For some people, tattoos are more than a simple aesthetic choice or act of rebellion – they are instead an important part of their self expression. A few of the most dedicated tattoo enthusiasts have even taken steps to share their love of body art with some of their closest companions: their pets.

Pet tattooing isn't a new phenomenon, but recent years have seen an explosion in the prevalence of the practice and have seen it spread to new contexts. This controversial phenomenon has made headlines recently, as some of its less utilitarian applications have come under quite a bit of scrutiny, even prompting legislators in some states to flex their administrative muscles and officially weigh in on the legality of putting your pooch under the needle.

Practical applications
Eccentric frivolity aside, the act of tattooing a pet is actually grounded in a more useful rationale. Concerned pet owners have been inking their pets with registered identification numbers for years. Since 1966, the National Dog Registry has provided some six million canine companions with permanent, registered identification numbers. These numbers are unique, and are kept on file with the registry. In the event that a lost dog is found, the good samaritans can call the NDR – whose staff are on call 24 hours a day – who can then help reunite Fido with his owner.

While still a tattoo, the procedure is a far cry from the types of extensive and ornate body art that the pet's human companions may have. In fact, according to the NDR official website, it takes only minutes to tattoo the number onto the pet, and there is virtually no recovery time – they're free to resume their favorite activities immediately and are left with only minor scabbing that typically clears up in a day or two.

Showing off their ink
In recent years, the trend of tattooing pets for purely aesthetic reasons has started to spread among the more eclectic circles of the body art community. Some owners have inked their pets not with simple identification numbers, but with full-color, ornate pieces akin to what they themselves would get at their tattoo parlor. It sounds strange or even disturbing, but such owners view their actions as an extension of their own self-expression.

While not technically illegal – yet – the practice is at best regarded with wary distance and at worst with outright condemnation and vitriol. The ASPCA has been particularly vocal regarding the practice, denigrating owners who tattoo their pets, or have them tattooed, as selfish, capricious and vain.

"The tattooing of an animal for the selfish joy and entertainment of its owner, without any regard for the well-being of the animal, is not something the ASPCA supports," one of the organization's spokespeople told the New York Post.

The issue recently came to a head, as legislation has been pushed through to the New York state gubernatorial office that, if passed, would ban the tattooing and piercing of household pets. While the aforementioned identification tattoos would not be outlawed by the new legislation, the bill aims to put a stop to frivolous tattooing and piercing of animals, which is widely regarded as animal cruelty.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that no official research has been done into the effectiveness and safety of tattoo removal on pets. Procedures such as the new laser removal using picosecond technology have yet to be tested on animals in a substantive way.

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