Most of us consider ourselves to be responsible owners, and the idea of one’s pet ending up in a shelter at any point may seem far-fetched. In reality, however, it’s a lot more commonplace than you might expect. Most dogs and cats that enter shelters get there because someone assumed they were stray animals. All it takes is one mistake and your pet could be at large and perceived as a stray. Maybe the babysitter or a worker left the fence gate open, or Fluffy slipped out the front door when you were unloading groceries. If someone watched her escape, she might be easy to catch. If no one was around to see, how far do you think Fluffy could get in 5 minutes? Two hours? An entire day? Any dog or cat that is found to be roaming free can be picked up by a Good Samaritan or animal control officer and taken to a shelter. This is especially true if they are found in a high-traffic area where they might potentially cause an accident. Nobody wants to see a cute stray dog turned into road kill.

The ASPCA estimates between 5 and 7 million pets enter animal shelters across the US every year. Unfortunately, it is also estimated that 3 to 4 million of them will have to be euthanized. This is because there simply are not enough resources to care for these animals indefinitely, as more and more of them keep coming in. Many of the lucky ones will be adopted into loving homes. Fewer will be discovered as owned pets and hopefully reunited with their worried families. Still, by the end of any given year, more than half of the animals that enter a shelter will never leave.

More sobering statistics: according to a survey published in JAVMA in 2007, the success rate for reuniting lost pets with their families was 74% if the pet had a microchip, but only 13% if the pet relied on owner efforts alone (lost pet signs, visiting shelters, etc.). Collars and tags can be removed or fall off, or in some cases be a cause of injury if they get caught on fences or other objects. Tattoos are often hard to read and fade considerably with age.

A microchip is inexpensive and easy to implant (almost as easy as giving a vaccine injection), and simple to maintain. After completing the initial chip registration, all a pet owner needs is to keep the contact information up to date. It is the most standardized and reliable way to permanently identify your pet, and provides the absolute best chances that Fluffy will make it back home in the event of something unexpected.

From Dr. Tracy Millhouse