Forget the roses and mermaids that ripple over burly biceps. Tattoo-A-Pet has a more serious purpose.

For a wayward pet, a tattooed identification code may be the clue that provides the pet's safe return to its owner.

"Every year, over 1 million pets are lost and never recovered," said Knoxville, Tenn., dog breeder Janis Huskey.

Huskey is an agent of Tattoo-A-Pet, a Brooklyn, N.Y., company that operates a hotline registry to help tattooed pets find their owners.

The company, which Huskey said claims a 99 percent recovery rate, alerts veterinarians and animal shelters in the areas where it has agents and provides its hot line telephone number. If someone brings in a lost pet that has a tattoo, the vet or shelter worker can call to see if it is registered.

For a $20 fee, company agents tattoo cats or dogs. The pets also receive tags with the toll-free phone number. If the tag is lost, vets and animal shelters should be able to spot the tattoo.

Ms. Huskey tattoos cats on the inside of the ear and dogs on the belly or flank. She also recommends that the owner keep the tattooed place shaven so it will remain visible.

D.J. Krahwinkel, head of urban practice at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, said he has had problems with the numbers fading or hair growing back over the tattoo.

"We don't recommend it. We do it if people insist," he said. "Our luck has not been very good with it."

Krahwinkel said the danger of infection is slim, but he does recommend that the pet be anesthetized. He also prefers the ear as the location for the tattoo.