April 4 kicks off “Tag Day,” a day set aside by animal welfare groups to help promote identification of pets. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study, about one million stray dogs and half a million stray cats are turned into shelters across the nation each year. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of those dogs and a measly 2 percent of those cats are ever reunited with their owners. Why is this number so low? One of the reasons could be that owners fail to properly identify their pets. Today, I’m hoping that Pet Chat readers will choose one, or many, of the following forms of identification to prevent their pets from becoming a statistic.
ID Tag. This may seem elementary, but an identification tag can help your pet find its way home. The tag should have your pet’s name, your name, your address, and cell phone number. Make sure all the information is current. You can have tags made while you wait at many pet supply stores. Experts recommend putting “reward” on the back of your pet’s tag, if you are willing to give a reward that is. This may help encourage the finder to return your pet to you. It should be understood that the ID tag should be attached to a proper fitting collar; I often see dogs slip out of collars because they’re so loose. On the other hand, make sure to have a “quick release” or expandable collar for your cat. These collars allow the cat to slip free if it becomes caught on a fence, tree, chair, etc. The collar will obviously come off your cat, but this prevents your cat from hanging himself. Remember, just because your cat is in an indoor-only cat, doesn’t mean it can’t slip out the door accidentally. It may take a few days, but your cat can become accustomed to wearing a collar.
Tattoo. This involves marking a code on your pet’s skin, usually near the groin area. If a shelter notices a tattoo, they will call a database and use the code to receive the owner’s address and phone number. A tattoo is also a great permanent marker to indicate that an animal is owned. I’ve read that some pet owners use a tattoo as a precaution in case their pet happens to be stolen for research. The theory is, if an animal has a tattoo, laboratories will instantly know that the animal is owned and will be less likely to keep and experiment on that pet.
License. In Santa Barbara County, the law requires that all dogs over four months of age receive a rabies vaccination and purchase a dog license. Aside from being the law, the other benefit to licensing is that the County will hold animals wearing a license for a longer period of time while trying to reunite the pet with his owner. You can even order a license through the County’s website. For more information visit, sbcphd.org/as/animal_licenses.html.
Microchip. Microchipping involves the injection of a tiny chip (about the size of a grain of rice) with a needle and special syringe just under your pet’s skin between the shoulder blades. The chip is housed in a type of glass made to be compatible with living tissue. The process is similar to receiving a shot and no anesthesia is necessary for implantation. Once in place, the microchip can be detected immediately by shelter staff with a handheld device that uses radio waves to read the chip. This device scans the microchip, and then displays a unique alphanumeric code that will be entered into a database with your information. Most animal shelters check every stray pet that comes through their doors to see if they have a microchip. If a microchip is found, the shelter contacts the database to find your information. Although there are at least four different microchip frequencies marketed in the United States, most animal shelters and veterinary clinics have universal microchip scanners, which can read multiple microchip frequencies sold by the different microchip manufacturers. Microchips are said to last 20 years, so there is no need to remove or replace it in the duration of a pet’s lifetime. Although microchipping seems to be catching on, according to the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families, less than 5 percent of all pets are microchipped. Although microchips are a lifesaver, don’t rely on it as your pet’s only means of identification. While your area shelter may have a microchip scanner, your neighbor probably doesn’t, so a collar with an identification tag is necessary, in addition to the microchip.
Animal Shelters that Microchip
• Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP microchips all of their adoptable cats at the shelter at no cost to the adopter. This registration is valid for the life of the cat. It is the responsibility of the adopter to keep their contact information updated.
• DAWG microchips all their dogs before they are adopted at no additional cost. Currently, as part of their pitbull spay/neuter program, they offer free spaying and neutering to pitbulls and pitbull mixes, as well as vaccines and microchip at the time of the surgery. They can only do this if they are spaying or neutering the dog, so they don’t offer chips or vaccines to pPitbulls who are already spayed or neutered.
• K9 Pals offers free microchips for every adopted dog.
• Santa Barbara County Animal Services offers microchipping for dogs and cats for only $40. This includes registration fee. No appointment is necessary.
• Santa Barbara Humane Society microchips all their cats and dogs before they are adopted. The microchip is included in the price of the adoption.
Reclaiming Missing Pets
According to the American Humane Association, almost four million pets are euthanized every year because their owners aren’t found in time. If a shelter cannot determine a pet’s owner, the pet may be euthanized in as few as three days. Here are some tips to finding your pet.
• Call animal control and then go there in person to look for yourself. Make sure you check back often. Have Animal Control phone numbers programmed in your cell phone—Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter: 805-681-5285; Santa Barbara City Animal Control: 805-963-1513. Provide these agencies with an accurate description and go in person with a recent photograph of your pet. Notify the police if you think your pet may have been stolen.
• Drive through your neighborhood several times a day to search for your pet. Ask neighbors, letter carriers, and delivery people if they have seen your pet. Hand out recent photographs of your pet along with your phone number and ask neighbors if you can search their backyards (especially if you’ve lost an indoor-only cat).
• Post signs around your neighborhood and include a photo of your pet (see below for tips on creating a lost pet sign). You can usually post notices at grocery stores, community centers, veterinary offices, and pet supply stores. You can also post lost pet notices online at pets911.com and findtoto.com.
• Place an ad in the “lost and found” section of local newspapers and on craigslist.com.
• If it’s been a while since your pet went missing, it’s possible that your pet may have been found and taken to a local animal shelter and placed up for adoption. Be sure to check petfinder.com for adoptable pet listings.
• Pet detective Kat Albrecht has unique methods to search for lost cats and dogs based on personality. Check out missingpetpartnership.org/recovery-lostcattips.php for tips on searching for your lost cat and missingpetpartnership.org/recovery-lostdog.php for tips on searching for your lost dog.
• Holidays such as the Fourth of July, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve have increased activity and loud noises that can frighten your dog or cat. It is a good idea to keep all pets indoors on these occasions.
Lost Pet Posters
Missing Pet Partnership has created an effective tool for recovering lost pets with a method they call the “Five + Five + Fifty-five rule.” This rule states that at a given intersection you have five seconds and five words to get your message across to drivers who are traveling 55 miles an hour. These are the five rules for making the poster:
• Make them giant so that people driving by cannot miss them.
• Make them fluorescent so that the color attracts the attention of everyone.
• Put them at major intersections near where you lost your pet.
• Keep them brief and to the point.
• Let them convey a visual image of what you have lost.
It’s important to get a visual of this type of poster. Visit missingpetpartnership.org/recovery-posters.php for more details.
Now that you know how to properly identify your pet and what to do if your pet goes missing, you can celebrate Tag Day with a clear conscious knowing you’ve done everything you can to get your pet safely back home