Using some method of surveillance can drastically increase the success of locating and catching your missing pet when using feeding stations and/or trapping.
Wildlife cameras (also called trail, game, scouting, motion-sensitive, surveillance or remote cameras) can be highly effective tools for helping locate and recover displaced cats (including escaped indoor-only cats) and skittish lost dogs. They can help provide evidence that the lost pet is in the area and whether s/he will enter a humane trap if one is set up. For an example, see Kat Albrecht’s blog article “Catching Bill.” However, the effectiveness of the camera is dependent on several factors including the quality of the camera and where/how it is set up.
Selecting a Wildlife Camera
Selecting a trail camera can be a daunting task. There are so many brands available, none of them are particularly cheap, and they all seem to have some technical issues. The TrailCamPro.com website provides some very useful information for making this decision. They have a “First Time” Trail Camera Buyer’s Guide that covers many important aspects of selecting a camera including:
- Trigger Time
- Detection Zone
- Recovery Time
- Picture Quality
- Type of Flash
- Battery Life
- Security Options
If you don’t want to do a lot of reading and decision making, then one of the best pages to view on their site is the “Trail Camera Selection Guide.” On the other hand, if you are really serious about learning all the features and how different brand cameras compare, then you should also check out their Trail Camera Tests including trigger speed, detection zone, recovery time, and flash range tests. Both TrailCamPro.com and Chasing Game also provide in-depth reviews of many different trail cameras.
Setting Up a Wildlife Camera
Whichever camera you select, you can improve your success by setting up the camera effectively because even a great camera won’t get a single picture of a lost pet if set up poorly. TrailCamPro.com provides a useful Trail Camera Checklist. Since their website is aimed primarily at deer hunters, the height that they suggest placing the camera (24”-36”) is too high for cats and small dogs, but most of the information is applicable to setting up a camera to locate missing pets. Chasing Game also has some useful set-up information under the “Getting Started” tab. In addition, they cover the topics of camera camouflage and security, which TrailCamPro.com does not cover on their checklist.
If you want even more in-depth information or are seeking answers to a particular question, there are many forums and discussion groups online. Among the hunting forums, I found the Chasing Game forum particularly user-friendly and informative. Besides hunters, wildlife biologists are the other heavy users of trail cameras, which they generally refer to as “camera traps.” The Yahoo! Camera Trap Group is another good source for information and questions on camera selection and set-up.
My current favorite camera is the Browning Dark Ops Elite. The Browning has a feature that adjusts the strength of the flash based on how close the animal is to the camera. A too bright flash that whites out the animal in the photo is a common problem with many wildlife cameras. If this particular one is not available, Browning Trail Cameras in general are a good option.
Bushnell and Moultrie also sell some good quality cameras. If you can afford them, Reconyx sells the best quality trail cameras on the market. They also have a high resale value on Ebay or Amazon.com, so you could resell yours after you get your lost dog or cat back home.
Cameras to Avoid
The only cameras that I specifically don’t recommend are Tasco and Wildgame Innovations. Tasco has some cheap cameras but they really don’t work very well. Wildgame Innovations cameras work okay, but some tend to have over-exposed or blurry images. They also don’t provide an easy way to securely lock your camera with a cable lock, which can increase theft.
Motion Alarms and Security Cameras
Baby monitors (either audio or video), driveway alarms or wireless security cameras can also be used if you are trapping immediately around your home. Be aware that the actual sensor range is usually half or less than the reported range.