Ever wonder what happens to a lost dog? Our local animal shelter receives more than 100 dogs and cats each day. Some are abandoned, some are strays, but a few are dogs that have escaped from loving homes.
Hopefully, the owners will locate their pets before the animals are placed with foster or adoptive families, or worse euthanized because they are deemed old, sick, or unadoptable.
A good identification system can prevent the tragic destruction of a canine companion. In the past, tattoos and dog tags were commonly used to identify pets or provide contact information; drawbacks of these included the potential loss or removal of the tags, or lack of recognition of tattoos because of illegibility or distortion from overlying hair growth. Additionally, information on tags may not be up to date.
Microchips are about the size of a grain of rice. They are placed within a strong, biologically safe glass that protects the encased chip but causes minimal reaction in the animal. A sterile injection system, similar to a hypodermic syringe and needle used for vaccinations, is used to insert the chip just under the skin in the scruff of the neck in dogs and cats.
As with vaccinations, the animal may feel slight discomfort at the moment of injection; however, it will have no further reaction since the chip does not burn or irritate the tissues.
The chip is scanned before and after placement to verify that it is functioning properly. The owner then fills out a registration form with contact information and their pet's description. The information is added to a national registry that can be accessed at any time.
The microchip itself has no power source or moving parts. When it receives a radio signal from a scanner, the chip sends back to the scanner a number specific to that chip. With a phone call to the registration agency, the unique number given the microchip can identify the pet and the contact information can be retrieved.
Chip migration is uncommon if the chips are inserted correctly; additionally, newer chips have special coatings that help keep them in place. Because the chips are so tiny, pet owners rarely feel them. Chips can be inserted in animals as young as 6 weeks of age. Microchips will continue to function for at least 25 years, and are permanent in the animal unless surgically removed.
In 1995, the AKC Companion Animal Recovery program was established to provide 24-hour recovery service for microchipped and tattooed animals registered in the program. With this service you can even register your travel plans, so that up-to-date contact information will be available as you travel. As of October 1, 2004, almost 2 million animals were enrolled in the service and over 100,000 lost or stolen pets have been reunited with their owners. Over 30 different species have been included in the registry. While dogs and cats are most common, horses, birds, pot bellied pigs, ferrets, rabbits, lizards, and snakes have also been microchipped. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using microchips to identify and track grizzly bears, black-footed ferrets, and other endangered species.
If you are considering having your pet microchipped, make sure that your local humane societies, shelters, and rescue agencies have a universal scanner. Available since 1996, these scanners can read microchips of all U.S. manufacturers. If you are considering importing or exporting a dog that has been microchipped, it is important to find out which microchips are acceptable for identification by the various kennel clubs of the recipient country.
For more information about the AKC Companion Animal Recovery program, check out the website at www.akccar.org.