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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Gang Tattoo Discovered on Abandoned Dog in California

Over the past couple of weeks, I have written about some hard hitting pet stories involving less than pleasant topics, but which have relevant points pertaining to pet health and safety that should not be ignored (See Dog’s Horrific 4th of July Trauma Reinforces Need for Firework Safety and Toxic Meatballs Poisoning San Francisco Dogs ). So, this will be the last in the series of three articles covering some of the more appalling animal-welfare topics currently faced by California pets.

This week’s Daily Vet column will focus on tattoos and dogs. Have you ever heard of a dog getting a tattoo? It’s not a common practice for your typical companion canine, but applying ink in an appropriate manner can provide a permanent source of visible identification. Unfortunately, the canine subject of this article has been branded by a gang tattoo and not simply a few numbers, letters, or other code applied in an appropriate and humane manner.

According to the Huffington Post article, Dog With Tattoo, Believed To Be An LA Gang Tattoo, Found Abandoned & Abused, a young Pit Bull Terrier was discovered tied to a pole after having been abandoned in the back alley of a doughnut shop in Lomita, CA.

Elizabeth Vivlamore heard the distressed vocalizations of the dog, now known as Petey, and brought him to a veterinarian where he was diagnosed with parasite infestations, an ear infection, and a broken tail. Ultimately, Petey was picked up by ROMP Rescue, who discovered the presence of a gang tattoo on the skin of his abdomen. It’s speculated that Petey was not sedated for the placement of the tattoo.

“He's a good dog. He's so loving and affectionate," said Vivlamore.

A ROMP affiliate named Randy suspects Petey was a “bait dog” — a dog used in the process of training fighting dogs.

“What they do is make the [bait] dog defenseless, and they'll tape its mouth shut with electrical tape, and throw it into a fighting ring and let the other dogs destroy it," said Randy.

The time of spay or neuter is the ideal time for a tattoo, as it’s an uncomfortable procedure requiring sedation or anesthesia. Otherwise, a dog would have to be specifically sedated or restrained in a less than humane manner. Why was it speculated that Petey was not sedated? Such is unknown. Yet, I speculate it may be circumstantial (Petey being abandoned and essentially lacking proper veterinary care throughout his youth), since the tattooist’s hand crafted an image with irregular edges, as though Petey had been struggling.

The good news is that Petey is healthy again and available to go to a forever home.

Petey’s Web Page states: “I'm excited around other dogs, very playful, I'm pretty big & strong so really young kids might not be a good idea for me. I've heard them talk about these things called cats ... I never met one so we're not sure how I would be around them. I'm also current on my vaccines and micro-chipped. I am a super good boy!”

This brings up the usual question of why you would want to tattoo your dog. According to the National Dog Registry (NDR), an institution founded in 1966, “the concept of registering a pet tattoo (is performed) for protection against loss and theft. The founders of NDR lost a loved pet to thieves and spent weeks searching pounds, wholesale dealers and laboratories to no avail. Through their grief, National Dog Registry was formed. NDR is run by people whose lives are devoted to the welfare and well-being of animals everywhere. NDR follows a Code of Ethics that is second to none in its commitment to animal protection.”

Evidently, if the tattooed canine is found, then the NDR toll-free hotline number (800-NDR-DOGS) can be called to facilitate the return of the dog to the owner. Tattooing is akin to microchip implantation (in that the company with whom the tattoo or microchip must be contacted), but it does not require a scanner to determine the code specific to the pet.

I have never tattooed a canine or feline patient in my years as a clinical practice veterinarian, but I’ve seen it done by other veterinarians, and only on anesthetized animals. I also have the unpleasant memory of hearing lambs and kids (baby sheep and goats, respectively) vocalizing in pain while being tattooed. With food production animals, the process is different than small animals in that a different type of tattooing device involving multiple needles imbedded into a flat surface are used to press the ink into the skin.

I don’t agree with the NDR’s statement that anesthesia (or sedation) should not be used.  NDR states that “the tattoo procedure is absolutely painless and requires only 2-3 minutes to complete. Anesthesia is an unnecessary risk to your pet's health and is for the convenience of the veterinarian only. However, if your pet is having a procedure, such as a spay/neuter or teeth cleaning, it is a perfect time to tattoo.” Why would the NDR say that anesthesia is unnecessary and then state that the best time to do so is during a time that the pet is under anesthesia?

Having needed to restrain animals for procedures (blood draw, rectal exam, positioning for X-rays, etc.), during my 25 years working in the veterinary industry, I must say that the entire process is better for the veterinarian, technician, and patient when appropriate pain management and sedation/anesthesia is used as needed (painful, anxious, fractious pets). Often, it leads to a less traumatic and more diagnostically accurate outcome. Despite the claims by the NDR, I would apply the same perspective to the tattoo application process.

I hope that Petey will soon be adopted into a home that will appreciate his breed-specific charms for the long haul, and I promise that some of my upcoming topics will be more light and cheery.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Thinkstock

Comments  16

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  • I'll stick to a microchip
    08/06/2013 12:41pm

    I've never had a tatoo but I have friends with them and tatoos are tender for several days after you get one. Anesthesia would only prevent the pain during the process. The dog would still have to suffer thru the discomfort when they wake up.

  • 08/08/2013 11:57am

    Thank you for your comments.
    Yes, I agree that pain management would be needed after the tattoo was applied in addition to during the application process.
    Dr. PM

  • Image?
    08/06/2013 12:54pm

    "My dog is tough, so I am tough." Such cowardice!

    I truly believe in tattooing ears as that was how we found the history of one cat we rescued, (couldn't find owner, though). It is a more visible sign that a stray is owned and loved by someone, but to me, the idea of a gang tattoo is getting too close to archaic practices like those that were performed by the Incas, as an example.

    As DH said, "I am owned by my dog," is more approriate for this sort of practice. Thanks for informing us that this is happening, Dr Mahaney. We don't like to bury our heads in the sand over issues because sometimes we can educate and improve the world by providing validity to alternatives to these pagan practices.

  • 08/08/2013 11:59am

    Thank you for your comments.
    I feel as though tattooing pets works in some circumstances, but definitely not all. Additionally, the tattoo should be applied with an appropriate amount of pain management regardless of what the NDR says.
    Dr. PM

  • 08/06/2013 08:18pm

    This is abuse-period!! It is disgusting what was done to this poor dog. If it was a small child, who also has no voice, they would of been behind bars! Animals need to have more rights, and more laws put in place to protect them. The same people who subjected this poor dog to this procedure, are capable of much more hideous abuse-to people and animals! We need to start viewing these animal abusers as what they are-dangerous predators!

  • 08/08/2013 06:26pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    I absolutely feel the same way as you regarding harsher punishment for animal cruelty offenders.
    Dr. PM

  • 08/09/2013 11:13am

    Animal laws have increased over the years but not enough to de-list animals as "property". Also, in my opinion, it should be mandatory that pets are spayed/neutered. I have personally trapped feral cats and litters of kittens and had them spayed/neutered at no cost throught an animal rescue group. It is hard work and stressful but very rewarding.

  • 08/06/2013 11:28pm

    Interesting post. These are the sad realities of life between humans and dogs. While I have not read the original Huffington article, do we know if any gang member was arrested for animal abuse and cruelty since the dog was abandoned.

    So relieved to hear Petey is healthy again and hope he gets adopted soon!

  • 08/08/2013 06:27pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    As far as I am currently aware, no information has been released as to if the people involved in Petey's abandonment have been found/caught/brought to justice.
    Dr. PM

  • 08/07/2013 08:50am

    Another reason for tattooing a female pet is to indicate that she's been spayed. The last dog I adopted was tattooed with a "not a female" symbol when she was spayed.

    Glad to hear that Petey has recovered. Poor dog to have gone through such a horrible ordeal. Hope he gets a fabulous home soon.

  • 08/08/2013 06:29pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    Interesting that your dog had a tattoo indicating "not a female" and not just "male".
    Dr. PM

  • 08/08/2013 06:40pm

    The dog with a tattoo is a spayed female. The vet that spayed her when she was being fostered put a tattoo on her belly that is a circle with a cross below it (female symbol) with a slash through it. It makes it easy to see that she's been spayed without having to do a more invasive examination.

  • Gang Tattoo
    08/07/2013 07:22pm

    I don't suppose the tattoo was a hint at who did this cruel thing? Any chance anyone was arrested and prosecuted?

  • 08/08/2013 11:44am

    It never ceases to disgust me as to how cruel some humans can be towards animals. Let's hope the police can track down the ignorant gang member(s) who did this to the dog.

  • 08/08/2013 06:31pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    I too hope that the individuals involved in Petey's case are soon brought to justice.
    Dr. PM

  • 08/08/2013 06:30pm

    As far as I am aware, the people involved in Petey's abandonment and ownership by a gang have not been discovered.
    Yet, if the gang tattoo identifies Petey to a particular gang, then one would think that animal control/the police would pursue their leads through the appropriate channels.
    Dr. PM

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