VERONICA DAEHN HARVEY
That kitchen renovation project has spiraled out of control. Between trips to the home improvement store, the garage and your father-in-law’s, the back door never stops swinging. Besides being a pain in the neck (and the pocketbook), home improvement projects can cause other grief, too: a lost pet.
Animals run and hide for many reasons, and finding them again can be tricky, though there are ways to make reuniting with a lost pet easier. Any time doors are opening and closing, a pet has a chance to escape.
“During nice weather, we’re much more likely to be going in and out of our homes,” said Pat Mancini, practice manager at Wignall Animal Hospital in Dracut, Mass., and nearby Lowell Veterinary Clinic. “It’s much easier for pets to get out of the house innocently.”
Many dogs are skilled at jumping up and hitting the screen door’s latch or running hard enough to break a screen. Cats can chew or push through the screen on a window. Once outside, there’s no telling where a pet will go.
In fact, according to the American Humane Association, only about 17% of lost dogs and 2% of cats ever find their way back from shelters to their original owners. Nearly 9.6 million pets are euthanized every year because their owners can’t be found.
Once a cat has escaped, it often will hide, Mancini said, especially cats used to being indoors. They’ll find an enclosed space that feels safe in the midst of the great big world they’ve just dashed into. Dogs will run. Some will run far.
It isn’t just open doors and broken screens that send pets running, though. Fireworks or other loud noises can spook animals and cause them to run away or hide. An impending trip to the vet, often signaled by the sight of a cat carrier, can send cats into hiding.
“A common reason for pets escaping is fear,” said Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM with www.AboutVetMed.com. “July 5 is a huge day for shelters, receiving animals terrified by (and trying to ’escape’) the noise of fireworks. Thunderstoms also cause frantic, runaway behavior.”
So what’s a pet owner to do?
Number one: Microchip your animals.
Veterinarians and animal shelter workers agree that an animal with a microchip implanted under the skin has the best chance of making it home. It’s routine for veterinarians and shelter workers to scan an animal for a microchip when it turns up lost. If an owner’s contact information is current, it’s easy to reunite him with his animal.
At Wignall Animal Hospital, staff members stress the importance of microchips to their clients all the time. Signs hang in exam rooms, and including the cost of a microchip with an estimate for surgery or another procedure is standard. The clinic even waives the customer’s enrollment and registration fee, opting to pay the microchip manufacturer itself.
“Not as many clients as I wish microchip their pets,” Mancini said. “We’re the animal control holding facility for three communities here. Lowell gives us 300 dogs a year—85% of them don’t get claimed. If they had a microchip, we would call the person.”
Collars with current identification and rabies tags are important, too.
“Tags may break and collars may fall off, and not everyone will scan for a microchip,” said Tobiassen Crosby. “Having both ensures a greater chance of recovery if your pet is lost.”
It’s also important to follow city or state laws, if applicable, and license your pet. This is because even the most responsible pet owners can lose their animal.
“It can happen to anybody under any circumstances,” Mancini said. “It’s a mistake. Someone comes to the door, you’re holding the door open, your cat slips out, they’re freaked out, they’ll go into hiding. We do everything we can to try to find an owner.”
Making flyers might seem antiquated, but it’s worth a shot, Tobiassen Crosby said. The more eyes you have looking for your pet, the better. Consider digital flyers to share with friends online, too, she said.
To avoid having to search for an anxious cat indoors, ease its fear about trips to the vet. Try leaving the cat carrier out all the time. Put a soft blanket in there. Feed your cat in there. When it’s time to go to the vet, don’t rush. Pet your cat, feed it and then gently put it in the carrier. Consider getting a carrier with a top that opens or a soft-sided one that zips, Mancini says. Once inside, cover the carrier with a towel or blanket. This will help shield your cat from the temperature, light, noises and smells of outdoors, the car and the vet’s office.
Finally, ask your vet if he offers cat-only hours. Some do—and the absence of barking might make a big difference.
“There’s no miraculous cure,” Mancini said, “just really thinking about it because cats are different than dogs. With cats you have to take a different strategy. Most of us don’t think about it that way.”
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter July / August, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2012 AAHA. Find out more.