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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lost pet? Search multiple shelters - they don't share information

Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces of information we've come across in our work to solve microchip and lost pet issues is that most shelters do not share lost/found information between them.

This may come as a shock to some of you, it did to us.

Firstly, the issue is not malicious. Shelters do not do this because they want to or because they do not want to work together. Rather, it is a reality of the dynamics in the software products that shelters use.

Each shelter runs a software program to organize their data and provide better services. A shelter has a lot of data to organize and there are more than a few companies willing to provide them a software product to use. According to there are some 23 different software solutions.

What is the benefit?

Having the benefit of choosing the right software solution for your shelter is a immense benefit to a shelter. Just as there are dynamics between Google and Bing and consumers have the option to chose the right service for their needs, so too should a shelter have a choice in their shelter software system.

What is the result?

The result of having multiple shelters in the same area running different software services is that (most) do not have the availability to share information between them. Therefore, if you visit one shelter in an area where there is actually seven different shelters, they will most likely not share information between them.

For those who have lost a pet, it is critical that they visit every single shelter in their area, including all shelters that are within a reasonable area. Also, include rescue groups in your search. In the Mountain View area of California alone, there are some 10-15 different cat/dog/breed rescue groups and three major shelters within a reasonable distance of Mountain View.

How can we fix this problem?

The fact of non-share of information may be upsetting to most people and we strongly urge those reading this to think about smart ways to solve pet issues when dealing with shelters. A shelters job is to house and provide care for pets that are in need of help.

Our company is working to fundamentally change the way the lost pet ("reunification") process happens and a part of our work is to find the smartest and easiest way to solve pet issues like these.

Finding an issue with one problem is a different issue than finding a smart way to solve the problem. We understand fully that shelters struggle with "too many pets, not enough funding". It is clear to us that complaining about the non-share of information to a shelter will only make their job more difficult and expend valuable staff time to a potentially less than desirable outcome. Shelters do not staff software engineers to write code for aggregation services!

In reality, the responsibility to fix this issue is better left to those who focus on streamlining and aggregating information: the software providers.

When we have more information, we will be sure to pass it along.

Make the best of lost pet flyers

There are so many ways to help animals - helping lost animals to make their way back home is an important job.

Statistics show that 1 in 3 pets will be lost in their lifetime.
Less than 3% of lost cats will make it back home.
Less than 15% of lost dogs will make it back home.

As Steve Wozniak (founder of Apple Computers) says, "In a technologically connected world and in Silicon Valley specifically, why can't we fix the lost pet problem?" Too true, Woz.

Just this morning, I took my dog out for her walk and along the way, I counted no less than eight lost pet fliers. I studied them for a moment and found some interesting talking points that may help:

  1. Many lost dog flyers will be seen while walking...
  2. But most people do not carry a pen and paper with them to write down the information.
  3. Many flyers do NOT have a photo of the pet.
  4. Descriptions are too long and detailed. (People are much more likely to remember an image and will avoid reading more than a 2-5 words of a description.)
  5. An old flyer that has been sitting on a telephone pole may cause some to assume that

    • It is out-of-date or;
    • That the pet has already been found.
How can we make the best of Lost Pet Flyers?

Some solutions can be taken from basic company advertising models.

  1. Make the flyer easy for the viewer.

    • Include a photo
    • The area the pet was lost 
    • A phone number
    • ...too much info and the reader will NOT read it. Less is best.
  2. Create a flyer with tear-off tags of your phone number, including a color photo of the pet with the tear off tag!

    • Imagine having someone tear off a tag, get home and forget the description!
    • Include a photo directly on the tear-off to make it most useful for your viewer.
  3. Update your flyers regularly. Make a map (Google Maps works great!) of the areas you already  posted flyers and go back and check them weekly, replacing those that look old.

    • The flyers with tags that have already been torn-off should be replaced.
    • Someone who sees that most of the tags were already removed will be less inclined to help in the search, assuming that others are already 'on the case'.
  4. Grab attention - with LARGE words at the top "LOST" or "HELP". You are much more likely to get the attention of those who are naturally inclined to help in troubling situations.

  5. Diversify your outreach -

    • Post flyers in coffee shops, dog parks, near school yards, near bus stops. 
    • Anywhere that people will go on-foot and have a tendency to stand for longer periods of time are more likely to read your flyer by default.
As of now, there aren't many alternatives to helping lost pets return home. Until a company provides a new option to reach the consumer market, these are some helpful points if you've lost a pet and would like to make the best of your lost-pet flyers.

  • Be persistent, keep an open mind and check the shelters daily (yes, daily) for at least 3-4 weeks. 
  • Remember, there are quite a few shelters in your area other than the County-run shelter. 
  • Call all cat rescue and dog rescue groups, email them the flyer, so they can also help.
Our hearts go out to those who have lost a pet, we know that it is a very troubling situation. Best of luck in your search.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What microchip company do you use?

The state of the microchip mess.

We came across this forum thread discussing the issues with finding your pet's microchip database and found this a good time to talk about issues with multiple microchip databases.

Lets start with a clear example of the complexity of the problem:

Lets say you wanted to find the owner of a car through the cars license plate number. Lets also say that the State of California had seven (7) different, independent, competitive DMV offices all which contained different locations, hours and contact information. How would you find the right database?

Here is some basic background on the current state of the microchip mess:

  1. There are a total of seven (7) microchip databases in the U.S.
    • HomeAgain
    • AVID
    • 24PetWatch
    • AKCCAR
    • PetLink
    • ResQ (Bayer)
    • Banfield
  2. Each database produces their own brand of microchip to sell.
  3. There are 3 different microchip frequencies 125kHz, 128kHz and 134.2kHz.
  4. Some AVID microchips are encrypted (requiring a special licensed scanner to read them).
  5. To retreiving your pets microchip number you must have access to a RFID scanner.
  6. Some scanners will only scan and read just a few brands/types of microchips while others are truly Universal Scanners.
  7. Some studies show that 60-85% of microchips are unregistered or have out-of-date information - rendering them useless.
  8. Your pets microchip is only as good as the database's information. 
  9. and finally... each database will register any competitor's microchip.
The question "Which microchip company do you use" is an interesting question for a pet owner. Our studies show that 97% of pet owners do not know which database their pet is registered with.

For information on your pets microchip, see here. We hope this helps!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cuddle Volunteering

Shelters = orphanages for pets; a place where we take pets who do not have a home, where we take pets that we don't want anymore so they don't have to live on the street, a shelter for those who have been abused to recover. This is a good thing.

For those of you who love critical thinking and plausible theory, what formula would we need to make a shelter obsolete, to create a scenario where every pet has a home. With the no-kill movement strongly footed now, most everyone can agree that to euthanize healthy pets in shelters just because there aren't enough beds or because they have simply "run out of time", is the unfortunate reality of shelter animals. True, many pets are sent to rescue groups, but there are simply not enough rescue groups to go around for every pet.

This is where Cuddle Volunteers are so important.

A Cuddle Volunteer is a pretty simple job: you go to the shelter and cuddle with a homeless pet. You open the cage and give a few minutes to a creature who really needs it. Your time with them helps the pet with stress, it helps them to socialize, it gives them time to more accurately show their personality, their cute quirks, their funny wiggles and smiles.

Shelters need volunteers for the sole reason to get more pets adopted, quicker and to better-suited homes (we like the ASPCA's Meet Your Match program). Mostly, shelters have enough paid staff to do the daily tasks of processing intakes, paperwork, vaccinations, spay/neuter, surgeries, etc. and when talking about an intake rate of thousands annually, this is no small task just to keep the doors open.

Dogs and cats get adopted quicker when they have a friend, which might be you. You can meet the pet, say hello, pet and play with it. Through this process, you gain invaluable information for the shelter. You can help to give them information you learn about this pet that will help them to better utilize their adoption process.

Q. What if "Cuddle Volunteering"  doesn't exist at my shelter? 

A. Then consider helping them to create a cuddle program. Enlist your friends, your relatives, co-workers to be the first Cuddle team!

Q. I just can't. Shelters are just too upsetting for me.
A. Don't knock it 'til you try it! You might leave with a better sense of what happens at your local shelter. If it is still upsetting, well, this is something you just have to overlook. Realize that having a tough skin is what these pets need. Remember, a shelter is too upsetting for them also.

Lets get down to it. Consider being a cuddle volunteer. I can't imaging what better benefit you could provide other than adopting a shelter pet.

See you at the shelter!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Independent Pet Rescue 101

In the world of animal rescue, there are two major players:
  1. publicly funded animal shelters
  2. small, local, independent pet rescue groups

While traditional animal shelters are familiar to most, smaller rescue groups still remain mostly obscure and operate by word-of-mouth. Some of these groups are very small while others are very large and quite well funded.

The animal rescue groups work collaboratively with traditional shelters. Most of these rescue groups will "pull" (shelter transfer) pets that are at risk of being euthanized because of overcrowding and give the pet a second chance to find a new home. These rescue groups provide a significant function for the welfare of pets. In essence, they fill the gap between the resources of traditional shelters and also offer an alternative option for those looking to adopt a new pet. Here is some data on shelter transfers to demonstrate the impact.

There are groups that focus on  no-kill, cat rescue / no-kill dog rescue and others that will take cats, dogs and other animals regardless of breed or issue. Now, you can be a great advocate for your favorite cause and show-off to your friends and family with great rescue stories.

Learn about your local rescue groups. Prepare to do some searching. Unlike a major shelter, these groups focus on rescue, not marketing.

Maybe you'll find an independent rescue in your area that has been operating for an impressive time span, just under your nose, working diligently to change the life for pets in your community.

Consider learning more about your local groups, even add them to your Christmas donation list. Most importantly, consider volunteering a few hours a month.

This tiny kitten with the pink leg cast is being cuddled at an Adoption Fair at a local, Redwood City pet store thorough Humanimal Connection (Cat Rescue).  That day, she found her new home.

Helping a lost dog home (not so easy)

This morning, I found a lost dog.

She is a friendly, chocolate brown tuxedo Pitbull/Corgi mix wearing a collar but no tags. She happily followed me back home, leaping and wagging her tail, desperately wanting to play with Chloe who was with me on our morning walk.

At home, I grabbed my universal microchip scanner to find her microchip but I couldn't scan because the batteries were too low (a serious problem of hand-held microchip scanners, according to a study of shelter microchip scanners.) After a dizzying search for a fresh set of four AAA’s, I popped them in and did the scan.

She has a microchip.

I entered the number into (our microchip database search service) and  found that it is a ResQ brand microchip and called ResQ immediately.  The ResQ call center representative said, “This black Yorkie is registered to…”

"A Yorkie?" I asked, "This dog is definitely not a Yorkie."

She responded, “Sorry, that is the only info we have for this [microchip] number."

I was perplexed and asked if they could tell me if the microchip was sold to a shelter, so I can call them directly.

The ResQ representative continued, “No. We don't have the shelter information here. You’ll have to call Bayer directly since they sold the microchip.”

I called Bayer who said that the chip was sold to a local shelter. I hung up and dialed yet another number.

I called the shelter and my call dropped straight to the general voicemail box with a greeting that said “Due to the high call volume, we cannot answer your call.” (Shelters have the unfortunate and perpetual problem of too many animals, not enough funding.)

I called until I was able to reach a live person. She checked her computer and said, “Is it a brown, female, mixed breed… Corgie and Pitbull’ish type of dog?”

Relieved and elated I yelped, “Yes!”

Her voice became worried, “I have an owner listed here but since she was adopted in 2007 the owner might have changed," and she gave me two local phone numbers. I looked down at the sad, brown dog that was now curled into Chloe’s bed.  

I dialed the first number, a man’s voice said, “Hello?”

“Hello. Did you lose a nice brown, short, squat, Corgi mix type?” I smiled, looking at her big eyes.

He said that he did lose a dog, back in mid-October some two months earlier and since it had been so long, he just assumed that he would never see the dog again. I gave him my address and he showed up within a few minutes. He lived just a few blocks away.

The dog stood by the door as I opened it and she immediately ran to him. He picked her up, tail wagging wildly. I smiled and said, “What’s her name?”

“Her name is Molly.” He said.


With the current absence of a dynamic, proven, systematic lost pet process, is pet reunification just a matter of just luck and persistence? I thought about Chloe and Kitty (my cat). Would they do as well as Molly?

Still, where has Molly been since mid-October?
  • Perhaps someone was trying to find her owner also but didn’t realize she had a microchip. Besides, looking at a pet, you wouldn't know they had a microchip.
  • Maybe they checked the microchip and also found that it was registered to a completely different dog then gave up.
What about Molly's incorrect microchip information?
This is a stark reminder that everyone should check (and double check) their pet's microchip. Scan the chip, find the database, call them and confirm that they have your correct information.

As we start the New Year, I am filled with optimism and energy to make a change for pet owners and pets, like Molly.