By Kim Campbell Thornton

Universal Uclick

My stepmother called me in a panic. She had left the sliding door open in the guest room so a visiting cat could get some fresh air, and the cat clawed a hole in the screen and disappeared.

Everyone who's had a lost pet, including myself, knows that boulder-in-the-stomach feeling. One of our cats got out of the house when we had workmen there, and our cavalier Darcy also made an unauthorized excursion. Fortunately, both came back on their own (the cat after three days, and Darcy after a couple of hours), but not without frantic searching on our parts.

If your pet has gone AWOL, don't wait around hoping for a "Lassie" return. The quicker you take action, the better your chances of finding your pet. Here's what to do.

As soon as you discover your pet is missing, put up large fluorescent-colored posters big enough that people driving by can see and read them. Use what missing-pet expert Kat Albrecht calls the 5 + 55 rule: five words that people driving by at 55 miles per hour can read. For instance: REWARD LOST BLACK/WHITE CAT.

"Those are five words that a passerby driving on a major road can interpret, visualize, remember and convey to others," Albrecht says.

Check the website for information on making an effective poster and flier. Other online resources include Fido Finder (, K9 Alert (,, Missing Pet Network (,, The Center for Lost Pets ( and Pet FBI (

Go door to door and let neighbors know that your pet is missing. Bring a photo so they'll know what she looks like. If you live in a guard-gated association, notify security staff so they can keep an eye out for your pet as they make their rounds. The mail carrier is another person who travels through your neighborhood daily and can watch for your pet.

Check the shelter right away. If there is more than one shelter in your area, check all of them -- more than once. Leave a description of your pet and your contact information.

Search your yard and the surrounding area thoroughly. Cats, in particular, may hide underneath shrubbery or decks, or squeeze into spaces where you think they can't possibly fit. Dogs may simply be shut up inside a shed, garage or closet, waiting patiently to be released. Ask neighbors for permission to search their yards as well.

Leave out food and water to encourage your pet to return. The familiar smell -- and hunger -- may draw him out of hiding.

Pets are highly attuned to sound. Walk around the neighborhood calling them. Stand in the yard and make sounds associated with mealtime, such as shaking a food bag or running the electric can opener.

Use social media to spread the word. Your neighborhood or city may have a website or Facebook page where you can post the information.

Accidents happen. You can never guarantee that your dog or cat won't become lost, but you can take easy, inexpensive steps to increase the likelihood that he'll come home safely:

-- Microchip him.

-- License him (cats, too).

-- Keep a collar with an up-to-date ID tag on him.

-- Register him with a microchip registration company and keep your address and phone number updated.

-- Keep a good, up-to-date, full-body color photo on hand for use on fliers.

My stepmother's lost cat? As my stepniece stood out on the deck at twilight calling for her a few days later, Miss Kitty came flying across the lawn and back into the arms of her very happy young owner.


Ridge of hair is

genetic mutation

Q: One of my friends told me that the ridge of hair along the Rhodesian ridgeback's spine is a genetic defect. Is that true? Why would breeders produce dogs with a defect? Is it just for looks? -- via email

A: There's a difference between a genetic mutation and a genetic defect. One of the ancestors of the Rhodesian ridgeback was a dog kept by the Khoikhoi people of South Africa's Cape Peninsula area. A distinguishing feature of these dogs was a strip of hair that grew in the reverse direction along the back. Dutch settlers found the dogs to be good hunters and guard dogs and bred them with other breeds, including pointers, various terriers, bulldogs and greyhounds. The result was what we know today as the Rhodesian ridgeback.

The ridge of hair is caused by a dominant mutation. The same mutation that causes the ridge can sometimes cause a congenital defect known as dermoid sinus. This narrow tubelike structure can penetrate the skin to varying degrees and can be painful and even fatal if not removed surgically. The dermoid sinus, which occurs in less than 5 percent of ridgebacks, may be the genetic defect your friend is thinking of.

On a related note, not every ridgeback has a ridge -- some are born without one. Ridgeless ridgebacks are completely normal; they lack only the trademark strip of fur that characterizes the breed.

At least two other dog breeds have a ridge: the Thai ridgeback and the Phu Quoc ridgeback (from Vietnam). It's unknown where or when the ridge originated, but it may be that at some point African ridged dogs were taken to Asia, where they contributed their genes to the local canine population.

Why do the dogs have the unusual ridge of fur? That's unknown, too, unless you want to go with the tale that the ridge marks the spot where God sews the dogs up when he's done stuffing them. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Tooth fairy visits

Utah shelter pets

-- A group of six San Diego veterinarians traveled to Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, earlier this month to perform dental work on 32 dogs, 32 cats, one potbellied pig and one rabbit. Their goal? To help improve the pets' adoptability. "It is unrealistic for most potential adopters to take on a large health care investment when adopting a new pet," says board-certified dental specialist Brook A. Niemiec, DVM. "This makes shelter or sanctuary animals with dental disease significantly less adoptable, which means that these pets tend to have long shelter stays or require placement with rescue groups versus an adoptive family."

-- Pointed cats, such as the Siamese, have light-colored bodies with darker shading on their heads, legs and tails. You probably knew that, but did you know that pointed cats are born white? As the kittens mature, the points make an appearance. Common point colors are seal (dark brown), chocolate (light brown), lynx (tabby markings), blue (bluish-gray) and lilac (pinkish gray). Other breeds with pointed coloration include the Birman, Himalayan, ragdoll, Tonkinese, snowshoe and Balinese.

-- What'll they think of next? Cool pet products introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show include a smartphone for dogs, a smart feeder and a camera that lets owners communicate with pets. The Scout 500 Collar allows you to keep tabs on your dog with live video streaming, send voice commands and check his location with GPS tracking. The Petnet(io) feeder tailors portion sizes to a pet's age, weight and activity level, and automatically dispenses it. And with a PetCube Camera, you can watch and talk to your pet remotely via smartphone. Me? I'm still waiting for a robot that will brush the dogs' teeth. -- Kim Campbell Thornton


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.


1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106; 816-581-7500


Caption 01: A microchip can help ensure your pet is returned to you if he's ever lost. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: The Siamese is the best-known of the pointed-cat breeds. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2
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