By Jean McGroarty
---- — Many pet owners know that sinking feeling, when they realize their best friend is missing. They ask neighbors, put up flyers, call the animal shelter. Their best hope is their wandering friend will saunter up the sidewalk, acting as if nothing has happened. Humane Society workers around the country have a simple solution to prevent this situation: tag and/or microchip your pet.At the Kokomo Humane Society, most of our lost animals arrive with no identification. Though we scan every animal for a microchip, only about 5 percent are chipped. Without identification, all we can do is hold strays for five days in the hope that the owner will have the good sense to look for their pet at the shelter. We rely on the pet owner to track down their pet and visit the animal shelter to see if their pet is there. If the dog or cat has a tag with a phone number on it, or a microchip that can be traced to an owner, then chances are it won’t be lost for very long.Identification tags are easy to get. Whenever a dog or cat gets a rabies shot at the veterinarian, a tag is given to the owner with an identifying number on it. Many vets will engrave a name and phone number on the tag. Since rabies shots are required by law, this is an automatic way to identify your pet.It’s important to remember that only a veterinarian can administer a rabies vaccination, so a visit to the vet is required in order to get this tag.Most pet supply stores and many discount stores sell identification tags. Owners can put any information they like on the tags, but it’s best to include the owner’s name, address, phone number and the pet’s name on the tag. And remember, a collar alone is not identification. The tags must be affixed to the collar to do any good.It’s a fact of life that dogs and cats may lose their collars and tags if they are out running loose. Or, a frequent scenario plays out when owners give their pets a bath. The collar and tags come off, the pet gets bathed, and the collar and tags don’t go back on until the pet is dry. In that time between bath and putting the collar back on, sometimes Fido or Fluffy wanders off. So, what happens if your pet, for whatever reason, loses the collar and tags?That’s where the microchip comes in. A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is encoded with a number. The chip is injected beneath the skin at the back of the pet’s neck. The Kokomo Humane Society and local veterinarians can microchip your pet. Call your vet or the Humane Society for more information. The owner gives contact information to the microchip company. If the pet is lost and taken to a vet’s office, an animal shelter, or a rescue that owns a scanner, the pet is scanned and a number can be seen on a screen. That number can be traced to the owner. This is not a GPS; we cannot trace the movement of your pets with a microchip (there are GPS systems available for pets, but they are pricy and require an ongoing subscription). But, provided the information on file is correct, we can return lost pets to their owners. Which brings us to an important issue. Whether you use a buckle collar and tags or a microchip, it’s important to maintain a correct address and telephone number with whomever issued the identification. There have been so many instances at the Humane Society when a dog or cat has had a tag or microchip, but the phone was no longer in service, or the address was wrong. At that point, all we can do is hold the animal for the required stray period and hope that the owner comes to the shelter. All the effort you’ve put into identifying your animal does absolutely no good if the information isn’t correct.Only about 18 percent of stray dogs and 2 percent of stray cats that come to the Kokomo Humane Society are returned to their owners. You, as a responsible pet guardian, can do your part to fix this. Keep current identification on your pets. Call the Humane Society if you lose your pets. Even if the animal is not at the animal shelter, there’s a chance that someone will call the shelter having found the pet and we can make a match without your animal ever having to enter the shelter. Best of all, take precautions to keep your pet with you — inside your home, on a leash, or in a fenced-in yard. Your dog or cat is a family member, and worth keeping with you!Jean McGroarty is the executive director of the Kokomo Humane Society.