When my phone rang, I was up in the mountains near Kingman, Arizona at the memorial service for my mother. It was snowing, seven inches on the ground and the air clotted with fat snowflakes.
I peered at the screen, not recognizing the number. “Hello,” I said.
“Do y’all have a dog named Shadow?” the voice asked.
“Yes.” My heart started to pound.
The lady was calling from Virginia. Shadow, my very independent labradoodle, had followed the woman’s daughters to her home, about a mile and a half from where we lived.
Fortunately, the story had a happy ending, mostly because Shadow had an ID tag. The very kind lady offered to return Shadow, and my adult son, who’d been (ostensibly) watching him, promised to keep better tabs on him. And we learned our lesson: always kennel Shadow when we travel.
Another happy ending story: a friend recently posted on Facebook the escapades of two dogs, hers and her neighbor’s, who broke out of their yards in pursuit of some deer and vanished. Neither dog was wearing any ID tags or had a microchip, something both owners have since remedied. She and her neighbor finally found the escape artists a few days later at the local animal shelter.
Most stories about dogs landing in shelters don’t have these kinds of endings.
Just within this last year, three friends in our small rural area have lost dogs. None of the dogs was wearing an ID tag or had a microchip. Only one of the three was recovered.
In Dog-Nabbed, the third book in the Doodlebugged mystery series, Doodle, the trouble-prone labradoodle narrator, ends up in several different shelters. As part of my research, I visited our local animal shelter and interviewed the animal control officer, a compassionate woman with a difficult job. The visit to the place was sobering enough. Long rows of sad and desperate canine faces peered out at me from behind their cages. And during the interview, I learned some alarming statistics. A dog who ends up in a shelter with no ID has half of the allotted time in a shelter as one with identification. That time frame can be very short, sometimes only a few days if the dog is deemed unadoptable and the shelter is crowded.
An unsurprising headline from http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/shelterchip.htm states “Microchips Result in High Rate of Return of Shelter Animals to Owners.” How high? According to the article, based on researched published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 20 times higher for cats, and 2.5 times higher for dogs. Even so, the study found that “no animal identification is more effective than a tag on a collar that includes the pet’s name and the owner’s phone number.”
An ID tag with a phone number costs about $7 at our local PetSense. It’s inexpensive enough that I buy several to put on spare collars, so that if Shadow’s collar gets wet or, say, skunked, (it can happen!) he’s always has ID.
But here’s the thing about microchips and ID tags: the contact information needs to be current. If your microchip registration lists an address you moved away from three years ago, or the number on an ID tag has since been disconnected, it won’t help your pet at all.
“Often we scan the microchip, but the address has changed and we have no way of contacting the owner,” said the control officer.
As soon as I finished my interview, I rushed home to double-check that all the information listed on my dog’s license and microchip were up to date. They were, but I decided it was worth my peace of mind to schedule a call to Avid every year and make sure. Because I don’t want Shadow to have the experiences Doodle has in Dog-Nabbed. Or worse.
In the excerpt below, Doodle has been taken from one shelter only to land in another.
So, all in all, this new shelter is a much better place. Still, when I burrow down into the sweet-smelling wood shavings at the end of the day, my nose filled with the scents of new people, new dogs, new surroundings, I wish I were back with Molly and the boss.
Suddenly that longing for Molly, for the boss, for home, cannot be contained. I sit up and let out a long, mournful howl. Which might have been a mistake because some of the other dogs respond with howls of their own. And of course I have to answer them. And they have to answer back. Pretty soon we’re howling up a storm, almost sounding like a pack of coyotes, except instead of howling at the moon on a frosty night, free to roam at will, we’re stuck in our cages.
The side door opens and yellow light floods the barn. “Hey guys, take it easy,” Henry grumbles. “It’ll get better for y’all. I promise. Go to sleep.”
And then it’s dark again, and we all curl down into our bedding for the night.
Doodle, of course, has the author on his side, and I don’t think it’s too much a spoiler to say things work out for him in the end.
But a dog without ID? That story rarely has a happy ending.
Susan J. Kroupa is a dog lover currently owned by a 70 pound labradoodle whose superpower is bringing home dead possums and raccoons and who happens to be the inspiration for her Doodlebugged books. She’s also an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, and in a variety of professional anthologies, including Bruce Coville's Shapeshifters. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, and American Forests.
She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia, where she’s busy writing the next Doodlebugged mystery. You can find her books and read her blog at http://www.susankroupa.com and visit her Amazon Author page at http://amazon.com/author/susankroupa.