Lost and found

Mary left her two cats in the care of a friend while she traveled. Mary and I crossed paths three weeks later when I called her from my animal hospital in Valley Cottage. I had finally located Mary—in Asia! You see, a Good Samaritan had found one of Mary’s cats alongside the road and brought him to me in the middle of the night. The cat was severely dehydrated and his skin was yellow, a sign that he had gone without food for at least several days. When I told Mary the news over the phone, she broke down in tears. How had her cat escaped from her home? Where was her friend who was supposed to be caring for her feline family? And, most concerning, where was her other cat?

Certainly, Mary’s questions make you wonder, “What would happen to my pets if they ran away from home?” Most pets in our area are not used to being outdoors on their own. However, should they become frightened by a loud noise in the house, or should they slip out of their collar to pursue a deer, they may find themselves lost in a big, scary world full of danger. Depending on the time of year, they may come to suffer from frostbite, hypothermia, or heat stroke. If they cross a street at the wrong time, the consequences can be fatal.

Lost pets may find themselves in precarious situations; if they are lucky, they may be found by a person who recognizes them and can reunite them with their family. Other times, the pet is taken in by a kind stranger, never to be seen by its original family again. Sometimes the lost pet is brought to a local veterinarian or shelter: this is the pet’s best chance to be reunited with his or her family.

All veterinarians and shelters will scan a lost pet for a microchip—a form of permanent identification that is easily implanted under the skin. The microchip has a number that is unique to that particular pet. The pet’s microchip number is kept in a database and is linked to the pet’s home address and owner’s contact information. Contacting the database and providing the pet’s micro- chip number will enable the shelter or veterinarian to contact the owner. All pets should be microchipped and the contact information (owner’s cell phone number and address) should always be kept up to date. Collars may come off, but microchips are permanent.

When the Good Samaritan brought Mary’s cat to my animal hospital, we scanned the poor kitty and were relieved to see that he had a microchip. I called the microchip company and they were able to give me Mary’s name, phone number, and address. Unfortunately, all of Mary’s information was outdated. With the help of the local phone book, the hospital staff contacted people in the area with the same last name. Luckily, we managed to contact one of Mary’s relatives who told us that Mary was away on a business trip in Hong Kong and gave us her current phone number, which is how I ultimately ended up calling Mary at 10pm Eastern Standard Time—10am Hong Kong Time.

We nursed Mary’s cat back to health over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, Mary’s relative went to Mary’s house and rescued the other cat that had been left all alone.

Mary and her cats were lucky. Thanks to a microchip no bigger than a grain of rice, we reunited her and her cats!

Dr. Downing has been a general practitioner and emergency veterinarian at the Valley Cottage Animal Hospital since 2005. As co-owner of the hospital, Dr. Downing oversees the emergency side of the practice. She grew up in upstate New York, completing her veterinary education at NY State Veterinary College at Cornell University. She was awarded her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 2004. Her professional interests include emergency medicine, ultrasonography and surgery.