Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lassie Come Home


By Bonnie Dalzell, MA Copyrigh 2010

Reprinted with permission of the Author

Web pages:

June 5, 2010.

I originally put this essay together in 1996. There have been a number of advances in technology since then, but dog still get lost.

From a practical point of view the most useful tech tools that have come along to aid in FINDING your lost dog are the cell phone and, if you can afford it, GPS (Global Positioning System) dog collar tracking devices.

The GPS collar is of use if there is already one on the dog, so as with microchips and tattoos, one needs to plan ahead and have one on the dog.

Since you may be reading this essay because your dog has become lost I will cover strategies for locating a lost dog first. Preventative measures will be later on.

I breed, own and sell Borzois. Borzois are basically large winterized greyhound type dogs from Russia. One of the prominent attributes of the breed is that they really really like to run away if they get loose. Then they are so far from home that they do not know how to come back. Successful Borzoi owners are paranoid about the dogs getting loose. Thus I have probably experienced looking for more lost dogs than you will own in a lifetime. Since cell phones we are getting a lot more of them back.

Your dog is missing. First thing is to make sure that everyone you recruit to help find the dog has a cell phone, and that you have a cell phone and give your home phone number and your cell phone number to all the people you contact about the lost dog. Have an in-car cell phone charger so your cell phone stays charged.
Did your dog have ID materials? If there was a rabies tag, alert your vet. If a county license, alert animal control.
In addition to the county animal control shelter they may be PRIVATE SHELTERS in the area where the dog was lost.
 is best to contact all shelters within an hour's drive.
Run a newspaper ad. Describe the dog, don't rely just on breed name if it is an unusual breed. Find out what the common name for your type of dog is in the area. For example in Baltimore many people call German Shepherd dogs 'K9 DOGS'. State: 'reward for information leading to return'. Don't pay reward unless you get the dog back.

Leave a critical detail out of the ad so that you can see if the person has the dog by seeing if they can mention the detail. Don't ask 'does he have a blue collar' ask, what color collar does he have?

Be careful about blackmail scams in response to your ads. A common scam is for a person to say they are a long distance trucker who picked the dog up, that the dog is now in Chicago and they want you to wire them money so that the dog can be shipped back to you. Don't fall for scams. You are emotionally very vulnerable right now. The way I have dealt with the "trucker scam" (the scammers generally call more than once) is to contact a friend in the area the "trucker" claims to be in and then when the "trucker" calls a second time to say that I have a contact in the "trucker's" city who has the reward ready to pay the "trucker" and all he has to do is go (with the dog) to meet the contact and be given the money.

Most dogs are found within a mile or two of where they were lost. Left to themselves they often backtrack their own scent to where the last saw you.

Many times helpful people take the dog in but do not know how to contact an owner looking for the dog.

They may be afraid to get close enough to look at the tags. They may know nothing about dog breeds and so not know how to interpret your posters, newspaper ads, etc.

They may think the dog was abused and not want to try and return it. This is especially common with found sighthounds, modern thin shepherds and shy dogs in general. In addition dogs with long coats who have been loose for a couple of days frequently become very matted and dirty. People who find such dogs often think the matting is a sign of owner neglect.

Make a poster with a picture of the dog. If you do not have a good picture of your dog then use a good picture of a similar dog. Best are two pictures one from the front and one from the side showing the entire dog with a person present to give scale. The best posters are to the point and the font is a plain font done in a size so the header of the poster can be read from 4 or 5 feet away.

Make sure you describe the dog the way you would to a child who knows nothing about dog breeds. Additional descriptive terms also may help such as: Head comes up to the hip on an adult.


[Sample poster]
Lost DOG Last Seen [Name of Last Location] on: Address Road, City, State] DATE LOST - this is important.

Pictures - color if you can afford the color photocopying

(use a laser printer or a Xerox printer if the posters are going to be posted out side. Ink jet print can run in the rain.)

Describe dog - breed, size, color, sex.

Don't just say: large - say: 27 inches and 100lbs.

If it is almost anything other than the 5 commonest breeds in your area - describe it in terms of how it looks. Most people will not know what a rare Transylvanian Bat Hound looks like. Also do not use the term "rare breed" in your description because in the US "rare breed" tend to make people think "expensive dog".

State "Dog is on medication" [You give your dog heart worm preventative and or flea control don't you?]


Cell phone numbers and home numbers to contact.

[ end sample poster ]

Distributing posters.

If you have similar dogs or know people with dogs similar to yours try and recruit them to distribute the posters, Walk around the neighborhood where the dog was last seen handing them out. Be polite. Let people admire the sample dogs you have with you (this means the sample dogs need to be friendly of course). If it is legal in your area post the posters on phone poles and bulletin boards. Take them to the local official shelter and to any private shelters in the area.


Do not rely on phoning a description of your lost pet to the shelters. Someone who can recognize the pet should visit all the local shelters on a 3 day cycle. Most shelters allow you to post your posters. Make sure you see all the dogs at the shelter.

Most jurisdictions have laws that limit the time a dog is in a shelter. After that time has passed the dog becomes the property of the shelter and can be re-homed, euthanized or otherwise disposed of.

This is one reason why your cycle of shelter visits needs to be shorter than the time span that is legal for recovery of the dog. The owner can have major problems if the dog escaped while the owner is out of town and cannot return within this rather short period.

Tragically one of the things that can happen to an escaped dog is that it is hit by a car. Many shelters and or county highway departments do keep a log of dead dogs that are recovered from roads and highways.


Surprisingly some dogs actually find their way home. Usually this is a dog who has been walked into the neighborhood where it was lost from its home but I have had two escaped Borzois find their way home from 10 miles away. Of course in my 40+ years with Borzoi I have had 3 times as many NOT find their way home.

Mst dogs when lost do not roam more than a mile from where they were lost and they often return to the place they escaped from. Of course if a person has found the dog this does not happen.

If the dog is lost in a suburban or rural setting leaving a garment you have worn, such as a dirty tee shirt tied to a tree may encourage the dog to stay near the garment if it comes back to the area where it is lost. Many lost dogs seem to go into hiding for 7 to 10 days and then reappear around 10 days later so it is important to not give up your search after only a few days.


The more media coverage you can get on the lost pet the better. Obviously, place an ad in the lost and found section of local papers. In small communities you may be able to get an interview with local news media.


There are some free Internet WEBSITES for lost dogs:


I personally had a successful experience with which is now part of I am in Maryland. A neighbor found a completely clipped down Norwegian Elkhound (the local shelter thought it was a German shepherd cross). I posted pictures at I was contacted by a man from Connecticut whose Norwegian Elkhound had been stolen a year before. I was dubious that this was the same dog but we sent detailed photos and he drove down. We have a boarding kennel. I had several people present in the grooming room and we all had treats for the dog and were giving the dog the treats. When the man walked in I had him go into a different room without treats while we continued to offer the dog treats. The dog quickly abandoned us to go to the other room and was demonstrably more affectionate to the man than he had been to any of us.

Post to breed specific mailing lists for your dog breed. However make the post like your poster: to the point.

Subject line should contain Lost Dog, breed, state, city, date of loss

Body of post can have pictures included and should describe location and dog early in post, details of how he was lost and how to ID him a bit later. Keep back some small detail incidentally (see scam discussion below).


Tragically some dogs are not lost but stolen, or they were lost and the people finding them decided to keep them. In most places it is not legal to keep a strayed dog unless one goes through certain procedures to demonstrate that the dog is an unowned stray or that the owner does not want it back. This is a legal matter and laws will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If in doubt you will need to seek local legal council. Communities in which dogs are no longer "owned" but where the humans are legally "guardians" may present a problem. Again this can vary with jurisdiction.

I recovered one of my escaped Borzois 6 months after her escape because the people who had her finally let her out in their fenced yard during the day and one of my friends was driving by and recognized her.

The more extensive your preparation for identifying your dog has been (see Prevention section later on) the stronger your claim that the dog is yours will be.


(1) Identification:

If your dog escapes and is picked up by some one your ability to reclaim the dog may be limited if there is no identification with the dog

No one cares if you think of your dog as a child in fur clothing and think that collars and id tags are a mark of enslavement. If the dog removes itself from your presence it needs to be identifiable or you may not get it back.

Methods of identification that can aid recovery:

If you look around the Internet you will undoubtedly find articles written claiming (with various degrees of demonstrable evidence) that there are dangers of each one of these methods of ID. Collars snag and choke, tattoos are not painless to receive, microchips allow the government to track you movements or are a source of cancer, etc

I personally would rather have my dog identified than have no ID on it.


A collar worn for purposes of identification must stay on the dog as long as it is in a situation where it could get lost. Don't use a chain choke collar as the identification collar. A broad buckle collar is best. Safety collars designed to release if the dog gets the collar snagged on something are important for the dog's safety but the can leave the dog with no ID. Also in rare instances such a collar can unsnap when a dog pulls on a leash. freeing the dog. They should not be used as the dog's leash control collar.

A collar or harness can have a phone number embroidered on, or written on, or on a plate riveted on collar. (No tag to get lost but collar can still get off dog). The collar bearing identification should be fastened snugly enough that it does not slip off over the dog's head when it is grasped by a person. IMPORTANT: if you write the number on the collar with an indelible pen you need to check it on a regular basis and refresh the writing. However using an indelible pen can let you provide a phone number when you do not have time to order an embroidered collar.

For embroidery you will probably need a single thickness flat fabric collar. If you take the collar to a local place to be embroidered - write the phone number on the outside surface of the collar or it might end up on the inside surface. After many years the embroidery may wear away.

Collar or harness with identification tags, dog license tags and rabies tags. Having your dog current on its rabies shots and licensed is an enormous aid in recovering the dog should it be picked up by animal control.

Check your dog's tags regularly. They can be lost, they can become unreadable with wear.

Common tags worn on the collar are:

rabies tag
dog license
individualized identification tag


Tattoos have a number of disadvantages. Hair can grow over them and obscure them, they can fade or spread with age (so you need to check them on a regular basis) . the number on the tattoo may be difficult to interpret. "Is that a Z or a 2". Some tattooed combinations of letters or numbers may read upside down. Finally - just what registry do you contact about the tattoo?

The biggest problem with tattoos in my opinion is that when they are on the belly of the dog, some dogs may object to being rolled over by strangers to be examined for the tattoo. This can result in the dog biting someone or in the shelter delaying looking for the tattoo until two of the busy shelter employees have enough time to examine the dog.


These are one of the current "tech" solutions to dog identification. The number on the RFID Microchip (Radio Frequency Identification) is then registered with a national registry of such chips. The frustrating thing about RFID pet identification is that numerous competing commercial companies are in the RFID pet chip registry business so there is NO single definitive national registry of such chips in the US. The AKC (American Kennel Club), Canadian Kennel Club and United Kennel Club also have registries for microchips. The advantage of these registries is that the organizations are non-profits and they each have been around for well over 100 years. Registration of an animal's ID with AKC CAR (AKC Companion Animal Recovery) is NOT directly linked to registration of the animal with the AKC stud book or registry to compete in AKC events. AKC CAR will register any ID number associated with any dog. This means tattooed numbers and any type of micro chip. The AKC CAR fee is a one time, lifetime fee. Some of the other chip registries are asking for annual fees.

Make sure the local shelters have scanners that can read the type of microchip you are thinking of putting in your dog.

In my personal experience the major problem with microchips is the proliferation of different chip types and chip registries (see Microchip Wars below). Although universal readers are now available many shelters and vet offices are not equipped with such universal readers. Microchips will show up on a radio graph and can be surgically removed.

This is a link to a set of references I have accumulated in relation to what I call "The Microchip Wars".

The pages called "The Max Microchip Project" give the best overview although they are now out of date, there are scanners available that can read all the chips sold in the US, The Trovan Scanner sold by AKC CAR being one of them. This still leaves the problem of no central phone service where a single call can be made to locate the information about a given micro chipped dog based on chip number.

However microchips are very useful in enabling you to prove that a particular dog is indeed your dog, and this can be important should you locate your lost dog in the possession of another person who claims that the dog is theirs.

The microchips are readable even in a dead, frozen animal or in an animal that is fairly far gone in decomposition (as long as the chip is still with the body).


The most certain method for individual ID is a DNA profile. This does not give instant ID of course because a second DNA profile would need to be run to confirm ID. But for legal claim on a found dog whose ownership is in dispute, this is the strongest claim.

GPS Dog collars.

(GPS Animal Tracking:

(about GPS see :

Currently this is moderately expensive and of course if the collar comes off or the batteries die you cannot locate the dog. The technology is similar to that in cell phones. This can lead to almost immediate location of a recently escaped pet. Some of the services allow you to set a "safety zone" such as your yard, and if the dog is taken outside of the safety zone the service phones you to tell of the escape. The owner has control of the safety zone which can be changed if the dog is in a different location.

To find vendors of these devices go to Google or Yahoo and do a search on "GPS Dog tracking collar". This is a developing industry and I am sure the products will come down in price fairly rapidly. Some of the products are similar in function to cell phones with built in tracking ability so the tracking is tied to a subscription service, others are stand alone. Of course since it is a collar the tracking service is most useful for a dog that is loose and has not slipped its collar. If a person finds the dog and removes the collar then the service no longer works.


The Canadian kennel club experimented with nose prints as a method of individual dog ID. They dropped this in favor of microchips and tattoos several years ago. There are now companies marketing this method. As with human finger prints the main problem would be having computer technology to read the nose print and related it to stored identification records.

(2) Legal Aspects related to dog recovery.

To make a "Dog ID Kit":

You should take a series of good photos of your dog. Standing side view of each side, standing front and rear views and front and side head close ups. Note any unusual markings or scars. Take close-ups of those also.

Make several hard copy sets of these photos and keep one in your safe deposit box.

If the dog is a puppy, take these pictures every two months until maturity. On a mature dog you should update the picture set at least every two years.

Keep copies of all of the paperwork associated with your buying or adopting your dog in this kit. Also a set of the current vet shot records and any certificates of spaying or castration.


As with everything else health related there are dog owners who will not have their dog vaccinated against rabies. Unfortunately since rabies is a serious human health threat there are laws mandating rabies vaccinations in most states.

The balance of this essay assumes that you are willing to have your dog vaccinated against rabies. If you are not just hope that your dog never gets picked up by animal control and skip the rest of this section.

Make sure the RABIES shots are current for the LOCALITY where the dog is travelling.

Although there is veterinary research to support the possibility that a three shot series may give life time protection for dogs from rabies, state and local laws can mandate different regulations in relation to rabies. These laws may prevent you from recovering a lost dog should it escape and be recovered by the local Animal Control.

The Rabies Challenge Fund site has information on current problems with rabies vaccination laws;

The Rabies Challenge Fund

You should note that this is a controversial matter. The incidence of negative reactions to rabies vaccinations, while low, is higher in small dogs than in large breeds. However rabies is a very real threat to dog and human health, especially in areas where rabies is prevalent in the wild life. My state of Maryland is one such state. In 2007 three people at one of our local hiking areas had to receive preventative vaccines because of exposure to a rabid beaver. ( . The beaver could just as easily bitten a dog hiking with its owners. If that happened and the dog was unvaccinated the state law mandates euthanasia of the dog, if the dog was previously vaccinated then only a quarantine would be necessary

In 2009 a horse was euthanized for rabies in the next county to the east of me, resulting in a 45 day quarantine of the entire farm. Wise horse owners get their horses immunized against rabies.

Going to the Internet and searching for "rabid [your location]" may reveal some sobering news.

Collars and Tags are a reliable way to identify your dog.

A collar worn for purposes of identification must stay on the dog as long as it is in a situation where it could get lost. Don't use a chain choke collar as the identification collar. A broad buckle collar is best. The collar bearing identification should be fastened snugly enough that it does not slip off over the dog's head when it is grasped by a person.

Common tags worn on the collar are:

rabies tag
dog license
individualized identification tag

Check your dog's tags regularly. They can be lost, they can become unreadable with wear. In addition to identification tags you can use a indelible pen to write a phone number on the collar itself. You can order broad buckle nylon collars with your phone number stitched into the collar.

Tattoos on Dogs

Common places for tattoos are the ears and the inside of the hind legs or the belly. Clip away the hair to read the tattoos. It is easiest to read inside hind leg tattoos and belly tattoos with two people. Lie the dog on its side. Stroke it and calm it. Then gently lift the hind leg to examine the belly and thigh. Have the other person holding the dog's head and continuing to calm it.


A common scenario is for a concerned person to find a dog roaming free and take it in, then look for the owner. How do you find the owner?

The very first thing is: do not leave the area where you found the dog until you have asked many people in the area if they recognize the dog. Many dogs do not wander far. Post a notice near where you found the dog with a description and your contact information.

If you find a dog with a collar and tags you can expect to gain the following information from the tags:

Dog license:

This tells you the location in which the dog is licensed. There will be a license number. If you can read it, phoning animal control in the county and state of issue should enable you to get the owner's name, address and phone number.

Most animal offices are only open during working hours, during the work week.

Rabies tag:
Rabies tag number.
The year that the rabies shot was given.
Name and address of veterinary clinic that gave the rabies shot.

When you phone the veterinary clinic make sure they match the year of the vaccine up with the rabies tag number. These tag numbers are recycled each year and you can get the wrong owner and dog if they match the number up for the wrong year.

Personal ID tag

Generally these have the address of the owner of the dog.

Occasionally you will get a tag with a kennel license number on it. These will also have an individual dog identification number. You may have to contact the county to see what kennel was issued that license number.

Here are several national organizations now that register tattoos.

AKC will help with dogs tattooed with the AKC number or micro chipped and registered with them.

An AKC number normally has two letters then 6 digits and a two digit trailer.


HM 010101-01 or HM 010101/01 or HM 01010101.

National Dog registry has an 800 number:

1 800 NDR DOGS (1 800 637 3647)

Usually people register their social security number with the NDR. However they will register any number so it is a good idea to give them a call.

ID Pet

ID pet numbers normally begin with an "X'.
ID pet phone numbers are: 1 800 243 9147 or 1 203 327 3157

National Greyhound Association

This is the registry for racing greyhounds.
Racing greyhounds are always identified by tattoos in their ears. A racing greyhound has tattoos in both ears. The right ear tattoo is a two or three digit number followed by a letter. The month of birth is indicated by the first one or two digits, the year of birth within the decade by the last digit. The letter is the individual identification within the litter. The left ear tattoo is a five digit number which is the hound's litter number.

An example of an NGA tattoo:

Right ear = 123E
Left ear = 45678

The National Greyhound Association registration department is normally very helpful. Their phone number is 1 913 263 4660.

Canadian Kennel Club

Dogs bred in Canada and registered with the Canadian Kennel Club are generally tattooed in one ear or the flank. The tattoo is made up of three parts. First is a three character letter-number sequence which is the identification code of the breeder. This is followed by a number which is generated sequentially and refers to the number of dogs the breeder has registered that year, this is followed by a letter representing the year the dog was born. These letters are determined by CKC and some letters are not used. The most significant part is the initial, three character letter-number sequence. This identifies the breeder.

An example of a CKC number: 7MR 1 C

Canadian Kennel Club address:
Canadian Kennel Club
Suite 100, 89 Skyway Ave
Etobicoke, Ontario M9W 6R4

Canadian Kennel Club phone number:
416 675 5511


Micro chipped dogs sometimes have a tattoo with a capital 'I' surrounded by a circle. The microchip is normally implanted in the loose skin over the dog's shoulders. They can migrate, however. Microchips must be read with a specialized microchip reader, an electronic device. This is passed down the dog's back. A number is read from the chip. This number is sent to the company maintaining the chip registration database and the name, address, phone number, etc. of the owner is then made available by that company. Currently there are several different companies manufacturing microchips. This has led to a multiplicity of registries for the chip numbers.

If you contact one of the major microchip registries the recovery person normally will give you the current phone numbers of the other major registries. Also county Animal Control Departments may have a list of chip numbers for licensed local dogs.

The chips cannot be easily removed from a living animal. The animal does not have to be turned upside down or clipped to read the chips. A terrified or vicious animal in a cage can still be scanned. The microchips are readable even in a dead, frozen animal or in an animal that is fairly far gone in decomposition (as long as the chip is still with the body).

(1) If you think the dog is pure bred, make sure you have a proper breed identification. Ask more than one person to help identify the breed. Often a veterinarian will have a poster showing common breeds. Remember that sometimes a common breed comes in an uncommon color. If the dog is at all unusual, it is a good idea to show the dog to a person who works with that breed in rescue.

For example, recently I was shown a large white dog that some quite responsible people had adopted from a shelter as a Great Pyrenees. They had continued to try an locate the owners. However I think the dog may be a Kuvasz which would mean that much of the effort in finding the owners would have been wasted.

(2) Before you jump to the conclusion that the dog was severely mistreated make sure you know the breed. Many people think perfectly normal Greyhounds, Whippets, Salukis and Borzois are starved. They decide not to look for the owner because of the perception of abuse. These dogs are naturally thin. Modern Irish Setters and German Shepherds can also be thin.

(3) Look in newspapers and call around to veterinarians and shelters in the AREA WHERE YOU FOUND the dog.

This may seem obvious but I know of people who have picked up a dog while on a trip and then looked in their own local paper, 100 miles away, to see of someone is advertising it as missing. Remember to post notices of your find in the area where you found the dog and to phone shelters in that area and to run ads in a newspaper local to where the dog was found.

(4) Accurately describe the dog in terms of breed (where possible), color, size, ear carriage, sex, coat length.

(5) Is the dog tattooed? Ask some of the local rescue groups if they can help you identify the tattoo number type. That is what registry might it be linked to?

copyright 2010 Bonnie Dalzell, MA
Bonnie Dalzell, MA
mail: 5100 Hydes Rd PO Box 60, Hydes,MD,USA 21082-0060
Freelance anatomist, vertebrate paleontologist, writer, illustrator, dog
breeder, computer nerd & iconoclast... Borzoi info at

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