sure where you're from".
People who empathize will be compelled to take action and help. If you can address the three reasons people will not show empathy, then you will have many more people willing to help.
Whether you're on an initial search of the area, or conducting an extended search, you must always be prepared when you contact people and seek their help. At the very minimum, be prepared to take notes, give a good description of the missing pet and circumstances leading to its dilemma, and to provide your contact information. Ideally, especially for an extended search, you would have an 8x11" color poster of the missing pet and a contact card with your information ready to hand out to anyone you come in contact with.
It's important to get your message across properly the first time. Knowing what you are going to say, before you say it, is key because it affords brevity. Brevity is also good because you most likely are catching people on the move and they may not care to stick around very long to hear you talk. You want to allow the other person to speak more than you do, so you need to be an active listener.
You may be aware of the importance of non-verbal messages, and the relative impact of words, tone of voice, and body language when speaking (sometimes called the "7%-38%-55% Rule"). For effective and meaningful communication, these three parts of the message need to support each other The best way to make sure you are communicating well is to simply be sincere and authenticate. If for some odd reason you cannot be sincere and authentic with an individual, it's probably better just to move on rather than have a potential conflict.
These are some key points to convey when first contacting someone during your initial or extended search.
1. Brief introduction "Hello my name is John Smith, I'm here today looking for a friends lost dog".
2. Facts about the missing pet "The dog went two days ago. It's a fixed male, 50 pound black lab with a red collar, his name is Max".
3. Point Last Seen or Last Known Position " Max was last seen about 6PM Monday night running down Elm Street and hasn't been seen since".
4. Extra Info if any "He is thought to be in this area".
5. Ask for their help "I'd be very grateful if you could keep an eye out for Max"
6. Provide Info "Here is the poster for Max with my phone number on it, please call anytime 24x7 if you see or hear him".
7. Follow-up instructions: "Is it okay if I come by again in case I get new information about Max in your area?".
8. Give thanks "thank you for your time and help, it really makes a difference"
Of course you want to put these items into your own words to summarize the minimal points to be made. If someone does have sighting information be sure to write it down during, or immediately after your conversation.
Other Useful Information
Collecting other information from a person you have contacted can be beneficial based on the dynamics of your search. Someone particularly friendly may offer to tell their neighbors (so hand them more posters), tell you more about the neighborhood or area, give you a sense of other pets in the area, inform you about the routines of the area (UPS comes by in the afternoon, trash pickup is on Thursday morning, the mailman comes around at....and so on). For rural or wilderness areas, gaining insight to property issues, contact information for adjoining property owners, unusual activities in the area, etc., are very useful as one lead often connects to another.
Document and Evaluate the Information
Don't rely on your memory. As soon as practical, write down what you have learned. What clues have been obtained from the contacts? Were valid sightings obtained with time and date? Were other sources of information developed that you need to contact.? What new points of interest need to be put on your map? Does the new information correlate to previously known information? These are just some of the many questions you should be asking to evaluate the collected information.