Tag! You’re Home! Reunification of Pet Cats with their Owners Using a Community Engagement Approach





Reunification of lost pets with their owners is a key function of municipal animal shelters but reported Return to Owner (RTO) rates are as low as 3% for cats. In contrast, the percentage of recovered pet cats found within their own neighborhoods has been reported as high as 66-75%. The purpose of this study was to measure the impact of an innovative program designed to reunite cats with their owners by returning them to their neighborhoods without intake to the shelter.

Loudoun County Animal Services, a municipal open-admission animal shelter with an annual intake of 2,300 animals (46% cats), created the Tag!You’re Home! Program (TYHP) on the assumption of positive intent by finders of free-roaming cats. The TYHP engages finders to return un-microchipped healthy social adult cats to their neighborhood after being furnished with a tag and collar with the shelter's contact information. Finders are advised to place the cat back where it was found and not provide food. If the cat is still present after 5 days (mandated stray period) and an owner has not called the shelter, the finder can bring the cat back for intake.

Between 7/1/2022 and 12/31/2023, 499 stray cats were admitted to the shelter, 273 of which were adults, and 32 cats were enrolled in the TYHP as an alternative to intake. Of these 32 cats, 10 (31%) were confirmed RTO via owner contact, 10 (31%) did not require additional services (not brought back by finder), 6 (19%) were brought back by the finder after 5 days for intake, 4 (13%) were kept by the finder, and 2 (6%) were rehomed by the finder. Of the 6 cats brought back to the shelter, 1 had an outcome of RTO through the shelter, and 5 had an outcome of adoption. Of the 493 stray cats (267 adults) admitted to the shelter that were not first enrolled in the TYHP, 79 (74 adults) had an outcome of RTO, resulting in a 16% overall RTO rate and 28% adult RTO rate. The most common outcome subtypes for cats RTOed through the shelter were owner called (20%) and microchip (48%). Cats RTOed through the shelter were found a median of 0.4 km (IQR 0.1-1.7), or approximately 4 city blocks, from home.

Over 80% of cats enrolled in the TYHP did not require intake to the shelter, and over 30% had a confirmed RTO outcome through the TYHP. While this was very similar to the 28% adult RTO rate reported during the same period for adult cats with intake to the shelter, the TYHP provided a valuable tool to RTO cats without microchips and reduced shelter intake of adult stray cats by 10%.


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How to Cite

Dalrymple, A., Stively, N., & Kreisler, R. (2024). Tag! You’re Home! Reunification of Pet Cats with their Owners Using a Community Engagement Approach. Journal of Shelter Medicine and Community Animal Health, 3(S1). https://doi.org/10.56771/jsmcah.v3.98



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