As disasters go, this one hardly rates a mention. The howling winds of our winter storms have rocked the twin pines in my yard, have made the dogs soggy, the lawn boggy, and filled my yard with pieces of what I uncharitably hope came from someone else's roof. But in the end, it was a 4-inch piece of dog-eared fence board that caused me the most grief.
It's hammered in tightly now, but when I saw it resting on the driveway as I drove up one day my heart danced a two-step in my chest. Could a dog have slipped through the gap? Thankfully no, but that one missing board gave me good reason to be grateful that if the whole fence had blown down and the dogs had been foolish enough to get off the front-room couch and explore the county, I had a decent chance of getting them back.
I am prepared, and you should be, too.
A pet can become missing at any time. I've had readers tell me enough stories to know it's true. Like the indoor cat who fell out a first story window when the screen she was leaning on gave way. Or the dogs who slipped away after the contractor, youngest daughter, next-door neighbor or father-in-law didn't latch the gate carefully. And then of course there are natural disasters -- little ones like blown-down fences and big ones like floods, hurricanes and earthquakes.
Figure your pet will one day be lost, and you'll always be ready.
Since your pet can't speak, the first thing you need is ID to speak for him. The basics: collar and ID tag. Got them already? Good. Now check to be sure the information is current. I got caught in this trap a short while ago when ordering a tag for the new dog, Heather. I checked what I had on the other two dogs' collars and realized there was a phone number for a place I'd left months ago. Instead of one tag, I ordered three.
Even if the information on your pet's tag is current, make sure it's readable. Some plastic tags wear down, and the grooves of metal ones seem to get filled with grime. If you can't read it, or clean it enough to make it readable, order a new tag. They're the cheapest insurance you'll ever buy.
Important as they are, collars and tags should be supplemented by permanent ID such as a microchip implants. Most shelters and many veterinarians have scanners that pick the numbers off the tiny devices, which are inserted in the loose skin between the shoulder blades on dogs and cats. For years companies produced equipment that couldn't read any chips except their own, but now scanners will pick up the presence of any chip. After your pet is chipped, register the number so people can find you if they find your pet; the person who chips your pet should have sign-up information.
One more step in your lost-pet preparations: Take your camera out and shoot a whole roll of pictures of your pet -- then ask for double prints. You'll need these to put on fliers if your pet ever becomes lost.
Should the worst happen, don't waste time hoping your pet will wander home. Put fliers everywhere you can and place a "lost" ad in the newspaper. Scan the neighborhood, watch "found" ads, and check the shelters every other day in person (phone calls don't cut it because the staff is just too busy to know every pet in the place). Don't give up too soon; pets have been found weeks after their disappearance. If your pet left outfitted for the worst, chances are you'll get him back.
If you're lucky, you'll never have to face the sorrow of having your pet go missing. But if you do, knowing you've done everything you can to keep your pet safe is the only thing that will help you and your pet. In this game, you make your own luck.
Pets on the Web: Looking for the nearest college of veterinary medicine? Try the Veterinary Medicine Educational Network, or VetNet (http://www.vetnet.ucdavis.edu/vetnet.html). The site offers a clickable map of all the veterinary colleges in the United States and Canada, and links to the home pages of each school.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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