One in seven dogs goes missing, according to a survey conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But only a third of dog (and cat) owners attach some type of identifying tag to their pet’s collar — not good math. That’s why National Pet Identification Week, held the third week of April, is coming not a moment too soon. Its aim is to inform caring pet owners of these statistics, as well as the variety of methods available to make their pets quickly identified if lost. During that time, veterinary organizations and facilities nationwide will hold events and update their web pages with information about the importance of putting ID tags on pet collars in addition to microchipping their dogs.
It’s easy to understand how collar or harness ID tags would be a huge help in providing ready information to anyone who comes across your lost dog. Your dog’s name, along with your cell phone number and home number and perhaps your address, can bring about an easy rescue of your dog by whoever finds him. Even a dog license tag can provide enough information at least for your own local town hall or police department to contact you.
Useful as they are, however, ID tags are not always enough. Engraved information can become obscured over time due to scuffing and general wear and tear. Moreover, dogs who roam free, have darted from your home, or escaped your fenced-in yard may lose their tags or collar.
That’s why the additional safeguard of a microchip — a minuscule data-holding gizmo the size of a grain of rice — can save the day. A veterinarian inserts it painlessly with a needle between your dog’s shoulder blades and, if registered appropriately and kept up to date with your current contact information, most shelters and humane societies will be able to read the information by using a scanner, even if the microchip has shifted to another part of the body. And they’ll then know who to contact.
News accounts of dogs restored to their families after months or even years away from home, sometimes in far-away states, are not uncommon. Last September, fox terrier Nika was returned to her New York home after a Florida animal center read the owner’s email address off Nika’s microchip. The dog, who may have been stolen from her New York yard, was gone for more than two years. And in November of 2013, elderly black Lab Lott was returned to her Fayetteville, North Carolina, family six years after she disappeared. She was about to be euthanized before she was reunited with her rightful owners.
Less dramatic but nonetheless joyful reunions made possible by microchips are commonplace at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, headquarters of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). “It happens probably a couple times a month…which speaks to the effectiveness of microchips,” says MSPCA spokesperson Rob Halpin.
Microchipping by your veterinarian typically costs less than $50. The chips don’t just hold a dog’s owners’ contact information. They also provide the dog’s veterinary records so that anyone who finds the dog will know if he or she has a health condition that needs special tending.
Along with microchipping your dog, your veterinarian will register the animal’s information in a database. The system is so effective at reuniting dogs with their owners that some animal control officers have begun including microchipping at rabies clinic events.
Given the low cost of an ID tag and microchipping compared to the heartbreak of a permanent separation from a lost dog, it might be time to take these fairly simple measures so your pet, should he go missing, has the optimum chance of being returned home without undue trauma — either to himself or to you.