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Pet Escape! How to Prevent Runaways & Raise the Odds of Return

Microchips are always compared to grains of rice. Pass the soy sauce?

Pets can give the term “escape” on vacation a whole new meaning.

According to the California Veterinary Medical Association, 1 in 3 pets goes missing during its lifetime. Without proper ID, 90% never return home.

Travel is prime time for pets to go on the lam because unfamiliar circumstances make even the calmest pets skittish. So this Travel Thursday is devoted to not ruining your vacation — not to mention tearing out a chunk of your heart — by losing your pet and never recovering her.

Your pet’s collar: The First Line of Defense

It’s not only important to have updated tags on your pet’s collar; it’s essential to make sure that the collar and tags stay on. Many dogs can slip their collars when they’re frightened, or run away when they’re not wearing one — say, in a hotel room. This caution isn’t only because of the obvious — i.e., that tags are able to impart information that your dog and cat can’t (dogs in particular are notoriously bad at remembering telephone numbers). After a few days of wandering around, lost, even Westminster winners can look like strays. A collar indicates that the pet has an owner, and this makes it more likely someone will approach him — and find you.

Be sure to include your cell phone number and any major health issues like diabetes on your pet’s tags, and, if the chip information is password protected, include the tag provided by the microchip manufacturer and/or lost pet network you’ve enrolled in (see following tip).

Enter or update the information in your pet’s microchip with the manufacturer

A microchip is not only a way to find your pet if she gets lost; it also serves as a repository for such essential information as medical conditions that require medication and contact information for your vet.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) estimates that 50% of people who have their pets microchipped don’t register the chip with the manufacturer. There are no statistics on how many people neglect to update essential information in the microchip database when it changes.

I understand how that could happen. When I first adopted Frankie, his rescuer told me I needed to call the company that did the microchipping to change the contact information from hers to mine. After that, I promptly forgot about the microchip database — until, five years later, I started researching AM I BORING MY DOG and realized that microchip information is only as good as the latest update. And then it took me a while to figure out that the faded yellow plastic blob on Frankie’s collar, the one with the phone number that was practically undecipherable, would lead me to the manufacturer that I needed to call.

Note: Don’t forgot to include your email address. Each year 18% of people move but the majority don’t change email addresses.

Your pet isn’t microchipped? Why not? ID tattoos fade and, in any case, can’t contain much information unless you want to give your dog a gangsta look (which is tough if you have a hairy pup. Or a kitty). And the chances that your pet will get cancer on the chip site or that the chip will be used to track you are infinitesimal and more a measure of your paranoia than of concern for your pet.

There are valid critiques of microchips, including the fact that not all chip scanners can read all the frequencies in the U.S., that the scanning equipment is not always kept in top notch condition (read: batteries run out), and not all technicians are skilled in finding chips. Bottom line: Your chances of getting a lost pet back are greatly increased if you have a microchip with updated information.

Many databases are password protected to prevent thefts based on access to ID through collar information. If yours isn’t, keep the chip information in a safe place– as opposed to on the collar — so that the thief can’t access it.

Post a picture of your pet on your phone

… in case you don’t already have one as your screen saver. This way you don’t have to go with “She’s small and kind of brown and really cute and we love her so much”; you’ll have something you can easily download into a Lost Dog poster to blanket the neighborhood with. Also have someone take a picture of you and other family members with your pup, so you have visual proof of ownership.

If you don’t have a smart phone — mine is pretty dumb, but it does have Frankie as a screen saver — take along recent photographs that you can scan.

Bookmark the Center for Lost Pets on your PDA or laptop

Sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Lost Pets is a great resource to know about in advance in case your pet goes missing. In addition to giving practical advice on such things as how to create a lost pet poster —  it even includes a downloadable template for the sign — and where best to place copies, the site suggests other immediate actions, including contacting the police and going to local shelters. It also lists other online networks where you can post your loss.

Consider a GPS Collar

Many people think that microchips work as a GPS system. They don’t. But if your dog is a real escape artist — or if you just want to give her freedom to roam around without worry in your destination — an actual GPS collar might be a good investment. They come in two basic types. Less expensive up front (about $175 to $300) but requiring to a monthly service charge ($15 to $20), the first type relies on cell phone companies to call or text you if your dog goes out of a designated range.  The more expensive models (ranging from about $400 to $700) use a hand-held device to show you the real time moving status of your dog. These are popular with hunters, for obvious reasons; some can track as many as three dogs simultaneously, and may have a range of up to seven miles.

Most GPS collars weigh at least 4 ounces and are too large for dogs of less than 40 pounds, but you can find some for small dogs and cats.

And no, they don’t shock your dogs. They just may shock you when you see how far your dog can run in a really short time.

Get a good harness

If you don’t already use a harness for dog walking, it’s a good time to investigate the options. Not only are harnesses usually a safer way of keeping your dog with you than a collar, but they can also be used to secure your dog to a car seat belt.

***

I’ll leave you with a question: Does anyone know any phone apps to help find lost pets? I couldn’t locate any; reviews for most said they were designed to report, not find, lost animals.

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21 Comments

  1. Jenni
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how to feel about this, our dogs don’t wear collars. At all. Never have. I’ve had them chipped and when we go out they are on a harness which has tags but around the house their necks are as bare as mine is. Sometimes that bothers me, I worry. But at the same time, these are little dogs who I can barely get to stay out from under me while I do dishes, if they got out they’d come straight back to momma as fast as possible (it happened once in the back yard- it was funny not scary.) IDK, maybe I’m pushing it but it just seems weird. I mean I don’t wear a certain piece of jewelry or carry id as I walk around the house why should they? I would consider a GPS collar for sure but it would still get put on when we head out.

    I am glad you mentioned how important it is to have pics and updating that information. Even I have been guilty of letting a phone number change and forgetting to update it. It’s easy to do but oh so very important not to do!

    In answer to your question about apps the company we chip with – Home Again- has an app for the IPhone at least: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/petrescuers-by-homeagain/id385782939?mt=8 and a friend of mine told me about FindToto http://www.findtoto.com/lost-dog.html Although it seems to be more an alert system than an app, but for what it’s worth there you go.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Oh, I don’t mean to suggest there’s anything wrong with tags on a harness — or that it’s wrong not to have collars on around the house. Frankie doesn’t wear a collar in the house in the evening either, and I wouldn’t be concerned with him only wearing a harness with tags on a trip; he always walks behind me, though, so a collar is better than a harness for him

      In any case, I’m really just talking about travel, when pets get freaked out by unfamiliar circumstances. While Frankie is a big momma’s boy, he did run away across a parking lot in San Diego because a car frightened him. He has little legs and I can catch up with him, but I wouldn’t want to take any chances. And in a hotel room, he isn’t crated so if someone were to open the door to clean in spite of the “do not disturb” sign he might run away, looking for me.

      Thanks for your app suggestions, much appreciated. And don’t worry about your collarless pups!

      I think your little guys are too small for most GPSs!

  2. Posted June 2, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Enter update information with Chip manufacturer. It’s on my to do list. That’s if I even remember the name of the manufacturer. I should be able to retrieve that info from our vet. I hope.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem like it should be complicated — different manufacturers? having to update information? — but is. Sorry to add to your to do list, but glad it’ll get done for Sadie’s (and your) sake.

  3. Posted June 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Hello again, Edie!

    I’ve been checking out your blog for a few days now and I love the useful information you provide. Your writing style brings all the key points home. That said, I’m thinking I should get Lylah chipped. She’s been good about not messing with her tags and she does find her way home in the rare occasion that she runs off chasing a critter or exploring new grounds.. But you never know! I suppose a certain degree of paranoia is necessary to take preventative measures!

    BTW, the name’s Yomar but “Yogizilla” is a nickname that has stuck so I use it as a sort of personal brand. Come by my blog sometime. I don’t usually post about pet care but you may find some of my geeky stuff useful and/or entertaining. =o)

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      Nice to emeet you (again) and thanks for coming by here; I’ll definitely check out your blog tomorrow — I like geeky stuff.

      As for the microchipping — you know what they say: Even paranoids have enemies (or, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not after you). So it’s a good thing for you to get done.

  4. Posted June 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    What decided for me that I wasn’t getting a microchip for my dog was this:
    A friend of mine had his GSD stolen from him by someone who lives close to him. (idiot criminal, anyone?) and the vet KNEW the guy who took him, and also knew the GSD and his real owner. He also knew the dog had been stolen.

    But he couldn’t do anything about it, because the other guys SAID the dog was his.

    Do you know anything about the rules governing that?

    That did it in for me. I don’t know how true it is, BUT it happened in my area.

    I have a collar – break away, no less – and a second collar with her rabies tag and a tag that has REWARD FOR SAFE RETURN … not if found… for safe return … and MEDICAL ALERT on it. I didn’t specify what, because I wanted to create urgency.
    I also didn’t put her name on her tag.
    Lucky for me, both of the dog wardens know her on sight. (Not because I’ve lost her before, but because she’s the puppy class demo dog and they’ve both taken my puppy class. A lot.)

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s pretty unusual, don’t you — a he said/he said within a small community, where the vet didn’t want to make waves? The rules are that the police should have should have gotten the vet to scan the dog’s microchip to settle the case. General wussiness!

      Anyway, under normal circumstances when a dog is found the chip would help reunite her with the owner, who would present ID to verify that she was the one who had the dog microchipped. But thieves are brazen, and there are no guarantees, just an attempt to beat the odds.

      It sounds like you’ve got it all worked out for a return in your community, which is great. This post is really more about travel, anyway… pets who bolt and find themselves among strangers.

      Thanks for this, JJ.

      • Posted June 5, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        You’re right. I got off topic!

        Actually, I was thinking that someone should make a post to go with this when… Something about what you would do if your pet DID bolt for some reason.

        Or perhaps, what should you do if this does happen.

        (Just an off-topic aside: I guess the reason that the vet couldn’t do anything had to do with the fact that people around here – sad though it is – will sell, give away, rehome, etc their dogs and then, because they’re microchipped, they claim that the dog was “stolen.” …Maybe they changed their minds? Anyway, I’ll have to ask my own vet(s) to be sure, but I think that in itself has changed the way vets handle “lost/stolen” dogs. You have to do A LOT of work to make sure that EVERYONE knows your animal is lost for anyone to believe you. Sad.)

        • Edie Jarolim
          Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

          No problem! That *is* a sad situation, but I suppose the fact that they feel guilty enough to claim theft shows a shred of humanity. A shred. But as you say, it makes life much more difficult for people who actually do have pets stolen.

          As for your second point about the dog bolting, The Center for Lost Pet (linked to in this story) has excellent ideas for what to do in case of pet loss, including plastering the neighborhood with posters, calling the police and local shelters immediately, etc. It’s a great resource.

  5. Posted June 4, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Stopping by on the blog hop today – check out my video about the tornadoes that hit the south. I volunteer at the Etowah Valley Humane Society and we have 5 dogs that were left homeless – Hoss, Heidi, Dozer and Goldie & Marley. They all need homes…

    http://www.Pet-peeves.org

    Thanks for sharing this great reminder for all dog owners to get our dogs chipped!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 4, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Oh Cherie, that video has me crying! Did you make it? If you had a Facebook page and posted information about the dogs I would share it and get others to share it too.

  6. Posted June 4, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Woof! Woof! Golden Thanks for sharing this information. Interesting about the GPS collar actually exists. … Happy BLOG HOP Weekend. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for coming by Sugar. Glad your people are keeping you safe!

  7. Posted June 5, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I understand that newer scanners are coming on line that read several different types of microchips. I’m waiting to have Honey microchipped until we do substantial travel so I can take advantage of the latest standard in readers and chips.

    It kinda bugs me that something so important is determined by market share. It could mean that we end up with a microchip system that works likes Windows (yes, I’m bitter than the best software programs have been driven out of business by the superior business acumen of Bill Gates.) 🙂

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      There is a universal scanner already, made by Home Again: http://www.lambertvetsupply.com/HomeAgain-Universal-Worldscan-Microchip-Reader–pr–014SCH01SCANU. I’m not sure why there’s not more publicity about it. And I took a free, online microchipping course from the AAHA (not surprisingly sponsored by Home Again) that said that soon there would be only one frequency for microchips in the U.S., so I think it will be a competitive market again. But in the meantime, Home Again seems to have a monopoly.

  8. Posted June 5, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    1 out of 3 ?? Those statistics are staggering! Viva was chipped in the shelter, but I never did investigate her records are correct. Kenzo is only tattooed. I should definitely have him chipped too AND update the (danish) database. But it is true. Viva run away once. Not far, and she was just around the next corner. It makes you think what could have happened. This is a huge wake-up call for me.

    Btw, in Denmark the law for tags just changed. You must have your full name, address and telephone number on your dog tag. Not complying gives a $200 dollar fine.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Scary, isn’t it! And I’m glad that this post made you decide to get/update a microchip.

      That’s great that the laws for tags changed. I think that’s something that could work towards eliminating dog bites and other bad behavior sensibly, i.e., it means that owners can’t just let their dogs OF ANY BREED run loose and wreak havoc without taking responsibility. Of course some of those irresponsible owners might not care if their badly behaved dogs were sent to the pound and euthanized; what’s in it for them to have tags on their dogs?

  9. Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Great post Edie! I was just thinking about writing a blog post very similar to this today! You beat me to it. LOL!

    I was just thinking that I had registered mine when Daisy and Jasper were first chipped, but I think there is a monthly fee or something that I need to pay to ensure the information stays out there. I recently had a client go missing after she escaped through an open door. She was chipped, but because they had not updated their information, the chip info was old. We pet owners often get busy and forget these things, but your post is a good reminder that we need to remain vigilant. BTW – My client was found about 24 hours later – several miles from home. So glad she is safe!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      Just a case of great minds thinking alike, right?

      I wonder what company your chip is with; I’ve never of a monthly fee, just a one time fee initially. All the updating should be free. I’m very glad your client was found, even with old info; you must have been really stressed!

  10. Posted June 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Great post. This is the number one reason I started my business (embroidered dog collars & Buddy Badge Tags). I would hate to think of what would happen if my dog ended up at a kill shelter with no identification.

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