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  • Writer's pictureLiz Blackman, Founder of Help4Pets, Inc.

Do Fences Make Good Neighbors or Do Good Neighbors Provide Peace of Mind?

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

A man an a woman smiling as they talk over their property fence.

Your neighbor(s), even the one you're not crazy about, could become your new best friend in a pet emergency.

OK, I'm going to admit straight up that I don't like all of my neighbors. I consider myself lucky that there are more than a few who I love and few enough to count on one hand who I just can't stand. But even the one who I told not to talk to me unless my house or my hair is on fire knows that if her dog needs help, I'll be there. And I mean it. What is it about that shared primal love of our pets that can build bridges between the unlikeliest of kindred spirits? We could solve a lot of the world's problems if we could just figure that out.

Make a friend (or at least a “pet buddy”).

Like them or not, your neighbors are your nearest and most valuable ally if you have a pet emergency at home and you need immediate help. Maybe you need to get your large, heavy dog into your car for an urgent vet visit. The best way to do this, by the way, is to use a large towel or blanket as a makeshift stretcher. But it's going to take two to do that "tango". And that neighbor who you don't normally even say hi to on the street may be your best, or only, "dance partner". Or maybe your smoke alarm is blaring and you're not home. Even if you're lucky and it's a false alarm, your pet is likely going to be very rattled and thinking, "Holy Shih Tzu, please make that stop." Unless you've got an uncommonly talented pet, or the average Border Collie or Lassie, your pet is going to need some two-legged help. And you may not be close enough, or even able to run home quickly enough, to be of much use.

Two neighbors talking as they walk their dogs together.

Make a plan.

If there's a real emergency when your pet's at home and you're not, your neighbor(s) may quite literally be the key to your pet's survival. But, you've got to have a plan. Waiting for the emergency to happen and then hoping you'll be able to count on the kindness of strangers is not a plan. At least it's not a good one.

Start by figuring out who of your neighbors has a pet of their own. A fellow pet lover is more likely to understand the bond you have with your pet. They're also more likely to "scratch your pet's back" if you scratch theirs. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

It's going to take a little detective work, but you can do it. The cat people may be a little harder to ferret out, same probably goes for the ferret people, but trust me, they're out there. The dog people are considerably easier to spot; they'll be the ones you'll see regularly walking at least one dog. Introduce yourself. Say something nice about their pup. Say something nice to their pup. That'll go over big and you'll be off and running.

At some point, and again, before an actual emergency happens, suggest exchanging phone numbers in case of a pet emergency. But make it very clear that this is all about your pets. And be sure to keep it all about your pets. You're trying to create a pet buddy system here, not start a romance. At least not yet. If you think you need to go slower, you can start by suggesting trading email addresses. Once the ice has been successfully broken and you and your neighbor agree to help one another's pet(s) in case of an emergency, you need to exchange the following critical information at the very least:

  1. Your cell phone number

  2. A minimum of one backup contact in case you can't be reached

  3. Instructions on what to do if you or your backup contact can't be reached

I say "at the very least" because that's what I mean; it's just a start. If you're really going to be able to help each other's pet(s) in an emergency and in a meaningful way, you're also going to need to exchange house keys. Before you think I've lost my mind and say, "Whoa, that's too far", ask yourself this: "How is someone going to help my pet if they can't get to them?" Whether it's to let your pet out, put your pet in or help your pet in some other way in an emergency, you're going to need to exchange house keys. And if you have a home security system, it's a good idea to share instructions on how to turn that off, too. We're talking about your pet's life here. What's inside your home that's more important? And if something does go missing, uh, you know where your neighbor lives. Remember? And you have their key, too. Think of it as a pretty darned effective mutual-deterrence arrangement if that helps. And if you have one of those nifty home-security cameras set up in your home, that's great . . . for all sorts of reasons. Not the least of which is that you'll finally be able to settle that mystery of which one of your pets is actually the culprit in that unsolved missing shoe case.

Make a list.

So, you and your neighbor(s) now have each other's cell phone numbers, backup contact and instructions if no one can be reached. Hopefully you've gotten over any fears of exchanging keys and home security instructions. What else do you need? Here's the list:

  1. Location of dog's leash

  2. If cat, location of the carrier

  3. Vet information. Hopefully this won't be necessary, but it's always good to have . . . just in case.

Phew. That wasn't so hard, was it? And what a return on investment - peace of mind. And you might just discover that you and your neighbor(s) have more in common, and more that you like about one another, than you ever thought possible - win/win.

Moving to a new neighborhood? Adding a new pet member to your family?

Be sure to introduce your pet to your neighbors. That's pretty easy with a dog. For cats, pull out your wallet or phone and share their photo. Here's why:

Over the years, we've seen countless "Found Pet" postings online, on trees and on telephone poles. Many have turned out to be the new neighbor's pet or the neighbor's new pet. If your pet goes missing from your home, make sure your neighbors know where he/she lives. And PLEASE be sure your pet wears a visible ID tag at all times; you never know when your pet may need it and it's the easiest way for someone to reach you when they find your pet . . . even if they already know where you live.

Full disclosure: Liz is a firm believer that it's a lot less painful, and less expensive, to learn from other people's mistakes. And that's particularly true when it comes to pets. She understands that being told how to raise your kids, no matter how many legs they have, can be annoying. But with more than two decades of experience helping lost pets, and thousands of cases across the U.S., under her belt, the advice she shares could save your pet's life.

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