Call it the curse of the good samaritan. But any animal lover who picks up an occasional stray -- which would be all animal lovers, of course -- knows that sure as dogs have four legs, any stray you find isn't going to be wearing an ID tag or license.
Sure it's easy to find the owner of a pet with current ID. You call the phone number. But what do you do if you have no idea where a pet calls home? You can check for an identifying tattoo, or get the pet scanned for a microchip by your veterinarian or local shelter. But these methods of ID are still fairly rare, so you might find yourself back where you started. One pet, lost.
Liz Blackman, self-described top dog at 1-800-HELP4PETS, has been dealing with lost and found pets for years, as an animal lover and as the owner of a business dedicated to helping pets get home safely. She has a soft spot for strays (she shares her life with three of them), and says that many people don't do even the most obvious things to find the owner of a lost pet they've found.
The most important, says Blackman, is to take the stray pet to the shelter.
"This is the hardest pill for a pet lover to swallow," she says. "But you have to think of the person who's looking for the pet. The owner has the best chance of finding their pet in a centralized site, and that's the shelter.
"You have to ask yourself what would you want somebody to do with your pet," she says. "It's better for a stray to be in a shelter than in someone's back yard. How can you find your pet in someone's back yard? If you lose a pet, you're going to look in the shelter."
Most shelters will allow a finder to place a hold on a pet, says Blackman. That way if time runs out for the animal, you can claim him yourself. You can then keep the animal, find a new home for him, or continue to look for the owner.
Sometimes the extra time is what the owner needs to make the connection.
Blackman says that people sometimes get the wrong idea from the start with a stray and assume that since the pet looks scruffy, it was abused or neglected by his owner. Because of a stray's appearance, some people won't even look for the owner. She points out that it doesn't take much time on the street for a pet to lose weight and get dirty.
"We had a client who asked our help in finding a new home for a dog she'd found," she says. "She didn't want to find the owner because the dog was in such bad shape she was sure the owners neglected the dog.
"We found the owners, and it turned out they were anything but abusive. The dog looked bad because she had recently undergone thousands of dollars in cancer treatment!"
If you've taken the animal to a shelter, that doesn't mean you have to stop trying to find the pet's owner. Place fliers where you found the pet, as well as in areas where animal lovers turn up -- pet stores, veterinary offices and dog parks. Don't forget to put fliers in area shelters other than the one to which you took the pet. Pets can travel a long distance, and the shelter nearest your house may not be closest to the one near the pet's home. Place "found" ads in the local newspapers, as well.
Blackman says it's important to leave out all but the most general details in the pet's description, and make the owners fill in the blanks when they call. That's because people who collect dogs for sale to laboratories or for use in dog-fighting have been known to claim lost pets as their own.
No one has any figures on how many lost pets are reunited with their owners, but the odds of a reunion increase dramatically if both the person who lost the pet and the one who found the animal are doing their best to set the situation straight.
PETS ON THE WEB
Don't be put off by that scaly tail and beady eyes -- rats are great pets! A enjoyable place to learn more about these smart and affectionate pets is the Web site Squeak: The Online Magazine of Rats and Their Humans (www.chirpy.com/squeak). The site contains care information, lots of pictures and stories, information on clubs, a reader survey with some peculiar percentages and links to the most rat-friendly places on the Net.
The cooler weather makes fall a great time to get out with your dog and go for a walk. Walking is good for your dog: It gets him out of the house and into the exciting world of new sounds, sights and smells, and it gets his heart pumping a little faster. It's good for you, too, because studies show that human interactions are increased when you walk a dog; you'll meet more neighbors than if you were by yourself. And it's good for you both, in that any shared activity strengthens the bond between you. What's not to love about walking the dog? Put on your shoes, find that leash and get going. But don't forget a few baggies so you can pick up after your dog. You want those interactions with your neighbors to be friendly, right?
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I am terribly upset because I love animals (especially cats), but my brother is allergic to them. I had heard about hypoallergenic cats, but when I went to a Web site to find some, the cats had really long necks and big heads. I want to know if you knew the names of some cats that look cuddly but are also hypoallergenic. -- S.C., via e-mail
A: I hate to disappoint you, but hypoallergenic cats do not exist. The curly-coated Devon Rex and Cornish Rex are often touted as being good for allergy sufferers, but it's not true. The idea probably comes from the fact that these light-coated (and kind of funny-looking) breeds shed little. But fur isn't what causes allergy problems. The allergic trigger is found in the saliva and glands of cats, and the problem is spread all over the cat and the house through normal grooming and rubbing. Even a good shake can put allergens in the air!
Although people with severe allergies probably will never be able to tolerate life with a cat, if you're not as severely affected, you might be able to manage it with a few adjustments.
The first step would be to get serious about allergies. Work with an allergist, even if she rolls her eyes because you won't give up your pet. Try to limit your exposure to other allergens, such as smoke and strong perfumes. Use a mask when mowing the lawn. Getting a handle on everything else that's bugging you may give you "breathing room" enough for a cat. Make your bedroom a totally "cat-free" zone. Sure, it's hard to give up the warmth of a cat on the bed, but if you let allergies disrupt your sleep you'll be miserable.
A final tip is one neither you nor your cat will want put in practice: a weekly rinse. Strange as it may seem, rinsing your cat weekly in plain water has been shown to help, too. It keeps the level of allergens down. No soap is necessary.
Q: I agree with what you say about choker collars. The problem is that I took my boxer, Sadie, to the vet the other day and discussed her "sensitive skin" problem. I have tried both a leather and cloth collar with her, and she still continues to get a pretty bad irritation on her neck from the metal on the collar.
The vet said that it was because of moisture retention in the collars (we live in South Florida). He recommends a choker collar because it will not retain moisture. I really don't feel comfortable with this change because of the dangers involved. What do you recommend? -- C.P., via the Internet
A: I would rather see no collar on your dog than to have you use a chain collar for everyday wear. It's just too dangerous.
If your dog was wearing a wide leather collar, try a rolled collar and go for a loose fit. Rolled leather collars are smooth and slender, and that might do the trick.
In the end, you may find that nothing will work, and that your dog will wear a collar only when out of the house. If that's the case, make sure your pet is microchipped, tattooed, or both, for more protection in case she gets lost.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to WriteToGina(at)YourPetPlace.com.
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