Pet Identification and getting lost pets back home

Let’s face it – a dog or cat can be a lot quicker on their feet than we normally give them credit for.  So it pays to have some pet identification measures ready:  It only takes a few seconds to be out an open door, through a window, jump form a vehicle or haul them selves up and over a fence.  All you see is their tail running away form you.

There are a few measures that can help retrieve a lost pet, either with identification or procedures.

Let’s look at identifying your pet first.

    • Tags are probably the oldest and most physical identification used.  A tag hangs on a collar or a flat tag may be riveted right onto the collar.  This low tech measure works fine as long as the tag or collar don’t come off the pet.While dogs are used to wearing collars cats may not be, and cats also have a tendency to crawl through small spaces or through underbrush where a collar can get caught or come off.  The tag should have the pets name, your name, address if there is room, and definitely a phone number.  If the tag becomes so worn that the lettering is not legible, it’s time for a new one!  These tags are quite reasonably priced.
    • Microchips were first promoted in the USA as a source of identification.  And it’s true today that many veterinary offices, animal control officers and shelters all have microchip scanners.  However, there can be a couple issues with relying on a microchip as a means of identification.  First, there are different kinds of chips from around the world, and not all scanners can read all chips.  I’ve seen scanners totally miss a chip that is a different radio frequency than what they can read.  Secondly, the microchip has to be registered to you, which means you have to take the time to either mail it in or go on line and register the chip and provide all your information.    Back when I worked with some animal control officers we sometimes scanned a chip, then called an agency to get information, only to find out it was never registered.  And speaking of microchip agencies, there is no one common site that registers all microchips, so it may take a couple calls to different listings to find an owner even if the chip is registered.

Microchips were once only available at your local veterinarian, but now many breeders buy and chip their own puppies, and even on Amazon you can by an ISO compliant microchip that will be accepted internationally.

  • tattoos – not so common anymore, although for many years breeders used a tattoo as a form of identification.  But there is no registry of tattoos, and no owner name or phone number to call with just a tattoo.  Tattoos were usually placed inside the thigh, or on the underside of an ear flap.
  • And now, the ultimate GPS tracker is also available to attach to your dogs collar, and you can use a phone app to locate your pet.  A GPS tracker like this can be used for a pet, child, or lost wallet.  Maybe a good idea for a dog who frequently strays off but has trouble finding home again.

So, what else can you do when your pet actually disappears?

Most pets are not looking to leave a place where they are fed and loved, but they can wander off and become disoriented.

If possible, acclimate your new pet (or a pet moving to a new location) outside under your control. Use a leash or stay with the pet outside until they become familiar with the area. If your dog is good about staying with you, head out for a walk or hike around your property to give them the lay of the land.

If you have moved, leave on the old township license tag, because there is a number on it – and anyone finding your pet can call the town hall to find out who the tag is registered to.  And of course get a new Identification tag with your new address and phone number.

Make sure a microchip is registered to you, and update your information on line when you move.  Having a listing but a disconnected phone number is not of any help.

Leave food in the area the pet as last seen.  Most dogs will circle around, not traveling too far, and come back to the area where they became lost.  It can also help to leave an article of clothing or towel with your scent on it.  I knew one guy who taught his dogs to sleep on his old shirt on the floor, so if one got disoriented out in a field after pheasant hunting, they would at least stay where his shirt was.

What else can you do to find a lost pet?  It helps to have a good photo of your pet, and go get some flyers printed up to put around the area or neighborhood.  Be sure to include your name and place here the pet was last seen, a telephone number, the pets name and description along with the photo.

Many vet offices and kennels will place your poster up where other clients in the area can see it., and ask them to check the flyer if someone brings in a pet they found.  Notify the local animal control office/health department, who may be the first call form a resident who finds a lost pet.  Small local radio stations may read a description as a public service announcement.

If you travel frequently and take your pet with you, make sure a tag, and /or microchip are both used for identification, and take a picture with you (or even keep a flyer made up with fill in the blanks to use as necessary).

Like a lost child, time is usually of the essence, and most pets are located within a few hours.  But they can be long hours waiting and watching, so a little prevention can go a long way.