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Military Families Can Take Steps to Prevent Lost or Stolen Pets

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A missing pet can be a devastating experience for family members and can result in a dangerous situation for the animal. However, military families can take steps to keep their beloved pets safe and secure.

If your pet lives indoors or is supervised outdoors, it's less likely the pet will become lost or stolen. Many animals crave human companionship and do quite well lounging on a comfortable couch or bed during the day.

However, if you can't take your pet out for exercise, make sure they play in a safe, secure and enclosed area with necessary shelter, water and food. You also should avoid the use of chains or ropes for long periods of time. U.S. Humane Society studies indicate that animals become territorial and aggressive when tied up on chains for a prolonged time. Animals are more likely to bite another human or could unintentionally hang themselves if tethered too close to a fence.

If a pet becomes lost, a microchip can help reunite pet and owner. This is a tiny computer chip, about the size of a grain of rice, inserted into the skin of the animal with an identification number programmed into it. A national registry tracks the number, and any organization with a scanner can identify the number and contact the company owning the device. The company then will contact the pet owner or another emergency contact. Since registration tags are easily removable, the microchip provides an additional layer of protection.

Microchips can be implanted during a routine veterinary office visit - no surgery or anesthesia required - in animals as young as eight weeks, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Because of this critical method of pet identification, animals have been found more than 1,000 miles from their home or after years of separation.  

In 2009, the Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Indoor Pet Initiative conducted a study of 53 shelters with recorded information on animals entering a shelter with a microchip. The findings revealed that 73 percent of owners of stray dogs and cats were found, and 74 percent of the owners wanted their animals back. The top reason owners couldn't be located was incorrect or disconnected phone numbers, followed by the owner's failure to return phone calls or respond to letters. 

Along with microchips, owners also should legally register their pet since it's the primary way shelters track pet ownership.

"One of our most important goals is to get lost pets home, which reduces impact on the shelter in devoting resources to tracking owners," said Matt Malta, director of adoptions for the Hawaiian Humane Society. "Licensing is considered legal proof of ownership, and pet owners should consider compliance that will help establish their animals as rightfully theirs."

According to Malta, less than 20 percent of Oahu dog owners are in compliance with assuring that their dog is always wearing a valid, county-issued license. Many companion animals end up at shelters as strays and can't be reunited with owners due to missing registration and microchip information. In fact, less than 2 percent of cats and only 15 to 20 percent of dogs are returned to their owners, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy.

Many shelters offer discounted services for microchips and ensure their animals are adopted out with microchips.   

Check your military base or housing installation for the companion animal policies, as housing pet policies stipulate microchips and registration or animal licensing requirements. When moving to a new duty station or when considering getting a pet, it's critical potential owners research local animal laws and housing animal policies if living on base to ensure compliance.

Should the pet accidentally get loose on a military installation, immediately call base police, base animal control, if applicable, and your community's official lost and found center for companion animals.

If the neighborhood permits it, post signs and check online pet classifieds for found pet postings and consider placing a lost pet posting to alert other members in your neighborhood.

We all can help to raise awareness of this issue by talking to our neighbors about pet resources and providing help when needed. These steps can protect our pets and enhance the human-animal bond among pet owners.

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