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

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