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.