The Definitive Guide to Finding Missing Pets!
Advice From Sherlock Bones:
To Keep Your Pets From Being Lost,
A family pet is lost every two seconds. Over ten million pets become lost each year. One out of every three pets is lost during its lifetime and only one in ten lost pets is found. (National Humane Society and the National Council of Pet Population Study and Policy).
What can you do right now to be prepared for that day when your pet might be lost or stolen? I won't lecture you about obeying your community's leash laws or keeping your pet in a fenced-in area. You know you should do those things, but perhaps you're one of the many people who feel that if animals can't have a certain amount of freedom, it's not worth keeping them. I will ask you, though, how well prepared you are to institute an effective search for your pet should it disappear.
The following checklist won't guarantee its return but it will increase your chances of getting your pet back quickly and safely. Although, except for specified sections, this advice is written primarily with dogs in mind, it applies with slight modifications to cats, birds and more exotic pets.
1. Is your pet wearing a collar? The excuses I've heard for someone's animal's not wearing a collar are endless: "He's outgrown it and we haven't gotten around to buying a new one"; "The dye in the leather ran, so we took it off"; "We washed him and didn't put it back on"; "It gave him a rash"; "He scratched all night and his jingling tags drove us crazy because he sounded like the rhythm section in a rock band." Your pet's collar, even without tags, is at least some evidence of ownership, although not conclusive. Many shelters treat pets with collars (even if there are no tags) differently from the way they treat collarless pets, which they sometimes assume to be strays that no one will claim. (By the way, if your pet's tags jingle too much, try taping them.)
2. Does your pet have up-to-date license and identification tags? While the high-tech Microchip ID implant is a great idea, the old low-tech ID tag has been responsible for more pets safe return. The need for a dog license is self-evident. It is not only required by law, but is the best link between your pet and the public pet-finding machinery in your community. The number on your dog's tag, like the license number on your car, is on file with your city or county. If your dog ends up in the animal shelter, this number is the means through which you will be contacted. If someone finds your dog, be or she will usually (although not always) be able to get your name by calling the pound and giving the number on the license. Keep your dog's license number on file where you can find it quickly; it is an important means of identification.
Unlike embedded Microchip ID chips, identification tags are visible, and connect your pet directly to you without the need of any special reader. Your dog should have one and so should your cat. The most critical piece of information is your phone number, including the area code. I also recommend including the pet's name. Some people disagree, on the theory that it gives a pet-napper greater control over your animal, but I feel that if someone has stolen your pet, knowing or not knowing its name won't make much of a difference. On the other hand, if your dog has wandered into someone's yard, that person stands a greater chance of keeping it around if he or she can yell "Hey, Carlos!" whenever it wanders away. Besides, if someone has taken your pet and decides to keep it, I somehow think it would be easier if it were called by its proper name in its new home.
Your name and address are not crucial, so long as you have current phone numbers that will be answered should someone call. It has happened that a pet has been stolen, the owners notified to come and get it, and their house is robbed while they are gone. This is not a common occurrence, but if you feel hesitant about having your name and address on the ID tag, you can safely leave them off. Telephone numbers are more important. In fact, if your vet or a relative or good friend will agree, I recommend adding their number as well.
Two final notes on ID. It's a good idea to have a new tag made before you move to a new home, since many pets get lost during the move. And, although it seems unnecessary to say so, be sure your pet is always wearing its ID and license tags. More than one client has told me, "Tags? Oh, yes, my pet has tags. I've got them right here. Would you like me to read you what they say?"
3. Does your pet have a Microchip ID implant? This can be done through your veterinarian at a nominal fee. The microchip is a tiny computer chip containing a unique identification number that cannot be altered, lost, or removed. The microchip is injected painlessly with a hypodermic needle, similar to a vaccination. It’s important to register all of the information with the manufacturer’s Registration Database relative to you and your pet, or the chip is useless. In addition, be sure the microchip is registered to you, not the vet that installed it. It’s a good idea to add the vet’s name and telephone number to your account in the event that you can’t be reached. Remember, if you move or change telephone numbers, you must notify the Registry immediately with your new information. Most shelters, Animal Control, and veterinarians are equipped with scanners to read the identification number in the event your pet winds up at their facilities. If someone finds your pet and believes it could be chipped, they may take it to a veterinary hospital and have it scanned. This provides much less trauma to the pet and a quicker reunion with you.
The chip helps in three ways. First it is permanent, and as such, can still help even if your pet loses its collar or someone takes it off. Second, it will end an argument as to whom the pet belongs. Third, I believe the police will take your stolen pet situation more seriously if the animal is chipped. My experience is they are more likely to get involved if you know who has your pet and if they can tell for sure that the pet is yours.
While I am a staunch believer in the use of micro-chips, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. If you’re thinking that your chipped pet does not need a collar and ID tag, you’re mistaken. The most looked for and easy to use identification is an ID tag hanging from a collar. In fact, most chip systems also provide a tag with a contact number and ID code. Make it easy for the person that finds your pet to contact you. Without this absolute proof, the police are more likely to suggest this is more likely a civil matter and you will need to take the person to court to get your pet back.
4. Do you have clear, up-to-date photographs of your pet? Most people have pictures of their pets, but not usually clear enough to reproduce well on posters. If you don't have any, please buy a roll of film and take current pictures or if you’re using a digital camera, take shots and store them on your computer. Get good close-ups against a contrasting solid background that shows your pet's body shape and any distinguishing features. Take some with your pet groomed and ungroomed, since that may well be its condition during the time it is lost. Think of them less as portraits and more as mug shots. While you're at it, take a look at your pet and try describing it. How much does it weigh? Make a note of any distinguishing features such as scars, lumps, or unusual markings. If it has one blue eye, is it the right or the left? Even if these features aren't readily visible, they can help you separate real leads from false alarms.
5. Do you know your local animal shelters and pounds? Many pet owners assume that by calling their local pound, they have exhausted all possibilities. If you live in a large metropolitan area with overlapping county and town jurisdictions, there may be several public shelters and a few private shelters as well. Pets are often picked up in one area and turned in to shelters in another town or county. It behooves you to have a list of all the shelters in your area, including the private ones. Although most of the latter do not accept lost pets but deal instead in what they call owner-surrendered animals (pets that their owners are giving up for adoption), slipups do occur. I’ve known many people who found pets and turned them in to private shelters, claiming to be their owners, in the belief that the pet stood a better chance of finding a good home than if it were given over to the public pound.
Look in the Yellow Pages under "animal shelters" and "humane societies." Record their numbers on a piece of paper. Call the public shelter that serves you and ask them for the names of other shelters. Don't assume that there's much communication among them; there isn't, at least formally. Note their hours of operation and their policies concerning how long they keep animals before they are destroyed or put up for adoption.
6. How secure is your fence? Does the gate latch properly? Has that cute little puppy when you installed the fence grown to be able to leap enclosures in a single bound? Invisible fencing provides an alternative to metal or wood. It first warns your pet with an audible sound if it gets too close to the installed border lines. If the pet continues forward, the system collar gives the pet a small shock. While some people feel this is cruel, I feel a mild shock is a superior alternative to a car bumper at 50 miles an hour.
©2004-2011 John Keane
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