Google Voice is a free internet phone service that can be used to aid in lost pet searches. You just need to have a Gmail account (also free), and you can select a Google Voice phone number. When this number is called, you can set your account up so that the call is forwarded to multiple other phone numbers. If you prefer to screen all calls, then they can instead be routed to an online voicemail service, and you can receive a text or email when a voicemail is received. There is even a Google Voice app to use on smart phones. It may seem complicated with all the options, but the basic features are quite simple.
Here are some of the ways a that a Google Voice phone number can aid a lost pet search:
If you put the Google Voice phone number on your posters, calls to this number can be automatically forwarded to everyone involved in the search.
If you lose your pet in an area far from home, you can select a local Google Voice number. This may encourage some callers who don’t want to incur long distance charges.
Some suggestions when selecting your Google Voice number:
Make sure that the number you are selecting is a local call to the area that your pet is lost. Just because the area code is the same does not mean that it is a local call. Use this website to check for local numbers.
Search for a number that is easy to remember such as repeating digits or one that spells something easy to remember.
Be aware that once you select a number, there is a charge to switch to a new Google Voice number.
If you already have a Google Voice number that you use for another purpose, then just create a new Gmail Account specifically for finding your missing pet (e.g. HelpFindDante@gmail.com) and select a new Google Voice number for this account. In order to do this, you will just need a second mobile phone number to link to this account.
I was surprised to recently learn that as many as 30% of people acquire their cats because they were found as strays or abandoned or “just showed up” (New et al. 2004) This does not include cats adopted from shelters, which accounted for another 13% of cats acquired, or those adopted from rescue groups, friends or strangers. These are all cats that were found roaming the streets or showed up on someone’s back porch. Unfortunately, most people tend to assume that a loose cat is homeless or abandoned rather than lost, and they will make limited or no effort to find the cat’s original owner. (For more information, see Missing Pet Partnership’s “Think Lost, Not Stray.”) So it is quite possible that many of these “stray or abandoned” cats are actually lost cats that were never found. Since most cats do not seem to travel very far, these statistics underscore the importance of aggressive local advertising (i.e. lots of large florescent lost cat posters) when a cat goes missing.
These statistics are from two studies conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy and published in several research papers, which are available for download on their website. An estimated 4.62 million households (17.1% of households surveyed) acquired at least one cat during 1996 with a total of 8.6 million cats adopted. Table 1 shows a break down of the most common sources for acquiring cats. Since some households acquired more than one cat in a year, more than one source was possible per household. Regionally these statistics may be even more shocking. Lord (2008) found that 44.7% of cat owners in Ohio had acquired at least one of their present cats as a stray.