JAVMA, Vol 230, No. 2, January 15, 2007 Scientific Reports: Original Study 211
estimated that 36% of American households owned
dogs and 32% of American households owned cats.1
Not only are dogs and cats popular, but their owners
consider them part of the family. In the 2004 American
Animal Hospital Association Pet Survey, 50% of
respondents indicated they would choose a dog or cat
as their sole companion if stranded on a desert island,
and 56% said they would be very likely to risk their
lives to save their pets.2
A pet that strays from its home can be at serious
risk for starvation, injury, or death. Also, given the
strength of the human-animal bond and the emotional
attachment that many owners have to their pets, having
a pet stray from its home can be traumatic and distress-
ing for the owner. Thus, veterinarians may provide a
benefit to both their patients and their clients by coun-
seling pet owners on methods to prevent lost pets and
effective means to ensure the rapid recovery of pets that
do become lost. Traditionally, owners have identified
ogs and cats are enormously popular as companion
animals in the United States. In 2002, it was
Search and identification methods that owners
use to find a lost dog
Linda K. Lord, dvm, phd; Thomas E. Wittum, phd; Amy K. Ferketich, phd; Julie A. Funk, dvm, phd;
Päivi J. Rajala-Schultz, dvm, phd
From the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, College
of Veterinary Medicine (Lord, Wittum, Rajala-Schultz), and the
School of Public Health (Ferketich), The Ohio State University, Co-
lumbus, OH 43210; and the National Food Safety and Toxicology
Center, 165 Food Safety and Toxicology Building, East Lansing, MI
Supported by the Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust, a KeyBank
Presented in part at the Conference of Research Workers in Animal
Diseases Annual Meeting, St Louis, December 2005.
Address correspondence to Dr. Lord.
Objective—To characterize the process by which owners search for lost dogs and identify
factors associated with time to recovery.
Sample Population—Owners of 187 dogs lost in Montgomery County, Ohio, between
June 1 and September 30, 2005.
Procedures—A telephone survey was conducted.
Results—132 of the 187 (71%) dogs were recovered; median time to recovery was 2 days
(range, 0.5 to 21 days). Dogs were recovered primarily through a call or visit to an animal
agency (46 [34.8%]), a dog license tag (24 [18.2%]), and posting of neighborhood signs
(20 [15.2%]). Eighty-nine (48%) dogs had some type of identification at the time they were
lost (ie, identification tag, dog license tag, rabies tag, or microchip). Owners had a higher
likelihood of recovery when they called an animal agency (hazard ratio, 2.1), visited an ani-
mal agency (1.8), and posted neighborhood signs. Dogs that were wearing a dog license
tag also had a higher likelihood of recovery (hazard ratio, 1.6). Owners were less likely to
recover their dogs if they believed their dogs were stolen (hazard ratio, 0.3).
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggest that various factors are associated
with the likelihood that owners will recover a lost dog. Both animal agencies and veterinar-
ians can play a role in educating dog owners on the importance of identification tags, licens-
ing, and microchips and can help to emphasize the importance of having a search plan in
case a dog is lost. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2007;230:211–216)
their pets with tags on the pets’ collars and have placed
advertisements in newspapers or searched local animal
shelters to recover lost pets. Newer technology has led
to the use of implanted microchip identification meth-
ods and Web sites devoted to finding and returning lost
pets to their owners. However, the effectiveness of the
various methods available for recovering lost pets has
not been reported. The purposes of the study reported
here were to characterize the process by which owners
search for lost dogs and identify factors associated with
time to recovery of lost dogs.
Materials and Methods
Location of study—The study was conducted in
Montgomery County, Ohio, during 2005. At the time of
the study, the county had approximately 550,000 resi-
dents,3 of which 160,000 resided in the city of Dayton,4
and a single major newspaper, the Dayton Daily News.
At that time, each county in Ohio had a primary dog
warden who was responsible for handling stray dogs,5
and dogs were required to wear a county dog license
tag. The license tag had a number by which the county
dog warden could identify the owner of the dog, and
the county dog warden was required to hold all unli-
censed stray dogs for 3 days and all licensed stray dogs
for 14 days. Three major animal care and control agen-
cies operated in Montgomery County at the time of the
study: a dog warden agency that handled all stray dogs
for the county as well as stray cats for some city munici-
palities, and 2 nonprofit humane societies that handled
cats and owner-surrendered dogs and received reports
216 Scientific Reports: Original Study JAVMA, Vol 230, No. 2, January 15, 2007
only 89 of the 187 (48%) dogs had some identification
at the time they were lost, an opportunity exists for
increasing awareness of the importance of identifica-
tion. Both animal agencies and veterinarians can play
a role in educating dog owners on the importance of
identification tags, licensing, and microchips and can
help to emphasize the importance of having a search
plan in case a dog is lost.
a. Copies of the telephone survey are available from the corre-
sponding author on request.
Microsoft Office Access 2003, Microsoft Corp, Redmond, Wash.
Stata, version 9.1, StataCorp, College Station, Tex.
US pet ownership and demographics sourcebook. Schaumburg, Ill:
American Animal Hospital Association. 2004 pet owner survey.
Available at: www.aahanet.org/About_aaha/summary_of_results_
04.pdf. Accessed Jun 5, 2006.
US Census Bureau Web site. State and county quick facts. Mont-
gomery County population. Available at: quickfacts.census.gov/
qfd/states/39/39113.html. Accessed May 13, 2006.
Dayton, Ohio, detailed profile Web site. Available at: www.city-
data.com/city/Dayton-Ohio.html. Accessed May 13, 2006.
Lord LK, Wittum TE, Ferketich AK, et al. Demographic trends
for animal care and control agencies in Ohio from 1996 to 2004.
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:48–54.
Dillman DA. Mail and telephone surveys: the total design method.
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10. TMCnet Web site. Digital Angel introduces new universal
RFID scanner. Available at: www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2005/
nov/1204017.html. Accessed May 24, 2006.
11. Home Again Pet Recovery Service Web site. Available at: www.
homeagainid.com/. Accessed May 24, 2006.
12. Internet World Stats Web site. Available at: www.internetworld-
stats.com/america.htm. Accessed May 25, 2006.