Lost Pet Prevention & Recovery Tips
An Ounce of Prevention
By Karen Doane, RVT, Veterinary Assistant Program Manager
We all know the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to your dog’s or cat’s identification, the old saying rings true. Pet identification is typically very small, but is of enormous importance. Roughly 15 percent of lost dogs and a mere 2 percent of lost cats ever make it back home.1 Fortunately, the majority of private shelters are no kill animal shelters, but if a lost pet is taken to a city or county shelter, that might not be the case. Most city or county shelters in highly populated areas are heavily overcrowded. Unfortunately, in such facilities, unclaimed animals are typically euthanized within a week or two of arriving.
How to Keep Your Pet From Getting Lost
There are ways to help reduce the possibility of your pet getting lost. Spaying or neutering your pet is a good start. This will eliminate the urge to wander in search of a mate. Make sure your yard is secure. Some dogs are skilled at jumping or climbing fences, or digging under fences or walls. Cats are expert jumpers and climbers too, which is why it’s recommended you keep them indoors. However, even indoor-only pets need identification on the off chance they escape or an emergency forces you out of your home.
So Many ID Choices
There are several inexpensive ways your dog or cat can carry identification at all times. Use as many forms as possible to give your pet the best possible chance of returning home when lost.
- The classic dog tag can be purchased from pet stores, online and through mail-order vendors and special offers from pet product companies. Tags come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials. There are even vending machines in some discount variety stores as well as pet supply stores where you can make your own custom ID tags.
- A pet’s collar itself can be used as identification. They can be embroidered with your pet’s name and your phone number, or a small metal tag can be engraved with this information and riveted to the collar.
- There are also collars available with GPS units. With this technology, you can use your smartphone or computer to keep track of your pet’s activity level and location. In addition, you can receive a text alert if your pet wanders away from a predetermined area.
- Microchips are a more permanent form of identification. Microchips are implanted just beneath the skin usually above the shoulders. The procedure for implanting a microchip in your pet is similar to a routine injection, such as a vaccination, and can be done at almost any time in a pet’s life at virtually any veterinary office or animal shelter. Some rescue organizations and low-cost spay/neuter services offer them free of charge. However, they usually cost around $50. Some animal shelters even implant a microchip into every animal before adoption. At veterinary hospitals, microchips are implanted at the time a pet is spayed or neutered, if not before, and always with the owner’s approval. These tiny devices don’t track the pet’s location. They do, however, provide vital information. When the pet is found, he’s scanned using a small electronic device that reads the unique identification number from the microchip. The microchip’s manufacturer is then contacted for the owner’s information. Unregistered microchips can only offer limited information, such as the name of the facility where it was implanted. Therefore, it’s important to register your pet’s microchip as soon as possible, so the unique identification number can be linked to your contact information.
There are services online that register all brands of microchips. Some services take this one step further and send out alerts to local veterinary offices and animal shelters to let them know your pet has gone missing. Just be aware that a lost pet might be taken to a location that doesn’t work directly with either of these services and therefore won’t link the scanned microchip number to your contact information.It’s best to always register your information with your pet’s microchip manufacturer first. Then, if you like, you can also register with outside companies for added security. Most microchip companies charge a low, one-time fee to register your pet for life.
If the Unthinkable Happens
As soon as you realize your pet is missing, act quickly. Don’t rely on her identification alone to ensure a safe return. Immediately notify all pet-finding services you have accounts with. Make sure you have clear, up-to-date pictures of your pet. Don’t be afraid to go old school by making posters with a photo and description of your missing pet along with your contact information. Post them near your home, at local pet-related businesses and near areas where other pet owners congregate, such as dog parks and walking trails. Also, make the people at these locations aware you have lost your pet and are eager to bring her home safely.
Go to rescue organizations and shelters in person and often—up to several times per week—to look for your pet. And, of course, use social media. A post of your missing pet’s picture along with the last known location and any other helpful information could yield rapid results.
If you do locate your lost pet at a shelter or rescue, keep in mind that in order to claim your pet, you may need to prove your pet is, indeed, your pet. If lost without clear identification, you could have trouble getting your pet released back to you. Save adoption paperwork, veterinary receipts and photos of your pet with you and your family to erase any possible doubt. When you’re finally reunited with your pet, celebrate. Praise your pet with lots of love, a few treats and, of course, a new collar and ID tag.
1. Source: American Humane Society, Born Free USA, Pet Finder