My in-laws are often my window into the world of those who love and respect animals but are unconnected to the animal welfare world. They are what we in animal welfare refer to as “the general public.”
A while ago my in-laws told me a story about these two stray dogs they had found. It was early evening on a Saturday, and my in-laws were taking a stroll before heading to a party. One dog had a rope dragging and had wrapped himself around a tree. The second dog was standing just a few feet away. They untangled the dog and brought them both back to their home. They have a dog who is not fond of other dogs, so they just brought these 2 into their garage, gave them water and looked for ID. Finding none, they called around to the local vets and humane society, but did not get an answer. Unable to reach anyone, unable to confine the dogs easily, and late for the party, they did what they thought was the best thing -- they let the dogs go to hopefully find their way home.
Now… don’t be angry with my in-laws. They are incredibly kind, humane and caring people who tried to get these dogs home and they inspired me to conduct the research around ID ME. If those dogs simply had an ID tag with their pet parents address and phone number, they would have been reunited with their family immediately.
Stray dogs and cats represent a large percentage of the animals who enter the sheltering system. The Return to Owner (RTO) rate in most communities hovers between 10-30% for dogs and less than 5% for cats.
Many members of the general public view finding the owners of lost pets an important task, and one well worth taking on. In fact, some great recent research by Dr. Linda Lord overwhelmingly (87% of finders) “considered it extremely important to find the owner.” Tragically, often the owner is not found.
The recovery of lost dogs and cats differs, with dog owners more likely to find their companions at an animal welfare organization, and cat owners more likely to have their pets return home on their own or found in the neighborhood. For both dogs and cats, ID increases the likelihood of recovery.
The use of a simple ID tag that includes the name, phone number and address of the guardian would support community return of a lost pet. Ideally, lost pets with ID tags should never enter the sheltering system, as they are returned directly by the finder who calls the guardian’s number clearly displayed on the tag. This means we could decrease intake by increasing the use of simple ID tags.
I developed the ID ME research to investigate tag use – why are folks not tagging their pets, and what are their thoughts around tagging – and ultimately decrease stray intake and increase community return of pets. Through easy access to tags and collars, as well as providing the service of placing the tag directly on the pet, the research will raise awareness, and increase the behavior of tagging pets.
With help and consultation from the Humane Research Council, we conducted the ID ME research in Oklahoma City (one of our ASPCA Partnership communities), and our partners at the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division , the Central Oklahoma Humane Society , and OK Humane Place spay/neuter clinic did a remarkable job assisting us with the project. The study design was to collect baseline survey information from pet guardians who brought their pet to either a s/n clinic or one of 4 participating vet clinics, and to then impact those folks with an ID tag intervention – by providing an ID ME brochure and placing a tag (and collar if needed) directly onto their pet. We then followed up with these folks with a phone call about 6 weeks post-intervention.
Our study also included a population that had just adopted a dog or cat from either OKC animal welfare or Central Oklahoma Humane. These folks did not take the baseline survey (as their pets were new), but they received a collar and ID tag (with their contact info, not the shelter’s) and we did also call them 6 weeks post-adoption.
The results surprised us in that we were more successful than we thought we would be!
- 33% of pet guardians in the baseline survey reported that their pet wears an ID tag all the time.
- In the follow-up post-intervention, 73% reported that their pets now wear ID tags. How great to know that once the tag was on, most guardians were keeping it on their pets!
- Of those who had just adopted their pet, 89% had the ID tag on at the six-week follow-up call.
- And here is where I get the chills: We asked on the follow-up if the pet had been lost since the intervention -- and if so, did the guardian recover the pet, and what contributed to the recovery... Ten pets were recovered because of the tag we provided them!
Even while we are conducting research, the ASPCA is saving lives!
Why do I think we were so successful? - Well… One of our survey questions might hold the answer: When asked how important wearing an ID tag is, 48% said “extremely important,” and 32% said “very important” -- with only 4% saying it was not at all important. Now remember, only 33% of folks had tags on their pets all of the time... So my hypothesis is that their attitude about tagging was already changed. We just needed to make the behavior easy enough to do -- in this case, actively making and placing the tag on their pet for them.
We are now working on the next phase of the research and intervention. Now that we have data to support that folks keep the tags on, that the tags assist in recovery, and that pet parents think tagging is important, we need to develop a large-scale intervention that gets the tags directly onto the pets of a large population and measures impact at the animal control level. Stay tuned!
ASPCA Vice President, Equine Welfare
Dr. Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB, oversees strategic direction of the ASPCA Equine Welfare program, a part of the ASPCA's Anti-Cruelty Group. Weiss is a lifelong horse owner and trainer and has conducted research regarding adoption and rehoming of horses. Recently, she began leading the ASPCA's collaboration with The Right Horse Initiative, a collective of industry professionals and equine welfare advocates working to improve the lives of horses in transition by increasing training opportunities for horses and promoting adoption. Weiss leads efforts such as a pilot program with veterinarians and global animal health company Zoetis to provide access to vital veterinary care and increase the likelihood horses can remain in their homes. She also served as the ASPCA’s VP of Research & Development, overseeing research related to the animal sheltering field and developing assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Before that she created training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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