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October 2012

The Importance of a Well-Identified Pet



A couple of months ago, I received a panicked phone call from my husband. Ricky (Yes –THE Ricky) was missing. The only one who was happy about that was Howie the Maltese, who just got a reprieve from grooming as I was now heading home to help look for Ricky.

Could you imagine Ricky in a cold, impersonal kennel with no way of coming home? It is a sad fact that only 15% of dogs and 2% of cats will go back home once they reach a shelter. With over one million lost or stolen pets every year, what can you do to assure their safe return?  A well-identified pet has a better chance of returning home.

Pets can become lost or stolen when their surroundings remain unsecured; an unlatched gate, an open window or a door left ajar. They can disappear when left unattended; in a car while you shop or left in a yard by themselves. We think Ricky took off after a deer while left unsupervised in the yard. The electronic fence or collars are not operating properly, allowing your pet to leave your property. Thunderstorms or fireworks can cause your pet to panic and run away. Winter snowstorms can challenge your pets’ sense of direction causing him to lose his way. In an emergency or natural disaster, your pets can get lost in the confusion.

There are 3 ways to identify your pets: tags, tattoos and microchips.

Tags have the advantage of an instantaneous return if the tag information is current. I recommend using 2 phone numbers on the tag. A landline and a cell number greatly improve the chances of immediate contact. Especially if you are out and about looking for your pet as opposed to being at home. Tags can become worn and the information illegible. A good quality tag is worth the investment.

Tags can fall off a collar. Collar tags are an alternative to hanging tags. They cannot fall off or become caught on something. Another option is collars with phone numbers embroidered on them. Though, in the event of theft, tags and collars can be removed. Also, they are only effective if they are wearing it. Ricky was NOT wearing his collar.

A tattoo is a series of numbers and/or letters in ink. It is a permanent identification.  Common areas tattooed include the ears, groin and belly. A tattoo is useless unless the number is registered with a national database. Once registered, you need to keep the information current. There are 2 registries. The first is the American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery. Their website is The second is the National Dog Registry. Their website is What I like about the NDR is that you can empower them to authorize emergency medical care in case contact with you is not immediate. Bernie Rogers of “S-Keemos Kennels” has this to say about NDR, “NDR was the crucial link to the safe return of my Staffie, Ruck. She was tattooed and registered with them, as were all my dogs. There was an occasion when I left the dogs in the care of a pet sitter and Ruck “managed” her way out of my yard. The sitter was afraid to call me, and still searching for her, when Ruck was hit by a city bus. A Good Samaritan transported her to an Animal Emergency Hospital. The hospital proceeded to contact NDR, and received permission to initiate treatment. NDR, not only contacted me immediately, but both of my back-up contacts as well. Ruck and I were reunited with-in hours, before I had even grasped the full situation. She recuperated 100%. ”

The problem with tattoos can be visibility.  If the groin or belly is furry, then the tattoo may go unnoticed. The area needs to be shaved. Laboratories cannot accept branded animals. Tattoos are a brand. Unscrupulous people interested in selling your pet to an animal testing laboratory will remove the tattoo, along with the ear.

Micro Chipping is the implantation of a biocompatible glass encased RFID microchip. The RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification Device. The chip is embedded in the upper neck region. A microchip scanner reads and decodes the radio transmission. The code is specific to the pet and to the microchip company. The microchip cannot be removed without surgery.

The problem with micro chipping is no standard exists in the United States. There are 3 frequencies: 125 kHz, 128 kHz and 134.2 kHz. A universal micro scanner is needed to identify all microchip frequencies. Recently, the micro chipping companies have been getting on board with a universal standard. Too many animal shelters and Animal Control Officers do NOT have one. The Coalition of Reuniting Pets and Families reports less than 25% of micro chipped pets are reunited with their families in the United States. In Europe, where they have adopted 134.2 kHz as a standard: the rate of reunited pets is at 47%. The cost of a new universal micro scanner is around $400 and would make a useful Christmas present for your local shelter. The other problem is people who do not register the microchip or keep up the yearly renewal with the company. Craig Simone of the Danbury Animal Control Office says, “I hate to tell you how many times we find a micro chipped dog and could not return it to its owner because they did not register the chip.” Ricky is micro chipped. His information is current with the company and they have a current photo of him in case flyers need to go out.

There is no one foolproof method for identifying your pet. A well-identified pet has a better chance of returning home.

Ricky was found shortly afterwards by a kindly neighbor who recognized him and brought him home.








The Importance of Snout To Tail Assessments

When I look back on my life, there have been days that ended up as turning points in my life. One such date was April, 9, 2004. That was the day Binngo; a nine year old maltese, died from a heart attack on my grooming table. Many changes were made including beginning each groom with an assessment. It has been just about eight years now and still I begin each session with a pet assessment. A pet assessment is where I go from head to tail with deliberate intent and purpose to determine if they are healthy enough to groom. There may have been changes since the last time I saw them, especially if this is an older pet. On more than one occasion, I have rescheduled a groom due to problems found during the assessment. There is no amount of income that could compensate for the mental anguish over the loss of a pet. I know, because I have been there.


For new clients, the assessment should be done with the owner present. You want all preexisting conditions noted before the owner leaves. You do not want to be blamed for something that was there before hand and also serves to reduce “misunderstandings” between yourself and the client. In addition, during the assessment the owner sees how well their pet handles being handled. It presents a good opportunity to educate your clients on pet care and offer and charge for needed extra services. I have always found that educated clients are good clients. The added benefit is that this assessment demonstrates to the pet owner a level of professionalism that sets you apart from your competition.


I first look at the pet overall. Is he bouncy with bright eyes? Or is he lethgaric, coughing, or having trouble breathing? Are his eye dull? Coughing may be an indicator of kennel cough, respiratory infections, canine influenza, or a heart condition. Add in runny noses and eyes and you have a serious health concern. None of which you want in your facility. Watch them walk. Does he appear to be in pain? The worse bite I ever received was from an arthritic golden retriever I was helping into my van.


If it is a cat, the two things I look for are dilated eyes and heavy panting. Both indicate stress and a cat under stress can have a heart attack fairly quickly. 


Before I touch a pet, I keep a muzzle close and my face at a distance. If I am uncomfortable or unable to touch him, he goes home. I will not risk my livelihood by a potentially career ending bite.


I start with the mouth. Gums should be pink except for those breeds with mottled or dark gums such as Chows Chows. A yellowish tinge in an indicator of liver failure. Bluish is hypoxic. There is no blood flow. And pale gums are an indicator of shock. Teeth in poor shape cause mouth pain, which in turn, creates snappy dogs. Take this opportunity to educate your clients on dental care. Do you offer dental products for sale?


Eyes should be bright and dilate equally. Unequal dilation or rapidly moving eyes are a sign of neurological problems. Hardened discharge may have irritated and raw skin underneath.


Foul odor, redness, discharge, and head shaking are all signs of an ear infection. I will not clean or pluck ears in this condition. Very thick looking ears may be a hematoma or severe matting. Use caution when removing severe matting from the ear as blood vessels could rupture as pressure from the matts is released.


Arthritis or leg injuries will cause pain when moved or touch. A pet in pain can bite. Pain in the spine can be neurological in origin.


Check pads for ingrown nails, debris, or cuts. Even well behaved pets may have feet issues. I groom a couple of pets that do not get their nails done.


If the belly area is distended or hard, refer to vet immediately as this could be a sign of bloat. It may be accompanied by drooling and a very uncomfortable looking pet.


Notes any lumps, bumps, cysts, and warts on their body. You do not want to shave them off during the groom. Check the skin for irritations, wounds, and parasites. Can you even see the skin? You have no idea what you will find once the matts are removed. I have found open sores than required veterinary treatment. 


The first time you perform a pet assessment it will take longer than that of an established client. I do not require the owner to be present during subsequent assessments. Only the first time. For me, it’s part of the greeting process. As I am saying hello to the pet and making kissy faces, I simply run my hands over his body and pay attention to body language.


Encourage your clients to continue this at home.  Their pet stands a better chance of recovery when problems are brought to light as early detection means early intervention. Recommend any concerns found followed up at their vet and keep notes on their client card. The assessment form I use can be requested at Pet Tech will allow you make as many copies as you like and give them to your clients. Just leave the Pet Tech logo intact. Barkleigh makes clients cards that you can keep notes on the pet for yourself.


I may have lost Binngo, but I gained a respect for not taking a pet’s health for granted.


*Note- This originally appeared in the December 2011 Groomer To Groomer and is reprinted with permission. This was the very first article I wrote for them.