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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Safety

No ID means death for 800,000 pets a year

More than half of lost dogs and nearly three-quarters of lost cats that end up in shelters are put to death simply because their owners fail to provide them with proper identification tags.

The annual death toll: About 425,000 dogs and 367,500 cats, according to estimates.

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The American Humane Association is hoping to change those survival odds with its annual drive to make pet parents understand that identification is more than just about safety for a beloved dog or cats - it is truly a matter of life or death.

"Most pet owners do not realize that it is estimated that only 15 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats who wind up in shelters without an identification tag will be reunited with their owners," AHA spokeswoman Heather Black told Love of Dogs. "Because of space and resource constraints, many shelters can hold lost animals for only a short period of time in the hope that the owners will claim their pets."

AHA holds a Tag Day, also known as Every Day Is Tag Day, on the first Saturday of April each year to help educate pet parents about the importance of proper identification. This year's Tag Day is Saturday, April 4.

"While there are many reasons pet owners fail to properly identify their pets, American Humane believes that the main reason is because of lack of awareness," Black said. "That is why we have established Tag Day - to raise awareness about lost pets and the importance of having proper identification for pets."

AHA advises pet parents to make sure their companions have up-to-date tags and to provide them with at least two forms of identification. "Pet owners can increase the chance of being reunite with their animals if they also have some form of second ID for the pet, like a microchip," Black said.

A dog license or rabies tag alone is insufficient because it lacks the owner's information, making it more difficult for a person finding a pet to contact the owner, Black explained.

"Dog licenses typically only have the ID number and a phone number to the town hall on the tag," she said. "This means that in order for the person to find out who actually owns the dog, they must first call the town hall to get the owner information. If it is after hours, they may have to wait until the next day or even through the weekend to have the pet's tag traced."

Some people may be unable to keep a pet overnight or for several days and may instead be forced to turn it loose, Black said. "Or if the animal is injured, this could, in some cases, delay medical treatment until an owner is found."

Even indoor pets need proper identification, Black said. "Many strays in shelters are indoor pets that escaped and got lost."

AHA offers the following advice for pet parents:
  • Make sure your pet wears a collar with a current identification tag, rabies tag and city/county license. Include a contact name, address, and daytime and evening phone numbers. Consider providing a phone number for an alternate contact like a neighbor or family member in case you are out of town.
  • Have your pet microchipped.
  • Update your pet's license and tag if you change address or phone numbers.
  • If offering a reward for return of a pet, put that information on the tag.
  • When moving or traveling, place a temporary tag on your pet with the phone number of someone who knows how to reach you.
If a pet is lost, AHA advises pet parents to:
  • Begin an immediate search. This will better the odds of finding your dog or cat. Search the neighborhood or area where your pet was lost and let people know its missing. Call your pet's name and check any places she could have become trapped, such as in garages or under vehicles.
  • Go out again at night with a flashlight and call the pet. Sometimes a can of food can lure a hungry and scared pet to you. A lost pet often will hide during the day.
  • Check with local shelters every day. Visit the shelter. Many animals are difficult to describe on the phone. Only you really know what your pet looks like.
  • Call all animal control agencies in your community and surrounding areas. Animal control officers work through the police department and pick up stray animals. Call them or check their shelters at least every two days.
  • Offer a reward and make "lost pet" signs using your pet's photo. Put them up in your neighborhood and in post offices, libraries, pet supply stores, veterinary offices and grocery stores.
  • Inform your veterinarian and groomer. They may receive a call from someone who finds your pet.
  • Place ads in local newspapers. Offer a reward in case someone found an untagged pet and was thinking of keeping it.
  • Watch the found ads. Respond to any that might be close to your pet's description. A week of wandering the streets can make white pets look drab gray, and the ad's description might not exactly fit.

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  • Call local radio stations. Some will broadcast lost pet information for free. Give them detailed information on where your pet was lost, the pet's description and how to contact you.

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*The Hunt of Her Life signed book series sets are only available to U.S. customers.

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