There was recently a story on my local news—touted as a “feel good story”—in which a dog named Bella was reunited with her family in Florida after being lost three years earlier. She made it back home because she ended up in a shelter in New Jersey, where they scanned her and found her microchip. It was wonderful to see the obvious joy and love the family had for Bella—and Bella looked pretty comfy and happy to see them, too.
These stories drive me batty. If Bella had been wearing an ID tag (along with the backup of that microchip), she could have been home by dinner—instead of three years later. I think of the anguish the family went through those three years and it breaks my heart. A few years ago we conducted research focused on lost pets and ID tagging that can help us better ensure that more pets get home sooner.
ASPCA research shows that pet owners believe that ID tags are important, but…
In our research, we found that while the vast majority of pet owners reported that wearing an ID tag was very important, two-thirds of them did not have an ID tag on their pet at the time they were surveyed! This disconnect between belief and behavior is not uncommon for the human animal. As an example, I usually point to the belief that good batteries in smoke detectors are important—and the likelihood that you changed your battery in the past year!
For sure a microchip is an important tool and can be super useful if an ID tag falls off. But chances are slim that the Good Samaritan who picks the pet up has access to a microchip reader when the pet is found. The chances that they can read an ID tag and, in today’s mobile world, then make a call to the owner the moment they find the pet, are exponentially higher. Home by dinner.
"Stories of lost pets getting home quickly because of their ID rarely make the news, but they sure do make a difference."
One simple thing shelters can do to ensure pets wear their tags
Interestingly, when it comes to smoke detectors and updating their batteries, one of the most effective interventions was to have the fire department make sweeps of neighborhoods to replace batteries for folks. We applied this philosophy to another phase of our ID tagging research, in which we had vets place collars and personalized ID tags on the pets that came to their clinics. We also had shelter staff place collars and ID tags with the new adopter’s information onto pets at the time of adoption. We then followed up with those pet owners 6-8 weeks after the ID tag and collar, if the pet was not wearing one, were applied to the pet. For those in the vet group, 84% still had the collar and tag on; in the shelter group, an astounding 94% were still sporting a tag.
It is quite likely that the success is so high because people already know ID tagging is important. For those who did not have a tag on their pet, they were most likely to point to the fact that they just had not gotten around to it. Putting the tag on was not something they needed to be convinced of—it just needed to be done! With evidence like that, I would note that all dogs and cats who are adopted should leave wearing an ID tag personalized with the new adopter’s info.
Bella’s story started the way many lost pet stories start. Bella’s Dad was distracted for a moment and lost sight of her—and Bella was gone. Stories of lost pets getting home quickly because of their ID rarely make the news, but they sure do make a difference.
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
Dr. Emily Weiss suggests a vocabulary shift for the field. (Spoiler alert: It involves the word “adoptable.”)
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Dr. Emily Weiss wonders what a low return rate might really mean. (Spoiler Alert: There‘s more than one answer to this question.)
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Dr. Emily Weiss takes the discussion to a place where we work to keep pets and the people who love them together.