A significant part of the enormous tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was the number of cats and dogs left behind or lost in the storm who were never reunited with their guardians because they had no identification. On a more local scale, anyone who’s ever spent time at the animal shelter has seen all the unidentified lost cats and dogs who will never be able to go home. The statistics on lost pets are daunting. Did you know that only about 2% of cats and 16% of dogs taken in by shelters are ever claimed by their guardians? The percentages wouldn’t be so low if pet guardians took care to use some form of identification, and ideally more than one, on their pets.
Indoor cats and fenced-in dogs escape from their houses and yards all the time. Family pets are also stolen by unscrupulous “bunchers” to be sold to animal research labs. As with Katrina, pets are frequently lost after natural disasters like tornadoes, floods, fires, earthquakes and blizzards. They can jump out of moving cars. They may be spooked by thunder or fireworks and run off. Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to protect your pets from becoming lost or stolen, but you can vastly improve their odds of being found again by using one or more of the following identification methods.
The ID tag is the most basic form of pet ID. You can buy one from an instant pet ID tag machine at the pet supply store, at your vet, on line or from a catalog. Make sure it has your pet’s name, your phone number with the area code, and your current address. If your pet has a medical problem, include that information. Additionally, you might provide your vet’s name and phone number. Your pet should also wear an up-to-date rabies tag along with a city or county license tag. Hang these tags from your pet’s collar or harness and keep it on at all times because you never know when he’ll become lost or stolen. Another good idea is to write your phone number on the collar or harness in case the tags should fall off. If you move, don’t forget to remove the tag with the old contact information and obtain a tag with your new information. Should you lose your pet or find a lost animal with tags, you can call any of several national tag registries for assistance.
Tattooing is a more permanent identification option. Tattoos using alphanumeric coding and registered in a national database can be made in the groin, ear (but beware, ears can be cut to eliminate the tattoo), stomach or inner thigh. A tattoo will protect a pet, for a time, from euthanasia at a shelter, and research labs will not accept tattooed animals. The down side is that tattoos can become less legible over time. They are also not practical for kittens and puppies, who will grow larger and stretch the tattoo, or on long-haired or dark-skinned animals. Other kinds of tattoos use the pet’s contact information, but if that changes, they are no longer useful. Tattoos cost about $15 plus the cost of anesthesia. There are several national tattoo registries that can provide more information on the pros and cons of tattoos.
Microchipping is another permanent ID method. Many veterinarians, shelters, animal control agencies and research labs can check for microchips on a lost pet with a special universal scanner that can read the microchips from various registry companies. Microchips are rice-sized capsules implanted on the neck or between the shoulder blades that contain a unique code. The information is sent to a registry along with current contact information. As with tattoos, research labs will not take in dogs who are microchipped. They cost about $60. Be aware that microchips can migrate in the body, and a microchip-tattoo combination ID might be safer. Last but not least, don’t forget to have an up-to-date photo and written description of your pet on hand in case you need to show others what he looks like, should he be lost. And whatever method of identification you may decide upon, be sure to keep a record of current tattoo, microchip, license and rabies tag numbers.