Story 1
We were walking our dog near our house when the dog ran up to greet Sirius Black. We looked around, but saw no one near the dog. When he approached close enough, we were able to catch hold of his collar and read the address, less than a block away. A minute later, we were ringing the doorbell and returning the dog home to his family, who didn’t even know he was missing yet.
Story 2
We were walking our dog near our house when the dog ran up to greet Sirius Black. We looked around, but saw no one near the dog. When she approached close enough, we were able to catch hold of her collar and read the information. The phone number had been disconnected, and the address turned out to be out of date. It took close to 18 hours to locate the dogs owner, only a few blocks away, and get her home.


scratched paint on a door
My bathroom door after an encounter with someone else’s dog.

Both of these stories are true. Fortunately, they both also have happy endings. However, the latter contains a lot more fear and anxiety, not to mention a sleepless night for both me and the dog, as well as the loss of most of the paint on the back of our bathroom door.

Unfortunately, many such stories don’t end so happily. Some pets found on the street are not reunited with their families, while others are reunited only after a protracted search.

So, my first “Dress for Success” tip is: keep a collar and tags, with current contact information, on your pets at all times. This information should definitely include a phone number. Including an address may get your pet home even faster, but owners who move frequently may prefer to stick with phone numbers. With many people changing their cellphone numbers rarely, even when they move, these are an excellent choice for such tags.

Information should be on a durable tag worn on a collar, or you can purchase personalized collars with the contact information embedded in the fabric. Either of these should be replaced if the information becomes worn and illegible. I am a proponent of walking dogs on harnesses (more on that next week), but contact information should be kept on something the dog will be wearing if he or she escapes through an open door or jumps a fence.

What collar is best?

I recommend buckle collars or limited-slip martingale-type collars to my clients. The material touching the dogs neck should be fabric. If you plan to use the collar for walking, pay attention to the quality of the buckle or other connections, and always inspect your collar regularly to make sure it remains in good condition.

What about cats?

I strongly recommend collars for cats. Cats should have breakaway collars that either open or stretch if the cat gets caught on something while climbing, etc. This does mean that cats are more likely than dogs to be found without collars, even if they were wearing one when they left the house. I also find cats are more likely to learn to remove their collars. However, the benefits of a quick reunion are still worth it. Due to the number of outdoor and indoor-outdoor cats in the United States, author Pam Johnson-Bennett recommends including “I am an indoor cat” on the tag of your indoor cat, to make sure your neighbors realize that kitty is not supposed to be outside.

But my pets are microchipped!

dog with collar
Sirius Black with regular and microchip tags!

Great, so are mine. Microchips are a wonderful, permanent identification method, and their widespread acceptance, in addition to the introduction of improved scanners, make them a better method than ever of identifying found pets. However, they still require that the finder bring the pet to a vet or animal control facility with scanning equipment. They also require that your information be up-to-date in the microchip vendor’s system. (In my opninion, this change falls through the cracks much more easily than remembering to update a tag you look at every day.) And, even in the best-case scenario, a dog found late at night is unlikely to be returned home before the next day. So go with the “belt and suspenders” approach and back up your microchip with a collar.

My pet can’t wear a collar because…

I completely understand that some animals have medical or other reasons that they can’t wear a collar. However, I strongly believe that collars with up-to-date contact information are the best and fastest way to get your pet home in an emergency, and I encourage your to consider what might be possible. In fact, I am going to take my own advice and order replacement cat collar right now.

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