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Preventing Pets From Getting Lost, and Maximizing the Chances for Their Safe Return

There is nothing more heartbreaking than losing a pet. I am not just talking about the ones that cross over the rainbow bridge because of old age or disease. I’m talking about the ones that disappear without a trace, leaving a hole in your heart and an anguish that never goes away. Feelings of guilt, the lack of closure, and that part of you that never gives up hope of finding them. I think I cried for a year straight after my beloved cat Munchie disappeared when I was 11 years old. I couldn’t take a walk in my neighborhood without calling her name or peeking under trees and bushes, my heart racing anytime I saw something white, hoping it was her. I will always wonder what happened to her. 

An astonishing number of pets are lost in the United States every year (approximately 10 million according to the American Humane Society). Less than 15% of those dogs and less than 2% of cats are ever reunited with their owners because they are not tagged or microchipped and their owner could not be located. And sadly, roughly 1.5 million stray pets are euthanized annually due to overcrowding in shelters and lack of funding. On a positive note, that number has dropped dramatically from 2.6 million in 2011 thanks to the efforts of no-kill shelters, rescue networking, and responsible ownership education.

As a volunteer at a rescue shelter and network, I hear from distraught pet parents searching for their lost pets, and I see the sadness in the eyes of the strays we take in when they just want to go home but we can’t find their owners.

Here are some ways to prevent cats from getting lost to begin with: 

Pet proof your house on an ongoing basis. Check for loose or damaged window screens, as this is a common place for pets to get out. Some pets are smart enough to open doors, so get in the habit of locking them, or use baby safety covers.

Install a Bow Wow Barrier on the doors you regularly use. This is a retractable baby gate that you install on your doors so that when the door is opened, a large mesh barrier blocks the opening, preventing the cats from slipping past you when you open the door. It also makes house guests aware that you have pets, and to be on the lookout. Like the Mastercard commercials say: Cost of a Bow Wow Barrier: $89, Not losing your pet: Priceless.

Secure your pet while riding in the car. The best place for your pet while riding in the car is in a carrier. That way they cannot sneak out when you stop for gas or roll your window down at a drive thru (yes, I know people that this has happened to, while travelling far from home). There are booster seats made that harnesses can be attached to if your kitty likes to look out the window, but please secure them in some manner.

Get an outdoor enclosure. There are budget friendly enclosures that can be placed on the lawn or deck, and are great ways for your cat to get the much-needed enrichment of sights, smells and sounds of nature, while being secure from escape and injury.

Install a Catio enclosure system that cats can access from a pet door on your house directly to their Catio. Our cats stopped trying to sneak out the door altogether once we installed the Catio since they are getting the enrichment they crave. 

Install a Purrfect Fence system. If you have a fenced in back yard, cats can still jump or climb over, but this clever system keeps even the clever climbers from escaping. Check it out at www.purrfectfence.com.

Despite best efforts, some pets are just escape artist, so have a backup plan, and improve the chances of getting them back when someone finds them.

Microchiping: This is by far the best way to help get your pet back home. A tiny microchip about the size of a grain of rice, is injected under your pet’s skin, and if they ever get lost, any veterinarian or rescue facility can scan the microchip to get your contact info. The National Average price to get a microchip thru your vet is about $45 and can be done during any routine visit. Most shelters have also started microchipping as part of the adoption process. Then be sure to register your pet’s microchip, and regularly update your information as it changes. We get pets at the rescue shelter constantly that have microchips, but the information on the registry is often outdated and we have a hard time tracking the owners down. Just like changing batteries in the smoke detectors every daylight savings time, make it a routine habit of updating your contact information on important records.

For more information on Microchipping, the American Veterinary Medical Association provides great details. https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq

Collars and ID tags: The good old fashioned dog tag that has the pets name and owner info etched on it is the easiest form of ID. Pros: Anyone who finds your pet can just look at the tag and call the number listed. Cons: If your pet wasn’t wearing their collar when they got away or broke free from it when they escaped, they would have no ID on them. Also, people routinely forget to update their dog tags when their number changes or they move.

GPS trackers for pets are available. Pros: You can open the app on your smartphone and see where your pet has been, and if they are missing, you will see their last known location to help track them down. Cons: battery life on them is fairly short so you will have to be diligent on charging it, and they are a bit bulky on a cat collar. If you let your cats free roam, this is a great option.

QR code collar tags: Unlike a microchip that is inserted under the skin, this ID tag is worn on a collar and anyone with a smart phone can scan the QR code to be connected to the registered website that has the owner’s information. The owner will receive an alert with the location where the QR code was scanned. Pros: When someone finds your stray pet, they don’t have to take it to a facility that has a microchip scanner, which would make the reunion process faster. Cons: The disadvantage that all collar tags have is when the pet breaks away from the collar or slipped out the door while they weren’t wearing one.


Join us on April 3, 2021 for “Every Day is Tag Day”, the nationwide effort to get all pet owners to equip their pets with ID tags and/or microchips to maximize the chances of their safe return, and get your pet is tagged and microchipped! 

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