Canine tattoo registry foils dognappers

September 13, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

JARRETTSVILLE -- The lady picked the wrong dog to steal.

But then she didn't figure Buster, a 2-year-old pug, would be wearing an unmistakable identification: a tattoo -- of the canine variety.

Michael Maans says he suspected the woman had stolen Buster from his Essex neighborhood, despite her denials. So he decided to play "doggie detective" last spring and put a tail on the suspect.

"I went to her home and watched, and sure enough, she came walking out with my dog on a leash," says Mr. Maans. "I ran up to her and said, 'You stole my dog, and I can prove it.'

"Her chin just dropped to the ground, and she handed me the dog. If I had not had him tattooed, I couldn't have gone up to her like that. She could even have accused me of stealing her dog."

She would have had a hard time, though, explaining the tiny tattoo on Buster's inner thigh. Not the swirling, multi-colored variety favored by heavy-metal bands, or a little red heart with "I love master" inked inside, but simply numbers and letters to identify Buster's ownership.

Thanks to U.S. FOUND, a Harford County-based pet registry that maintains a computerized record of more than 1,000 animals, Buster's tattoo was on the books, and it gave his owner just the muscle he needed to get his dog back.

Dog owners have been known to have all sorts of numbers -- phone numbers, apartment numbers, even Social Security numbers -- imprinted on their pets. But, veterinarians and animal handlers point out, no matter how specific the tattoo, it is useless unless it's entered into a central registry.

That's where U.S. FOUND hopes to fill a need. The Jarrettsville-based operation is the only animal registry and recovery service in Maryland and one of only a handful operating nationwide. More than 1,200 dogs in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia are on its rolls -- 600 of them added in the last year alone.

Some 45 participating veterinarians and groomers in the Mid-Atlantic area apply tattoos and register them with U.S. FOUND. The code goes into a computer, where it is accessible 24 hours a day.

Says Pat Weiskopf, a veteran dog groomer who started the registry at her kennels here in 1988: "We think tattooing should be offered as routinely as puppy shots. "

Ordinary dog tags, she says, can easily be lost or removed.

dTC Mitch Rapoport, executive director of the National Dog Registry in Woodstock, N.Y., urges owners to choose their dogs' IDs carefully.

"Unfortunately, people do things like use their house number or birthday. You have to think of the number you put on the dog as a license plate. It's only useful as long as it is linked to a national data base."

Mr. Rapoport's registry, the largest and oldest in the country, frequently communicates with other registries to locate lost animals.

The rage to tattoo pets has been fed by the growing number of reports of dognappings for profit nationwide.

Registered dogs are tattooed on an inner thigh or the abdomen to discourage thieves, who have been known to mutilate animals tattooed on the ear or lips.

U.S. FOUND has recovered 48 dogs since it began operating four years ago.

PET TATTOOS

Getting a pet tattooed: Most veterinarians and groomers will tattoo an animal and register it, upon request, with a national registry such as U.S. FOUND.

BHow it works: The ID is usually put on the animal's inner thigh or on the abdomen. Any animal can be tattooed, but most are dogs. The process takes about three minutes and doesn't cause any pain, veterinarians agree, because it penetrates only a superficial layer of skin.

Cost: U.S. FOUND charges $15 to register each animal. Thtattooing charge is set by the vet or groomer and can range from $10 to $50.

Lost-animal provision: The registry also offers a $15 reward, paithe pet owner, for returning a lost animal.

0 For more information, call 1-800-US FOUND.

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