WILLMAR -- Pets with ID tags are more likely to be reunited with their owners -- and reunited sooner -- if they're ever lost.
It's a message the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter is trying to reinforce with a newly launched project to increase the number of companion animals in Kandiyohi and Meeker counties who have tags.
"It makes a difference," said Bobbie Bauman, director of operations for the shelter.
With a $3,300 grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter recently acquired an engraver for making pet ID tags.
Staff can now provide a personalized tag for every newly adopted dog and cat and every stray that's released to its owner after being claimed.
For $7.50 apiece plus tax, the tags are also available to anyone in the public who wants to buy one for their pet.
"I've wanted one of these forever," Bauman said of the engraver.
Shelter staff kept seeing animals arrive at the shelter without a collar or ID to help identify to whom they belong, she said. "So many animals were coming in and they could have gotten home a lot quicker if they'd had an ID tag."
If surveys are any indication, most people don't put tags on their pet. When the ASPCA conducted a study in Oklahoma City in 2010, it found that about only about one in three of the pet owners who were surveyed had their animal companion wear an ID tag all the time, even though 80 percent said they felt tags were important.
But tag usage increased after pet owners were given personalized tags. Nearly three-fourths reported their pet continued to wear a tag after six weeks -- and the tags helped reunite 10 animals with their owners during the six-week study period.
The ASPCA is continuing to research the issue. Among the questions it hopes to address are the effectiveness of ID tags in pet recovery and whether their use within a community can help lower the number of strays entering animal shelters.
Bauman said the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter is in the process of spreading the word about its pet tag initiative. The organization plans to bring the engraver to some of its community events so personalized tags can be offered to the public.
The initiative only began a month ago, so it's too soon to know how well it's working. But statistics will be tracked on how many tags are distributed, how many go to adopted pets, claimed pets and the public, and whether the tags help with recovery of lost pets.
So far, most of the tags have gone to pets who are adopted from the shelter, Bauman said.
An important measure will be whether the tags are actually worn, she said. "That's one thing we're stressing. Tags need to be put on the collar before the animal leaves the building."
Tags and collars tend to be much less widespread among cats than among dogs. Many owners believe their cat will refuse to wear a collar -- or that collars can be dangerous to cats. But objective studies have found that many cats are quite tolerant of collars.
As for cat collar safety, a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2010 found that simple buckle collars were the least likely to cause problems.
Collars and tags can fall off or be deliberately removed, so animal experts also recommend microchips. The chips are permanent, inexpensive and available at most veterinary clinics; Hawk Creek Animal Shelter also does microchipping for $25 per animal.
Personalized tags are the most visible and immediate way, however, of identifying an animal's owner and speeding reunification, Bauman said.
Even pets who are always indoors or under supervision can become lost, she noted. "There could be a natural disaster or somebody lets the pet out."
After a tornado raked across Joplin, Mo., one year ago, more than 1,300 animals were displaced. According to news reports, just under half were reunited with their families but most had neither tags nor microchips and many ended up being placed in new homes.
Outreach and education about the need for pet ID tags is an important part of the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter's community programming, Bauman said. It "would be great" if every pet in Kandiyohi and Meeker counties had a personalized ID, she said. "We're excited about this."