An unlatched gate, an open door, a loose window screen…a dog or cat can look on these opportunities as his own version of Prison Break. Every two seconds, an animal companion gets lost. It’s your worst nightmare. Whether he’s a streak in the distance or right out of sight, how do you get him back?
Identification is the answer. Without ID, nine out of ten animals won’t be reunited with their families. Start with a collar and tags – would-be rescuers are more willing to approach an animal with a collar because they can see he belongs to someone.
Chip on his shoulder
Animal organizations such as the ASPCA strongly recommend microchipping as well. A microchip is a radio frequency identiication system (RFIS) operating on two main frequencies – 125 kilohertz (more common in the U.S.) or 134.2 kilohertz (used globally). As the name implies, a microchip is small, about the size of a grain of rice. Each chip is irst registered to a veterinarian who injects it into the animal’s shoulder area.
A microchip will tell a rescuer who to call once a lost animal is found. A handheld scanner is moved over his shoulder area to detect the chip, and its number is shown on a small screen, like a bar code at the grocery store. The microchip company maintains a database; it’s your responsibility to update your animal’s chip to your own name and contact numbers. This is an important step as shelters say out-of-date information is the biggest obstacle to inding an animal’s family.
Advantages of microchipping
• A microchip cannot be altered, removed or lost.
• Getting chipped is no more painful than a rabies shot.
• With no battery or moving parts to wear out, a chip lasts a lifetime.
• Microchip companies maintain a database with your animal’s medical history, vet’s name, description and photos as well as the microchip number and contact numbers to call when he’s found. Many have a “lost pet” template to use with the animal’s photo for printing liers to post in your neighborhood.
• When you report a missing animal, the company will send an alert to area veterinarians and shelters.
• Microchipping is very affordable, with the veterinarian setting the price – usually from $25 to $40. Some rescues or shelters may have low cost “chip-a-thons” or “snip and chips” (neutering and chipping in one procedure) as fundraisers.
Is there any health risk to the animal?
Microchips are no health risk, says veterinary oncologist Dr. Jeff Bryan. “The one thing I would say about microchips is that the association with cancer is minimal. There is no reaction at all in the tissue around the chip.”
Will the shelter’s scanner be able to read the chip?
Microchip companies such as HomeAgain, AVID and Bayer resQ make universal scanners to read both frequencies. The scanners are donated to shelters. To further avoid problems, Banield, the animal clinic within PetSmart, will inject chips of both frequencies.
Will the chip move after it’s injected?
Veterinarian Dr. Mark Lux routinely scans animals during their first ofice visit. “In years of checking, I’ve only found two or three microchips that have migrated,” he says. “I recommend microchipping to all my clients.”
High tech tracking
Global positioning systems (GPS) are shaping up to be the new wave in animal ID. Improved technology permits a GPS unit as small as 2.65 ounces for tracking lost dogs. Incorporated into a collar or harness, the GPS is water resistant and will send location updates to your cell phone, computer or PDA as often as every 60 seconds.
The GPS doesn’t need open spaces to work. It can track your dog even in heavily wooded areas. Glow-in-the-dark banding on the collar or harness will help drivers see your dog at night. If the unit cannot access a GPS satellite, it will automatically search for cellular coverage.
A GPS can be a godsend for dogs with a wanderlust who are constantly escaping to roam the neighborhood. You can choose a designated area as small as your own backyard, or as large as 1,000 square yards, and when your dog strikes out on his own and leaves the area, the GPS will tattle.
If you travel with your dog, whether on vacation or for companionship on work-related trips, the GPS will bring you back together should you get separated. You can register multiple dogs as long as each has his own GPS collar or harness.
If you live or travel in an area prone to natural disasters like hurricanes or flooding, the GPS could be invaluable. The price of a GPS system for your dog averages $130 or $140. There’s usually a one-time activation fee and a smaller monthly fee thereafter.
You might think you don’t have to worry about ID for your companion. But accidents can happen to even the most careful animal lover. Investing in a microchip or GPS system will greatly increase his chances of being found if he ever escapes or gets separated from you. After all, he’s family.