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By Diane Jessup
For The Sentinel 

Animal Companion: Microchips

 


I spent 20 years working in a large animal shelter, a great deal of that time in “receiving,” where animals that have strayed and previously owned animals no longer wanted are turned in. Statistically, stray pets without identification have a slim chance of being reclaimed by their owners, especially the cats. In a busy shelter like ours, pets can be held for as few as 48 hours before they can be sold, and most people hardly notice the cat is missing in 48 hours.

Over the years, so many thousands of dogs and cats died in my arms needlessly, because of the simple lack of owner identification. These were not stray dogs and cats—these were sleek, well-fed pets whose owners failed to keep identification on them and then failed to look for them.

A snug collar and tag are important, and all pets should wear one, but some folks are fearful their pet will become stuck somehow due to a collar. (To this I can say that in 20 years I never saw a pet killed by its collar, but I saw tens of thousands killed because of the lack of a collar and tag.) Here is where the microchip provides the pet owner with an extra level of security that cannot harm the pet.

Microchips provide proof of ownership; a thief can remove a collar and tag, but it is almost unheard of for a chip to be removed. In this age of “stray” dogs being trucked from state to state for resale by “rescues,” it can be the only means by which a pet, separated from its owner, can be reunited. Almost every shelter and veterinarian office in America has a universal microchip scanner today. And in cases of natural disasters, microchips in horses, cattle, goats, llamas, emus, swine and of course dogs and cats has made hooking animals up with their owners so much easier.

What is a microchip? It is a small device (about the size of a large grain of rice) implanted in the loose skin at the base of the pet’s neck which causes no more discomfort than a vaccination. The microchip emits an RF (radio frequency) signal. The scanner reads the chips unique ID number/code. There is no power source (the power comes from the scanner), no moving parts, nothing which can wear out. The chip will last the pet’s lifetime.

However—and this is a big however—the owner must make sure their contact information is recorded with the microchip registry associated with the chip. As well, local Animal Control should be made aware of the chip number if you live in a jurisdiction with licensing. If you have any questions about if your information is current for your pet, your veterinarian can scan your pet and help you contact the company.

There are the usual misconceptions and myths about this newer technology. The most common is, “The government can track my movements through my pet.” Nope. The microchip is not a GPS like device; it puts out no signal itself because it has no power source. Another misconception is that a person’s address and phone number are encrypted into the chip. In fact, each chip simply has a unique code made up of numbers or numbers and letters. That is why it is absolutely necessary to register your information with the chip company. The chip number, by itself, means little.

Microchips are not expensive. Your vet can implant one for you, and you can even buy single chips with injection syringe from better pet supply companies or the American Kennel Club. The chip is injected much like a vaccine and causes the same amount of minor discomfort. Pets are like people; some will fuss, some won’t even notice.

 

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