Salwan: When pets who roam don’t come home
By Raj Salwan
Oakland Tribune
Posted: 08/25/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Updated: 09/01/2009 08:05:16 AM PDT

WITH our impressive array of technologies, like GPS and “smart” phones, you might think that finding a lost pet is getting easier each year.

Sadly, the odds are still against many missing pets ever making it back home.

Isn’t there some way to ensure that your pet will return safely from his wandering?

Everyone loves the amazing stories of dogs and cats that travel long distances to find their way back home or even locate their owners in a new city.

Unfortunately, these happy tales are the rare exception to the rule. For every pet that makes it back after leaving, there are tens of thousands who never live to see home again.

Humane groups and pet industry experts estimate that more than 5 million pets will be lost this year. One pet in every three will be lost at some point in his or her lifetime.

Of those that roam away from home, less than 17 percent of the dogs and only 2 percent of the cats ever make it back to their owners, according to the American Humane Association.

Sadly, most of the rest will be euthanized in overcrowded animal shelters. Newspapers and online ads still tell the sad story of some youngster’s lost pet every day.

Why do we see a continuation of this problem year after year?

First, despite leash laws and other ordinances, many families are reluctant to chain their dogs or attempt to keep their cats from roaming. This is especially true in rural
areas.

Compounding the issue is that there are more than 200 million pets in North America and only a very small percentage have some form of permanent identification.

ID tags and collars are easily removed by unscrupulous individuals or even by the pet in some instances. Microchips help to ensure that the pet has some means of identification, but even these implants aren’t foolproof.

In fact, it is a rare pet that actually has a microchip. According to industry data, only about 5 percent of all pets in North America have microchips. And even the pets with chips aren’t necessarily any safer.

When owners fail to register their pet properly, reunions are delayed or even prevented in many instances. Again, experts from all major microchip companies state that less than 50 percent of chipped pets are registered with correct and current information.

Other forms of identification, such as tattooing, are very rare and obscure. This fact means that a shelter employee or veterinary office may not even note the presence of a tattoo.

Finally, even though they have good intentions, shelters and rescues are often overwhelmed with pets. A microchip could be missed during a hurried exam, or a description of your lost pet might not match what the employee sees in front of him.

Despite these overwhelming odds, you can proactively help ensure that your pet will make it safely home.

First, like so many things, prevention and preparation go a long way.

Neuter your pet to decrease his roaming urges and consider using both ID tags and a microchip.

We all want our family members to stay close to home and to heart. But, like all children, our pets love exploration and adventure, too.

Work with your veterinarian to make sure all your pets are properly identified with tags and/or microchips.

Dr Salwan is a veterinarian at American Animal Care Center

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Of the 10 million pets that get lost each year, only 17% of the dogs and 2% of the cats are ever recovered.
“But Fluffy is an indoor kitty,” you may be thinking. “She doesn’t need an ID tag.”
Think again.
A study conducted by Linda Lord, DVM, PhD, an assistant professor at The Ohio State University, found that 41% of people looking for their lost cats considered them indoor-only pets.
“They may not go outside, but it only takes one time to lose a pet,” warns Daniel Aja, DVM, of AAHA-accredited Cherry Bend Animal Hospital in Traverse City, Michigan. “You might have cleaners over, workers who are remodeling, or kids who leave the door open. And indoor pets are probably the most at risk because once they get outside, they’ll get scared and run and hide.
“Also, you never know when a natural disaster might strike. Think about the thousands of animals that were displaced by Hurricane Katrina or by the flooding we’re experiencing most recently in the Midwest.”
That’s why Aja recommends every dog or cat be microchipped. The chips are implanted by veterinarians and cost between $30 and $70.
“It’s a simple procedure that only takes a few seconds,” he explains. “It’s similar to a vaccination, except we insert a chip the size of a grain of rice under the pet’s skin. There’s no need for anesthesia. Your pet may make a little yelp, but it’s just like getting another shot.”
In almost every case, microchips are good for the life of your dog or cat. Millions of animals have been chipped in the past decade with very few side effects. The sterile microchip does not contain a battery and is hermetically sealed with FDA-approved silica glass to prevent leakage.
“If your pet ever gets lost and is picked up by a good Samaritan or an animal control agency, it can be scanned at an animal shelter or veterinary clinic,” says Stephen Barabas, DVM, senior manager of veterinary affairs at Schering-Plough HomeAgain, one of five companies that distributes microchips within the United States.
“If a microchip is under the skin, the scanner will display its unique identification code. Then the clinic or shelter will simply contact the manufacturer or distribution company based on the code of the microchip. The company’s database is searched for the animal’s ID number and the pet owner is contacted.”
Some microchip companies provide additional services such as alerting local veterinary clinics and animal shelters when a pet is reported lost. Barabas says that more than 500,000 pets have been recovered by HomeAgain, more than 95,000 in 2007 alone.
Because the owner’s contact information is stored in the database, rather than on the chip itself, the chip does not need to be replaced each time the owner moves, or if the pet is adopted by someone else.
Unfortunately, some pet owners — as many as 50% — fail to enter their information into the database when the pet is microchipped, rendering the chip useless.
“Don’t assume your veterinarian has done this for you,” says Aja. “Some pet hospitals may fill out this paperwork, but many do not. Also, be sure you notify your microchip company whenever you move or change phone numbers or they won’t be able to track you down.”
He adds, “[A microchip] doesn’t replace the need for a collar tag. In fact, many of these animals are reunited because their collars tell the finder that the pet has been microchipped. That triggers the finder to take the pet to a shelter or veterinarian to have it scanned. That’s why almost all the microchip companies now provide tags for your pet. It really helps speed the process.”
Finally, a microchip is not a global positioning system.
“I had a client come to our office this week who wanted me to tell him where his dog was,” Aja says. “He thought I could check my computer and provide the exact location. Some day we may be able to do that. But, today’s chips are not powered. It’s a radio frequency that’s triggered when you run the scanner over the top of them.”
From Petsmatter, AAHA