As much as we think our pets would never leave our side, millions of animals end up wandering away from their homes every year. Some will rejoin their families, thanks to high-tech identification like microchips, but many end up in shelters; some go to new homes and a few are even taken for illegal activities. What can you do to make sure your pet comes home safely?
Jessie never went anywhere without her “wiener dog brigade.” So, it was not surprising to see her loading up the four dachshunds for a weekend trip from Colorado to New Mexico. Her Mother’s Day visit, however, would not end as happily as previous excursions. As Jessie and her husband stopped to give the dogs a much needed bathroom break, the weary travelers did not do a head count as they climbed back into the car. It would be more than an hour until they noticed that one of their pups, 6-month-old Tequila, was left behind.
As shocking as this story sounds, one out of every three pets will be lost and away from their family at least once in their lives. More than five million dogs and cats leave home every year, either walking away or carried off by unscrupulous individuals. So, if a pet owner finds out that his or her four-legged companion is gone, what are the best steps for reuniting?
Prevention, of course, is the best option, and veterinarians have long advocated the importance of some sort of identification for a pet. Most people opt for simple ID tags or collars, but these are easily lost or even removed. Tattoos have been used, but many pet owners, animal shelters or even veterinarians are unsure of where to call if they find a pet with a tattoo. Microchips are a safe and effective means of permanent identification, but only about 5 percent of pets in North America have had this device implanted.
Jessie said, “I was so mad that I had told my veterinarian ‘no’ when asked about the microchip ... all because I wanted to save $30.”
Some pet owners have opted for GPS collars and devices, but results have been mixed. Complaints about battery life, difficult collar attachments and slow notifications when the pet leaves the designated area have all been reported.
Regardless of whether any identification is available, fast action is needed when your pet comes up missing. Veterinarians recommend that you contact local animal shelters, veterinary offices and even pet stores within a five-to-10 mile radius of your home. Websites like HelpMeFindMyPet.com or PetAmberAlert.com also offer services to registered members, which might include faxing or calling all pet-related businesses within a 50-mile radius or creating flyers to print and post in your community.
“Of course, we immediately drove back to the rest stop to look for Tequila, but he was nowhere to be found,” Jessie said. “I was able to connect with the local animal control office and police department right away, but there was no word about our little guy.” Jessie then called various animal rescue groups and other shelters in the area once she returned home.
Having a current picture of your pet is also vital in your efforts to get the lost animal back home. In Jessie’s case, she used her pictures of Tequila to create a new page on Facebook, as well as flyers she sent in the mail. The outreach in social media connected her with empathetic pet owners, who, in turn, helped spread the word of Tequila’s situation. Jessie was able to connect with a well-known and media-savvy pet personality, Travelin’ Jack, New Mexico’s Roving Bulldog Reporter. “All of these folks were so helpful,” Jessie said. “They really helped me keep my sanity.”
If your pet is lost, involve your veterinarian in the quest to get the wayward animal back home. Often, your veterinary team may have ideas and resources that can help spread the word.
Jessie’s story does have a happy ending. Tequila was found by the local animal control office in Taos, NM, and a dachshund rescue group volunteered to drive him back to Colorado. Safely back home, Tequila was immediately microchipped – and Jessie has a whole new set of online friends.
Microchipping is not an expensive procedure and is recommended for all dogs, cats and even horses. Learn more at http://MobilePetDocs.com.
Dr. Jim Humphries is the veterinarian at Mobile PetDocs, certified by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists. Contact him at email@example.com.
Thomas Dock is the practice manager and veterinary assistant at Mobile PetDocs and is also ASVJ certified.