Your pet is missing! Here's what to do.
1). First, contact local law enforcement and animal control to let them know your pet is missing. Many cities and towns have a designated point person who will help you through these steps or even do some calling on your behalf. Note that if your pet comes home in the back of a police car and there are leash laws in your area, you might get a citation. You can try to fight it, but it's up to you whether it's worth hours of your life to do so. If you can, pay it and think about how much money you just saved on emergency veterinary care/offering a reward.
2). Call surrounding vet clinics and animal shelters. Let them know if your animal has a microchip. Leave your contact information. There are some animal shelters that will charge you to release your pet back to your custody. This feels unsympathetic but those costs go toward helping other animals and supporting the facility that is reuniting you with your pet. You can ask for a waiver or a payment plan, but many places insist on a small fee paid up front.
3). Check Facebook for "lost pet" pages that are local to the area in which your pet was lost. In other words, if you lost your dog in Timbuktu but live in Seattle, find a page for Timbuktu. Post a photo and details of your lost pet. Buying an ad on Facebook has also worked well for some people--you can target viewers by geographical location and it's not very expensive. In our experience participating in lost pet searches, these ads reach a ton of people.
4). Make flyers. Do exactly what we tell you and don't add any other distracting stuff on there. At the top, type LOST BROWN DOG or LOST GREEN PARROT (or whatever animal you lost). Then under that put a recent PHOTO. Beneath that put a PHONE NUMBER in huge font. Finally, under that, write DO NOT CHASE. That's all. Print a bunch of copies (at home or at an office supply store) and find or buy a stapler/staple gun. You can put them individually into page protectors if you want, but if it hasn't been raining you might not want to bother. The biggest mistake people make with flyers is too much info or font too small for people to read at a distance. Here's an example that will actually work to get your pet back.
5). Get a friend to drive you around to hand out and hang your flyers around where your pet was last seen. You can go by yourself, but it seems to go a little faster with a chauffeur. Put flyers on telephone poles and other areas where people can see them as they are driving by. Often, pets are recovered due to a tip from a driver that saw a flyer while driving to or from work.
6). Stay close to the areas of the last sighting and wait for calls. Most of them will be totally unhelpful, but don't get discouraged. Bring along your pet's favorite things. Importantly, if your pet has a best friend, bring them too. In one situation, a fly-away parrot walked home by himself because we recommended moving the cage of his parrot friend outside where the missing parrot could hear her calls. In another situation, one of our behaviorists recovered a lost dog using a dog borrowed from a neighbor. In another case, a missing dog was lured back to safety using his favorite forbidden snack--cat food.
7). If your animal has been missing more than a day, try contacting local news outlets to reach more people. Don't be surprised if local television and radio stations aren't interested; it's not personal. If you have a missing farm or exotic animal, or you live in an area lacking competing local news stories, you might just get some traction.
Good luck, and we hope you find your animal.