15 August 2016

WELFARE - Check Your Microchip: It may not be Registered

Having your pet microchipped has long been touted as a top means of protection should it go missing.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, however, more than half of microchips implanted in pets are not registered – rendering them pretty much useless.

“Did you know that 6 out of 10 #microchips aren't registered? Aug 15 is #ChecktheChipDay, reminder 2 check that chip!” the AVMA recently tweeted.

“Microchips greatly increase the chances that you'll get your pets back if they get lost or stolen,” says AVMA president, Tom Meyer.

“But a microchip only works if its registration information is accurate.”

Registering any microchip is sage advice but increasingly people are questioning the merits of chipping in the first place.

Microchips – encoded with unique information and about the size of a grain of rice - are embedded in a pet, usually by injection, just below the surface of the skin.

Should a pet become lost, a vet or someone with a scanner can read the radio frequency identification and assess the unique code embedded in the chip.

Ideally, that would provide information leading them to the current owner.

But in reality, say many critics, that doesn't always happen.

There is not a single company which has the monopoly on collecting and storing microchip information and this is one of the first complications.

Add to that, the reality many chips are not even registered and if they are, often times, information is outdated.

Different microchips have different frequencies and not every scanner reads every frequency, so chips can easily be missed.

That means the happy reunion pet owners hope to have delivered via microchip doesn't always happen.

There are times when pets whose owners cannot be found are euthanized or even adopted out to new families.

Olivia White has looked extensively at the merit in microchips in pets. And the U.S entrepreneur has found it is not a reliable way to ensure owners are reunited with lost pets.

She came across the conundrum several years ago when she read an email about a lost dog but says she “fell down a rabbit hole,” when she tried to track its owner via information linked to the microchip number.

Time and again she found issues with microchips can mean crucial information required to reunite a lost pet with an owner isn't accessed.

Cori Imbery, manager of HomeSafeTM, a system run by PetLynx, says there has to be a better way.

A microchip is one of many means of pet identification but given some of its shortcomings, alone it is not enough.

“You can't really rely on it,” says Imbery, owner of a mixed-breed named Sienna. “There are different microchip companies and the question of whether they will stay in business. Some have gone under and some have merged.”

“So, to put your faith in that one piece of identification is a little bit scary. Having a microchip is great but there are other ways. As a pet owner, I would want to make sure I have lots of options.”

More than a million Canadian pet owners agree and have chosen HomeSafeTM to increase the odds of locating a lost pet.

Pet owners pay a one-time, $39 fee (for the life of an animal,) to store information on the national, online, database.

Information, which could be everything from a photograph to physical description, tattoo details as well as microchip information, can be updated at any time and is managed by the pet owner rather than a third party.

If a pet is found, the finder can input specific details about the animal - from physical characteristics to identification - and the system will search for a match among registered pets.

“It is surprising to see what pet owners add to their pet record,” Imbery says.

“They store care profiles, contact information, addresses of the locations where they take their pet and pictures along with other valuable elements and descriptions that can help keep their pet safe.”

Still, many organizations feel microchips offer some unique advantages and rely on that technology.

“All of our dogs and cats are sent home to new owners with a microchip,” says Calgary Humane Society spokesman, Philip Fulton.

“Microchips don't fade like tattoos and can't be taken off like a collar tag.”

He said microchips are registered by the shelter but warns the onus – should the pet change ownership hands – is on the previous owner to transfer information linked to the chip to ensure it is kept current.

Looking for other options?

There are also numerous GPS devices available, ranging from about a hundred dollars to several hundred, as a way to keep track of a lost pet.

But several consumer reports speak of glitches ranging from a short battery life to limited geographical reach.

As for those microchips, animal welfare advocates largely agree it is advisable to get its status checked on a regular basis.

It's #ChecktheChipDay so check that chip.

Note: the author of this piece recently had her dog's microchip status checked at the vet only to discover there appears to be no chip. The rescue organization where she got the dog insists it was inserted but claimed they sometimes can work their way out of the pet's body. Just another reason to check your pet's chip.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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