8 min read

Doing This Simple Thing Could Save Your Pet’s Life

It only takes a few minutes!

Pet adoption can come with a laundry list of tasks — from filling out paperwork to scheduling vaccinations and spaying or neutering. But there is one important step even the most conscientious pet owners may be unaware of:

A pet license.

A pet license simply means that a newly adopted dog or cat is registered within the state where he or she lives. It isn’t just the law in most counties — it can help save a pet’s life too.

Most city governments require dog (and sometimes cat) owners to register their pets with a database, much like a car. In order to obtain a license, many times the only requirement is that the animal be up-to-date on his rabies vaccinations, though regulations vary from state to state.

Dog owners can license their pets online or at a local government office, a participating animal shelter or a veterinarian’s office. Fees vary depending on the type of license a pet owner is looking to obtain (for example, a service dog license may cost more), the dog’s spay/neuter status and where the pet lives. While in public, many places require that a license tag be attached to a dog's collar with his ID number displayed.

Opting not to get a pet license for your pup can sometimes result in a fine, but there are other reasons why keeping your dog’s license updated can be beneficial to you and your pet in the long run.

It improves the chances that a lost pet will be returned

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A current registration can come in handy should a pet go missing, explains Temma Martin, public relations specialist for Best Friends Animal Society, who has worked in Utah’s animal services for over 20 years.

In addition to having a microchip, should your pet get lost, bystanders may be more likely to approach him if they see a license tag — which can lead to a speedy return to safety. “If the dog has a collar and a license tag on, this shows that the owner is responsible and that the dog is licensed against rabies,” Martin tells The Dodo. “If a person sees a stray dog with a license and a tag, they are more likely to approach it, because they know the owner cares about it.”

A current license can also help your pet avoid a traumatizing trip to the shelter, saving both time and resources. “Locally, if a pet is lost and an animal control officer finds it and sees the license information, they may take it back to the house instead of a shelter. So there’s no reason for the animal to be taken out of the neighborhood and placed in a cage if they know who it belongs to and they can just take it home again,” Martin says.

It can help your pet in case of an emergency

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A license can also help a lost dog receive lifesaving treatment. “For some shelters, if a pet is currently licensed and they are picked up injured, they may be more likely to receive emergency medical care,” Martin notes.

Animal control agencies may not choose to risk an expensive procedure without assurance that they will be able to reach the owner. Shelter policies vary, but in many cases, if an animal is picked up needing emergency veterinary care, according to Martin, many rescues either guarantee or are more likely to try, to save those with licenses. No matter how careful we are, pets can get loose, which means getting a license can literally be a life-or-death decision.

It can save your pet’s life if he gets into trouble

While a microchip is a great backup form of identification should tags get lost, it doesn’t include vaccination information. If your dog gets loose and someone gets bitten, having the dog's medical history readily available could help save valuable time in an emergency situation.

“If a dog bites someone [and breaks the skin] and there’s no proof of rabies vaccines, shelters will generally only hold them for their ‘stray time,’ which may be three days, and then they can legally be euthanized and tested for rabies,” Martin notes. “If a dog is licensed and they can track down the proof of rabies, that may potentially save the pet’s life.”

The fees go to a good cause

Licensing fees, which may be paid one-time or yearly and vary state by state, provide funding for animal services and shelters, free and low-cost spay/neuter programs and much more.

“By licensing your pet, you are helping to support the services that if your pet was ever to get lost and end up in the shelter, help fund that resource,” Martin says. “By buying a license, you’re buying into the care at the shelter, and other animal-related resources.”

By registering your dog or cat, you are helping other local animals in need.