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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

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