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5 Lessons Learned When My Anxious Dog Did Not Come Home On 4th of July

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sby Samantha Sinko, PetHub's Customer Success Manager

All the time with my work at PetHub, I hear pet parents say, "My pets have never gone missing before," It isn't going to happen to us, because we keep our pets safe and with us" or "My pet would never run away." And then, too often, those same families write into our customer care center, desperate for help to find their missing pet -- because a "Perfect Storm" of accidents, missteps and unexpected occurences led to their dog or cat running away. I totally get what they are feeling, because I, too, had one of those perfect storms, and it was devastating. 

Fourth of July.

A holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, where we enjoy and celebrate with barbeques, pool parties, and lots and lots of fireworks. But as much as we enjoy this holiday, I've learned it is the also one of the scariest days for our furry friends at home.
I have had several dogs in my life. All of them handled the noise and fireworks pretty well. They got a little worked up, but nothing some snuggles and treats couldn’t handle. Except for one dog; my basset hound named Cassi. Cassi was the epitome of a nervous and anxious dog, and she was also a master escape artist.
On a day-to-day basis, she was usually okay. Or so I thought. But, looking back, I realize how reactive she was to so many things. A loud car zooming by our house would make her freeze. The wind howling in the trees while we were camping would cause her to bolt if she wasn’t leashed up tight (she even pulled a metal rod that her lead was attached to out of the ground). I just wish I would have realized sooner that her reactiveness could lead to her leaving us.
Every year on the Fourth of July was the worst. The fireworks and parties all around caused her to go into hyper-anxiety mode. She would pace around the whole house, panting uncontrollably, tail tucked the entire time, trying to find a place to hide, then getting anxious and moving somewhere else. 
We knew during this time not to let her go outside and to try and keep her calm and distracted. We would have all the TV’s on a fairly calm show and all of us would just hang out with her trying to keep her comfortable.
But one Fourth of July a few vital, and accidental, mistakes were made. It was about 11pm and we heard a loud, and very close, bang outside. My dad went to the sliding door to check it out and didn’t realize that Cassi had snuck past him out into the yard. Now, our entire yard was fenced, but earlier that day someone had used a gate and didn’t close it all the way. This, by the way, is exctly one of those "perfect storms" I mentioned earlier that can lead to a pet getting lost. 
Within minutes, we realized Cassi was nowhere to be found. We searched our entire house and property until we found the open gate. My heart sank into my stomach. I drove all night looking for her and calling her name. She had gotten out once before and was missing for 6 days before we found her. So I went up and down every street within a 5 mile radius all night. When I finally went back home a few hours later, but I couldn’t sleep. 
My poor girl was terrified of fireworks and she was out wandering alone on the one night of the year that was the worst for her.
Unfortunately, my story doesn’t have a happy ending. We never found Cassi after this. My hopes are that she was taken in by a loving family who cared for her the rest of her days. I have thought time & time again about what we could have done to help her cope with her fear & anxiety better.

Here are the 5 things I learned that are of top importance when you have a dog with anxiety:

  • ALWAYS make sure they are chipped & have an external ID tag, like a PetHub tag. We made the mistake of taking off Cassi’s collar to give her a bath earlier that day and never put it back on. She also wasn't microchipped which could have brought her home to us.
  • Provide a safe place for your dog. If they are comfortable in their kennel, let them hang out there. Or stay in one room with them to keep them from pacing and exploring. Having a safe space for them during this scary time can make a huge difference for them.
  • Create calming noises for your dog. We had the TV on but that didn’t do much for her. Now there are great things like DogTV & Audible for Dogs that provide special calming and distracting noises for your pets during high stress times.
  • Try to act and behave as normal, as your dog will pick up on any odd behavior. Remain calm, happy and cheerful as this will send positive signals to your dog. We made the mistake of constantly telling her it’s okay and making ourselves seem overly happy which in turn, I think made her even more anxious.
  • Always make sure your dog is safely in another room if you are going to open any doors. We, of course, didn’t purposefully let her out, but it should’ve been a first thought to make sure she was safely away before we opened any doors, giving her that chance to bolt.
Make sure you are taking the steps to set your dog up for success. Reach out to your vet or an animal behaviorist and do some research of your own to find the best ways to help your pooch. 
Having a dog with anxiety can be hard. Losing a dog as a result of that anxiety is so much harder.