Microchipping, ID tags, or Tatoos…
How Do You Find Your Lost Pet?
A well-fitted collar with a current ID tag is arguably a pet’s best chance at coming home again if lost, but it’s not a perfect system — tags fall off or aren’t kept updated. Pet thieves toss collars the second they grab an animal. Tatoos give permanent means of identification but do not provide a way for a person to locate the owner of a lost dog. For these reasons and more, animal shelters have long been recommending high-tech microchips as a complement to the low-tech collar and tag.
About the size of a grain of rice, a microchip can be implanted beneath the skin over an animal’s shoulder blades. Once in place, the number on the chip can be read with a hand-held scanner, and that number is matched with contact information for the pet’s owner. Since microchips gained widespread acceptance in the ’90s, millions of animals have been chipped. Even more important, hundreds of thousands of pets have been reunited with their families.
The controversy —
“Both recovery systems get a thousand calls a day,” said Dr. Dan Knox, the veterinarian in charge of the companion-animal program of microchip manufacturer AVID. “Microchips work.”
Unless they don’t.
The recent introduction into the United States of a microchip that operates on a different frequency from the ones already in use has put a glitch into the nation’s microchip system, with the potential for placing thousands of pets at risk if not resolved.
The microchip muddle began around 2005 when Banfield-The Pet Hospital (the veterinary presence inside the retail giant Petsmart) started selling a chip that operates on a frequency recognized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and is widely used outside of the United States.
There’s debate over whether the U.S. should adopt international microchip standards — it has been characterized as an issue similar to the country’s lack of interest in adopting a metric system of measurement. But one issue isn’t up for argument: Shelters using the current “universal” scanner can’t read an ISO chip.
Citing concerns over the incompatibility issue, Banfield stopped its microchip program, but not before 26,000 animals were chipped. Banfield has since started advocating for a scanner that reads all chips, while the players already in the game, such as AVID, advocate an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach — no ISO chip, no problem.
AVID is one of two major players in the U.S. market, with information on 18 million animals in its database. The other major microchip system, Companion Animal Recovery (CAR), is administered through the American Kennel Club using a microchip made by Schering-Plough. CAR has information on more than 2.7 million animals in its system.
In the nation’s shelters, the people on the front lines just want a system they can work with to reunite animals with their families.
“The shelter community does not deserve to take the blame for putting an animal to death after missing a chip while corporate people play games,” says John Snyder of the Humane Society of the United States and a member of the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families. “We say, ‘OK, keep your AVID chip, keep your Schering-Plough chip — heck, bring in an ISO chip. We don’t care. We’re looking for a universal scanner that can read them all.'”
For Snyder, the issue feels like a bad rerun. Feuding manufacturers and incompatible chips almost stopped the promising technology from getting off the ground in the first place. The problems were resolved when manufacturers decided to cooperate on a scanner than could read all chips then in use.
Whether the situation will be resolved similarly this time is still very much in the air.
What to do now….
Pets now carrying ISO microchips are probably best implanted with a second chip that can be read by scanners currently in use in the nation’s shelters. (Although ISO scanners have been widely donated, shelter staffers are unlikely to take additional time to scan a second time for a less-common microchip.)
For information about microchips now in use, contact CAR (www.akccar.org; 800-252-7894) or AVID (www.avidid.com; 800-336-2843).
For information about the push to develop scanners than can read all microchips, ISO variety included, check out the Web site of the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families (www.readallchips.com).
Experts say it’s essential for information on any microchipped pet to be kept current. Make it a priority for any change in contact information to be immediately updated with the microchip registry.
GPS for Canines
GlobalPetFinder was “an invention out of necessity,” shares company spokeswoman Tammy Smart. In 2005, its inventor, Jennifer Martucci, was a single mother with two kids and two dogs that all liked to wander. Tired of worrying about them, she latched onto the idea that cell phone technology could be used to track dogs, just as it helped her to stay in touch with her children.
Users purchase a collar device for around $300 at the GlobalPetFinder web site and pay for a one time activation fee, as well as monthly service plans just under $20 per month. In return, they receive two-way wireless technology that permits them to monitor their dog’s whereabouts at all times using a cell phone or computer. Virtual fences can be set up, so that if your pet wanders outside of a pre-established zone, you will receive notification via a text message or e-mail.
“It’s given peace of mind to busy families, people who travel a lot and to pet sitters,” Smart says. “It puts control into the owner’s hands.”
Radio Frequency Collars
Radio frequency devices offer another way of keeping track of your dog. These gadgets, also worn on a dog collar, utilize telemetry — remote transmission of your dog’s location — and radio frequency, which is picked up in a handheld receiver. This technology has been around for quite a while. Manufacturers, such as Tracker, Garmin and Marshall, have marketed the devices for hunters with dogs, search and rescue dog units and the military, but potentially they could help out other dog owners too. Radio frequency collar kits are available through stores and web sites for sportsmen and hunters. The kits cost anywhere from around $500 to close to $1,000, depending on the manufacturer, the device’s range and its reception.
Just as store products carry specific identification numbers, dogs can be named and numbered with an under-the-skin microchip implant. The chips have been in use since 1991 but, just last year, the American Kennel Club’s Companion Animal Recovery service launched a new and improved chip.
“It’s made out of bioglass [a manufactured material utilized to repair damaged or diseased bone] and the chip is smaller,” explains Allison Kahn, a company representative. “It’s much smaller than other chips and it has no coating, no lead or any other hazardous material. In fact, similar chips have been approved for human locator use, such as in military applications.”
You can sign up for the AKC’s service through your veterinarian. Costs vary to have the chips implanted, but often the amount is less than $100. For a one-time fee of $12.50, you can then, through the American Kennel Club’s Companion Animal Recovery web site, join the related network that will inform you if another veterinarian, animal control unit or shelter has scanned and then identified your dog. “Almost all rescue centers have the ability to read microchips,” explains Kahn. “Believe me, they don’t want your dog there eating up their limited resources.” She says the program is so successful that lost dogs are recovered every seven minutes across the U.S.
Weighing the Options
Given all of these choices and more, choosing the right system requires a fair amount of forethought and homework. Since radio frequency collars require that users carry a special receiver, such collars may not provide the best solution for most dog owners. Below, however, are some of the pros and cons for GPS and microchip systems.
- It puts owners directly in touch with their dogs at any given instant.
- According to Smart, certain breeds, such as Siberian huskies, Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, bull terriers and Saint Bernards, tend to wander a lot, so GPS can be a boon to owners of these meandering mutts.
- Because the systems carry information over to cell phones and computers, owners can incorporate the devices with existing equipment.
- Unlike walkie-talkie type radio signals, information will be transmitted so long as the area has cell phone coverage.
The collar device runs on batteries that can run out if not charged.
It can be pricier than other alternatives.
Dogs need to weigh 30 pounds or more, since the collar mechanism weighs just less than 5 ounces.
Although the gadget is water resistant to rain, it may not work should your dog decide to go for a swim. An upgraded model may address that issue in future.
A chip offers a permanent solution to the problem, since it requires no batteries, maintenance or regular monitoring.
It’s relatively inexpensive.
The AKC reports that it has tracked dogs deemed dead (or stolen) after many years. “One New York City dog went missing for four years before it was determined that it had been stolen and then resold,” says Kahn. “You can imagine how relieved the original owners were to find out the dog was OK.”
Users must trust that someone down the line will take the time to read the chip and attempt to reunite dog with owner.
You cannot track your dog’s whereabouts yourself.
They require a minor medical procedure to insert the chip.
The best of all possible worlds, Kahn suggests, would be to get a microchip, join the Companion Animal Recovery service and look into a GPS system for your dog. “If the owner could afford that option,” she explains, “it would cover all bases.”
About The Author
Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor for The Dog Daily. She has authored over 20 books on animal, health and other science topics.
Microchipped pets returned home three out of four times
Oct 14, 2009
National Report — If a pet is lost and has a microchip, there is a good chance it will be reunited with its owner, according to a recent study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine.
Fifty-three shelters in 23 states participated in a study, which revealed that shelter officials were able to find the owners of lost microchipped pets in nearly three out of four cases.
“This is the first time there has been good data about the success of shelters finding the owners of pets with microchips,” says Linda Lord, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at The Ohio State University.
“In the study, the biggest reason owners couldn’t be found was because of an incorrect or disconnected phone number in the registration database,” Lord says. “The chip is only as good as my ability as a pet owner to keep my information up to date in the registry.”
Microchipped cats were returned to owners 20 times more often than non-microchipped cats. Dogs that were microchipped were 2.5 times more likely to be returned to their owners than non-microchipped dogs.
Incorrect or disconnected phone numbers, owners not returning calls or answering letters, unregistered microchips and microchips registered to a database that differed from the manufacturer were the main reasons owners were not found, according to the study.
While Lord says this data shows the importance of microchipping, she adds that nothing replaces the need for a collar and tag with the pet’s name and owner’s phone number.