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Where's Fido?
By Kathy Schnizler

Dogs and cats become lost everyday due to a wide variety of circumstances. Some slip out unnoticed through an open door, some escape from a fenced yard, and some are routinely allowed to roam on their own and one day just never come home. Fireworks and thunderstorms routinely cause dogs and cats to run from home.

What happens to all of these pets when they suddenly become homeless? Unfortunately, it is a dangerous world out there for stray cats and dogs. Many are hit by cars, some are killed by wildlife. The lucky ones are found by sympathetic strangers who help them find a home or take them to the local shelter. The luckiest are wearing traceable identification and are reunited with their families. Nationally, only about 16% of dogs and 2% of cats are claimed from shelters by their families.

There are many forms of identification available for our pets. There are tags of all shapes and sizes, custom engraved tags, tags that hang from the collar or lie flat against it. There are collars with phone numbers woven right in the fabric. Some people tattoo their animals with a special identification number or with their social security number. There are also microchips available which are about the size of a grain of rice and are injected just below the skin between the animal's shoulder blades.

All forms of identification have their drawbacks. Tags can come off collars or collars can break and come off altogether. Tattoos can be difficult to trace as companies that keep these records frequently go out of business. Microchips have to be read with a special scanner to find the owner. Most frequently, guardians fail to keep the identification on their pet up to date with their current address and phone number.

Most experts agree that a combination of a tag which is easily visible and a microchip which is permanent will give your pet the best chance of being found by you if he becomes lost. Most microchip manufacturers will give you a tag for your pet's collar with your pet's identification number and a phone number to call if your pet is found. (It should be noted that while you may be required to keep a rabies tag on your pet's collar, this is not an easily traceable form of identification.) Most shelters and veterinarians have scanners for reading the microchip if your pet has lost his tags. It is up to you to keep the information on your pet's identification current. The most frustrating thing for many people who work in animal shelters is to have a stray cat or dog come in with identification and not be able to trace it back to the owner.

If your pet becomes lost, you should post flyers with your pet's picture in the area around your house and around the neighborhood he became lost in if he was lost from somewhere other than home. You should check with your local shelters and file a lost report with your pet's picture. Be prepared to do this in person as only you can truly identify your pet. You should check back with the shelters every few days as most shelters will only hold stray animals for 3-5 days before making them available for adoption. If your pet has a chip call the microchip company to report your pet as lost and to be sure they have your current address and phone numbers.

Accidents happen and pets get lost. Some do make it back home safely. The simple key to this happy ending can be right identification. Give your pet the best chance of finding his way home. Call your veterinarian or your local shelter to find out more about microchips.