Lifesaving Gift for Dogs, Cats Keeps Them Safe - Don't Risk a Fatal 'Collar Accident'

ANIMAL WATCH-If you live in the city of Los Angeles, the "Finders, Keepers" law, developed by Los Angeles Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette, allows strangers to keep found dogs and cats without an impound period at your local shelter, unless the pet is microchipped or is a dog with a license tag. 

Dogs are required under State law to be licensed by the local city/county and wear a tag visibly on a collar to verify rabies vaccination. However, that tag and collar can also be hazardous to your pet's life. 

According to PetSafe's Collar Safety Awareness campaign, an average of 26,000 dogs a year, or 71 each day are injured or killed in a collar-related accident. The frequency of  'collar accidents' shocks  most pet owners and surprises rescue organizations and shelters, who should include this video link, Collar Safety Awareness Week, as part of all cat or dog adoptions -- even to seasoned pet owners. 

Cats are likely to have collars hook on something while climbing, especially if allowed outside, or while engaging in contact with another feline.  

There is a solution to this serious dilemma--a break-away collar can provide safety for both dogs and cats. 


Anyone who has owned a dog knows that ways for a canine to get into trouble are almost unlimited and completely unpredictable. But "collar accidents" occur specifically because of the collar and tags we place on our pets to keep them safe. 

A “collar accident” can happen when a dog tries to go over a fence. It can happen when the dog merely jumps up on a fence to see who's on the other side or bark at a passing animal. The collar can hook over spikes at the top (wire or wood) and the dog cannot get loose, and often hangs there, struggling, and chokes to death. 

Veterinarians advise that a lack of oxygen for only 3-4 minutes can cause brain damage and death, but pets will lose consciousness before that. This is also a reason chains should never be left on a dog's neck. 

It is very difficult to release a dog in these situations because it is frantic and thrashing as its breathing is hampered. Cutting the collar is often the only solution and even that can be tricky without the human being also slashed in the process. Household scissors often are not strong or sharp enough to be effective and few people carry a pocket or hunting knife. 


Family's horror at finding their beloved puppy HANGED by her collar in freak accident. . .  

"A Falkirk] Scotland] family is devastated after finding beloved puppy, Missie, hanged by her collar in their own kitchen, TheSun.uk.com reported on March 2, 2017. A daughter said, “She had pulled a tea towel down onto the floor because she loved playing with it, so my mum had left it hooked over the kitchen cabinet door." 

“Mum left the house at 12:20 p.m. to take her grandson to nursery. When she got home at 12:45 p.m. she wondered what Missie was up to because she didn’t come running over to the safety gate in the kitchen, and that was when she saw her hung on the door handle by her collar. Her feet weren't touching the ground and she had strangled herself to death." 

In "The Hidden Dangers of Collars," Fanna Easter of Animal Behaviour College writes, "As a dog trainer. . .I’ve found dog strangulation by collar does happen. On average, I would say 15% of my clients had a similar incident with a dog collar getting caught on the wires of their dogs’ crate, fence, furniture, and even while playing with another dog." 


Ironically, the more responsible you are about having your pets "tagged" for identification purposes, the more likely it is your pet could be involved in one of these scenarios. Frequently, "collar accident" happen in multi-pet families with lots of animal interaction or when another pet is visiting. 

Such incidents, which often result in death of at least one of the animals, can occur when two pets (dogs or cats) are playing together and the license/identification tags attached to the collars of each become entangled. The animals are then not able to separate and panic as they are choked by the twisting of trying to get free and the struggle of trying to separate. 

 Often one has its lower jaw through the collar of the other and its teeth have either punctured the collar or are caught on it and cannot be released.  This is easy to visualize if you watch collared pets playing, but most of us never think it could happen to our pets. 


About ten years ago, a wonderful couple in the Harbor/San Pedro area of Los Angeles--adopted a female dog from me. Several years later they adopted another female dog for companionship. The dog was about the same size (very gentle very mixed-breed), loved them instantly and adored their dog. 

The "girls" lived and played together happily for about two years, when I received a call from them that the newer dog had killed the other while they were away at work. Knowing the dogs so well, it seemed impossible that this was intentional but at first there was no other explanation.  

A while later they called back, still sobbing, and said that when they finally got the blood cleaned up and recovered from the initial shock and horror, they realized that the dogs' collars had become locked together by their license tags, and the death was caused from trying to get separated. 

Their guilt was palpable, but because this tragic issue has not received much media coverage, how would they (or anyone) have known this could happen? 

Since then, I have breakaway collars on my microchipped dogs and recommend everyone use these for "lifesaving." Following are more experiences that emphasize why every dog and cat should be protected by a collar that will automatically disengage under pressure or attack.  

BESTLIFE post on November 2, 2019, by Diana Bruk shares a story where "one woman experienced every dog owner's worst nightmare." 

 As she walked into her house, she saw that one of her Labrador retrievers, Skyrah, had somehow gotten her jaw entangled in the collar of one of her other Labrador retrievers, Ryder. 

"I screamed, dropped everything, and ran to the dining room," she wrote on her Facebook page, Labradorablebffs, I quickly unbuckled their collars, shook Ryder, 'Wake up, wake up,' and realized he was gone. I quickly grabbed Skyrah and we both went outside on the back porch. I kept petting her, holding her close repeating 'It's not your fault,' while screaming in horror as to what I found." 

When Dog Collars Become Deadly   

"Standard dog collars, hardly ever considered to be dangerous devices, do pose risks during playtime or in a dog fight," writes Nancy Kerns, in a Whole Dog Journal article updated April 24, 2019, which contains VITAL TIPS about avoiding this situation. 

She recounts a very traumatizing personal experience, which was something she "had heard about many times but had never before seen: the intense, chaotic, life-or-death struggle that ensues when one dog gets his jaw stuck in another dog’s collar." 

She tells how she was working at home when she heard a dog screaming and ran outside toward the sounds. 

"It was two young Lab-mixes in the front yard of a house down the street. One had grabbed his friend’s collar and then mostly likely rolled over, twisting his lower jaw in the collar. His tongue, trapped under the thick nylon, was being lacerated by his own lower teeth; he was the one making all the noise. 

"His buddy was not screaming; he was fighting for his life, and being choked to death by his own collar. Both dogs were thrashing in pain and fear. The owner of one dog was trying to get close enough to them to free them, and I tried to help. 

Hearn says she grabbed one dog by the scuff, while the owner grabbed the other dog.  She frantically attempted to find the release button on the collar under the dog's fur but discovered that ". . .it was in the mouth of the dog whose jaw was trapped. And it was a standard metal buckle...It was already so tight, there would be no way to tighten it enough to release it, if I even could get my hand in the dog’s mouth." 

Fortunately, the owner of the other dog ran out of the house with scissors strong enough to cut the collar. Although both dogs survived, Hearn describes, "Even as the young woman worked, feverishly, the dog who was choking released his bowels. He was seconds from death." 


Kerns asks, "Imagine what would have happened if that young woman hadn’t had the scissors handy. Or if the same thing happened at a dog park; maybe someone would have had a sharp-enough knife. What if the dog had been wearing a choke chain or pinch collar? I’ve seen dogs wearing these while playing at dog parks – but I’ve never seen a person there with bolt cutters." 

She provides five important things you can do to keep your dog safe when he’s playing with other dogs, which includes, "Use a Collar With a Quick-Release Buckle." If you’re nervous about having your dog naked (without ID), use a collar with a buckle that can be released even under tension."  She also suggests a safety breakaway collar, such as a KeepSafe Break-Away Collar. 

The Surprising Dangers Of Dog Collars 

In this post, Kristina Lotz with Iheartdogs.com, tells the story which is also on Stephanie Stafford's Facebook page dedicated to the memory of Cal-e, a beautiful, special dog she lost to a collar accident. Lotz states, Stafford "is using her own devastation and loss as a cautionary tale for others." 

When Stephanie Stafford pulled into her driveway, she knew immediately that something wasn’t right. Her four dogs, Sheriff, Cal-e, Booker, and foster dog Chance, were not bouncing at the window like usual. There was no greeting at all. 

Cal-e and Booker were laying behind the door and Booker was struggling. What happened from there is a blur. They were connected and Booker’s mouth was under Cal-e’s collar. (THEY HAD BEEN PLAYING DURING THE DAY AND BOOKER’S MOUTH WAS CAUGHT UNDER HER COLLAR). I worked to disconnect Cal-e’s collar and at one point stood up to get scissors from the kitchen, but couldn’t manage to unlock the door with my keys. 

I got back down to get Cal-e’s collar unhooked and then I unhooked Booker’s collar. This is when I realized Cal-e wasn’t alive. She had been strangled. I stood up screaming and turned back to do CPR. I got back down on the floor to realize that my dog daughter was cold, stiff, and long gone. She was lying in a pool of blood and urine. The floor was scratched up where she struggled for her life. 

"Stafford has a Facebook page dedicated to Cal-e’s memory and is using her own devastation and loss as a cautionary tale for others," Kristina Lotz writes, "she recommends your dog wear a breakaway collar." 


There are many choices for breakaway or "quick-release" collars and they come in all sizes. Here's basically how they work. There is a regular strong latch which secures the collar and allows adjustment of the length. Near that, there is also a "Break-Away" buckle, which will release automatically under sufficient force (which is determined by the size of the collar, according to the PetSafe description.) 

Yes, you can use a Break-away collar while walking your dog.  

On each side of the break-away buckle is a regular metal loop through which a leash may be attached when walking the dog. These loops are close enough to place the snap-hook of the leash through both. (If you needed to release a dog because it was under attack while walking it, as soon as you release the hook on the leash, the collar reverts to "break-away" mode.) 

They are available on-line at Amazon from several companies with very quick delivery or are available in major pet supply stores. If you'd like one made in the USA, they can be ordered directly from a U.S. manufacturer; such as, Fox Valley. . . They are no more expensive than a regular collar of the same quality. (Just Google "break-away collars" to see the myriad fashion designs.) 

Here are links to demonstrations: 

Cat and Kitten Collar Safety    

Dog Break-Away Safety Collar - quick review by dogphrendly 

Break-away collars make a wonderful, affordable gift for all friends and furry family members and can provide instant "lifesaving" benefits and avoid a potentially fatal tragedy!

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.