Last weekend Wellington, my 9-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, provided me with a somber reminder of why it is so important that we provide our pets with some type of identification. In the midst of a furniture delivery he decided to take a walk on his own. By the time we noticed that Wellington had gone missing he was nowhere to be seen. With my heart in my throat I ran down our driveway, only to find one of my neighbors walking a contrite-looking Welly back to the house.
The prospect of losing a beloved pet is every pet parent's worst nightmare. But pets do go missing every day, and despite the best efforts of owners and local animal control, many of these pets are never reunited with their families.
If accidental losses weren't enough to be concerned about, a disturbing new trend of pets being stolen is cropping up in news reports this summer. The American Humane Association estimates that more than 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every year. Some of these pets wind up for sale on local Craigslist boards and sadly, others are sometimes sold to medical laboratories, where they become unwitting test subjects in the name of science.
Protecting our pets from loss and theft is fairly simple, but hardly foolproof. As pet parents, we do everything we can to keep our furry friends out of harm's way, but there are times when even the most vigilant among us become distracted; furniture deliveries being a case in point. On warm August nights, it can be tempting to just open the back door and let our pets roam in the yard unsupervised. Or you may think, "What's the harm?" and tie Fido up to pop in a shop for an iced coffee. It only takes a split second for a thief to snatch your pet, and once he is gone, your best chance of recovering him may be his microchip.
Microchips are the only permanent method of pet identification, and not only are they extremely helpful in the event your pet is lost, but having your contact information linked to your pet's chip can help you prove rightful ownership in the event that your pet is stolen. One of the very first things I did when Welly joined the family was get him microchipped.
Don't have your pet microchipped yet? Here's what you need to know:
• It is estimated that more than 94 percent of lost pets who have a microchip are successfully reunited with their families.
• Microchip scanning devices are available to all U.S. animal shelters and veterinary clinics. If you're not sure whether your pet is chipped, have him scanned.
• Injecting a microchip into your pet's back takes less than 10 seconds and is only as painful as a vaccination.
• Microchips are made of biocompatible silicon and encased in glass, and rejection and infection are rare.
• The biggest reason microchips fail to reunite lost pets with their owners is that the owner information either was never registered or it wasn't current. Register your pet's contact information immediately when you get the new chip. If you already have a chipped pet and are unsure of your pet's microchip number or manufacturer (info you will need to update your contact details on the chip), take him to your local vet clinic or animal shelter to be scanned. Don't take any chances!
While microchips are the only permanent form of identification for your pet, there are some promising new options for pet identification that can work in tandem with a chip to make sure you always know the whereabouts of your best friend.
GPS-enabled collars can help you find your lost pet using your smartphone. When your pet goes missing, you get a text message with the GPS coordinates of the collar. The message contains a link to the coordinates on a map, which you can open on your smartphone and use to start your search efforts. Some models even act as a virtual fence, sending you an SMS message when your pet leaves a predefined zone. In other words, as soon as your dog leaves the yard, you can be notified of his location. While the technology can be pricey (some models fetch close to $500), it can be well worth it for the extra peace of mind.
After Welly's escapade last weekend I am investing in a GPS collar; next time he may not be so lucky as to end up in the arms of a friendly neighbor! No one wants to think about their pet being lost or stolen, but being proactive about protecting pets against the unexpected can help create a happy ending for everyone.