Cat Wearing Tag
It’s National Pet ID Week, and as I write this, I’m staring at the bare collars sported by my own two dogs. Despite the fact that I spend a small fortune each year on preventive veterinary care and premium diets in order to keep them at their healthiest, I have to admit that I have not yet gotten around to picking up inexpensive ID tags for their collars.

Surprisingly, I’m not alone in my folly. According to the ASPCA, only 33 percent of pet owners report keeping their dogs or cats properly tagged all the time. While I can at least say that both my dogs are microchipped — another relatively inexpensive ID option — in my heart I know I’m not doing everything I can to keep them safe if they don’t also have a visible tag hanging from their collars. Here’s why: According to the ASPCA, one-third of all U.S. pets will get lost at least once in their lifetime. Without proper identification, up to 90 percent of those lost pets will never find their way home again. You only have to look at telephone poles around town or the bulletin board in the supermarket to know that lots of well-loved pets get lost all the time. This is a heartbreak that can easily — and inexpensively — be prevented.

Why Your Pet Needs ID

What do experts suggest is the best way to properly ID your pet? Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the ASPCA, says, “While there are lots of forms of ID, we recommend a simple ID tag listing the cell phone number of the owner and at least one other backup number — and a microchip just in case the tag or collar gets lost.” Gary MacPhee, director of the Home Again program for Merck, believes a microchip, backed by a visible tag, is the best option. Home Again is one of the country’s largest providers of pet microchips, and its comprehensive program is responsible for successfully reuniting 14,000 lost pets with owners each month.

The bottom line, though, is that if your pet is lost, you want to make sure you have done everything you can to make his return home as quick and easy as possible. You don’t want to have to rely on posters plastered around town or hope a harried shelter worker will have the time and resources to figure out where your pet belongs. Tags, microchips and other innovative ways of identifying pets all help to produce happy endings for lost pets and their owners.

Given the statistics, it’s surprising that every pet isn’t chipped, collared and tagged to the max. But many owners mistakenly believe their pets aren’t at risk, either because they are indoor-only pets or because they play in a fenced-in yard. Experts are quick to point out, though, that where animals are concerned, you need to expect the unexpected. For example, “An indoor cat is an indoor cat — until she gets outside,” MacPhee notes. He says the Home Again database is full of stories of pets who accidentally slipped out of the home. “Contractors working in the house, kids that forget to close a door or a house sitter who isn’t familiar with the pet’s behavior are all reasons why pets have become lost,” he points out. Dr. Weiss also notes that you need to anticipate emergency situations, such as a fire, where a pet could suddenly become frightened, disoriented and lost.

Mighty Microchips — First and Last Line of Defense

For most pets, a microchip is a no-brainer. Most humane organizations agree that a tiny microchip transponder — about the size of a grain of rice — is a permanent, reliable form of ID that will always remain with your pet. According to MacPhee, many of the early concerns about chips, such as incompatible scanners or a lack of scanners, chip migration or painful implantation, are no longer issues today. “The scanner infrastructure is very well deployed,” MacPhee says, adding that almost every shelter or veterinary hospital has one. Furthermore, the chips used by Home Again have “anti-migration” technology that keeps the chips from moving around inside your pet’s body.

Currently, MacPhee says, the most significant problem with chips is that pet owners forget to update their contact information when they move or change their phone number. That’s why Home Again has a proactive campaign to reach out to subscribers two to three times a year to make sure their information is correct. According to MacPhee, approximately 27 percent of the nation’s dogs and 10 percent of its cats are currently microchipped, which raises the odds that those pets will find their way home if they ever go missing.

Tag — You’re It

While every pet should be microchipped — because a chip can never be lost or misplaced — they also need to wear some form of visible ID. This makes it easier for anyone who finds your pet to see immediately that this animal is an “owned” pet (rather than an abandoned or relinquished pet). It also gives these good Samaritans a quick and easy way to contact you. Many municipal shelters are overwhelmed and the staff are overworked; a tag guarantees that shelter workers can easily get in touch with you and reunite you with your pet, no matter how busy they are. While many people prefer tags, keep in mind you can also have your phone number embroidered into a durable collar.

You can also go one step further: MacPhee says that Home Again also recommends that each owner of a chipped pet also purchase a collar tag that includes your pet’s unique registration number as well as the 800 number for Home Again, in order to facilitate the speediest reunions.    

Finally, be prepared to ask for help finding your lost dog. In the event your pet becomes lost, use all available social media in order to get the word out. If you don’t know how to utilize Facebook or Twitter, ask a tech-savvy friend to show you how to do it or to help you with your efforts to track your pet. Make sure you always have a current photo of your pet on hand that shows his defining markings. This can be very helpful if you have to put up posters or post a photo online. And if, like me, you still haven't microchipped or tagged your pets, don't delay.

Tag and ID Troubleshooting

  • Leaving town for the weekend and having a panic attack that your dog doesn’t have a tag? Write your number on a piece of duct tape with permanent marker and wrap it around your pet's collar for a short-term fix. Or use the permanent marker to write your number directly on the collar.
  • Does your dog’s jingling collar wake the baby every time he moves? A little duct tape or masking tape around the tags can solve the problem. There are also tags you can buy that wrap around the collar or are riveted into buckle collars rather than dangling and making noise.
  • Moving? Microchips are only as good as your contact info. Don’t forget to update your files if your contact information changes!
  • Is the writing on your pet’s tag too worn to read? Always buy tags in bulk — that way, when one becomes lost or damaged, you can replace it with a new one right away. You can also buy protectors or separators that can help reduce friction and increase the life of tags.
  • Do your pet’s tags keep falling off? Sometimes those metal S-hooks aren’t very secure. Instead, try small plastic zip strips that you can run through the tag and collar loop and cut off at the desired length. You can also purchase a Tagabiner, a tag holder that makes securing a tag or switching tags to a different collar as easy as turning a screw.
  • Worried that your kitty could catch her collar on something? Purchase a collar that has a bit of elastic sewn in that will allow your cat to slip out if caught. 
  • Think a rabies tag is good enough? It's not. While all pets need a rabies tag, don’t rely on it for ID. It does not list your name and number and so simply creates another step for a busy shelter worker or pet finder trying to reunite you with your pet.