We were the only boat tied up at a remote dock when we heard a plaintive meow. Near exhaustion from his stay in the mangrove swamp, the emaciated cat had probably gone days without fresh water. There were no roads into this area so we assumed he'd arrived on another boat, wandered off and returned to find his family gone.
We'll never know whether those boaters were heartless or heartbroken when they sailed away, but we do understand that time and tide don't wait for anyone.
We gave the cat fresh water, sponged the salt out of its fur and found a home for it. It was just one of many times we've found pets that strayed away from cruising liveaboards and were stranded. We've also met liveaboards who left port in tears after searching for days, then giving up their search for a beloved pet that had wandered off.
If you're living onboard with a pet, here are thoughts on a pet lost and found.
* Have the pet spayed or neutered. It's less likely to wander.
* Take a face shot and profile photo. At www.togethertag.com you'll find software for incorporating your photo into a lost pet poster you make on your own computer.
* Register your pets at www.togethertag.com and get a tag with a permanent ID number for the pet. If it's lost you can report it by that number. There's also room for your cell phone number.
* No matter where you are, call your hometown vet if its number is on the pet's rabies tag. Lacking other information, the person who found your pet may have called there too.
*A microchip costs about $50, but its information is of use only if the pet is brought into a shelter or vet's office that can scan it. A pet collar with GPS locator is better. It costs $100 to $150 and sends a signal that leads you to the pet, but only as long as the battery lasts. It's also of no use if someone steals the pet and removes the collar or if, heaven forbid, the pet fell overboard and drowned.
* As soon as you fear your pet is missing, search the houseboat first. We met a couple who have three greyhounds, a breed known to be the world's worst couch potatoes. Searching frantically, our friends found the missing dog napping happily behind a sofa cushion.
* Before leaving the boat look for clues on deck that the pet might have fallen overboard. It could be near the boat, swimming desperately or clinging to something. If your boat has a swim platform, look there.
* As soon as you're sure the pet us not on or near the boat, go into action. Ask around the marina. (We once had a marina neighbor whose cat regularly made itself at home on our boat.) Call every agency in town including shelters, veterinarian offices and the police. Call the highway department to see if their cleanup crew was sent out to collect a dead animal. As much as possible, visit animal shelters in person. If the pet was hurt or got into something that changed its appearance, the shelter may not have recognized it by your description over the phone.
* If you lose or find an animal get online with every social network and free ad service-such as www.craigslist.org-that you can think of. Use key words such as "Found black lab west bank" or "Lost Calico cat harbor area." Distribute and post flyers showing the pet's photo.
* Think locally, but act regionally or even nationally. Lost pets picked up by compassionate motorists may end up miles away. Cats have a way of hitching rides in warm places such as engine rooms.
* Go to "lost pet" sites, but be wary of high fees. At www.LostMyDoggie.com (877-818-0060) you report your lost pet and they call people in the neighborhood for fees ranging from $75 for 250 calls to $475 for 5,000 calls. A similar site, www.FindToto.com (877-738-8686) does neighborhood searches up to 10,000 calls for $875. PetAmberAlert.com sends alerts to all shelters and veterinarians for $29.95 for a 25-mile radius, $49.95 for a 50-mile radius and $69.95 for a 75-mile radius. At www.FidoFinder.com you register your lost dog, zip code and the reward you offer (usually in four figures). If you find a dog, check the site too.
* Scam artists are everywhere. If someone says they found your pet and you can claim it by coming to their address beware of being lured into a physical or financial trap.
About the Author
Gordon and Janet Groene lived on board full-time for ten years. Their books include Creating Comfort Afloat and Living Aboard. Contact Janet at www.BoatCook.blogspot.com.