Microchips make finding pets easier

Technology aids efforts to track everything from dogs to salmon.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:42 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

The Happy Tails Animal Sanctuary in Columbia placed a hound mix with a foster family two years ago. The puppy became an instant friend to the family’s only child.

When a backyard gate was left ajar six months later, the dog strayed from home and was missing for two days.

“The family was upset. They put up fliers and contacted the humane society,” said Susan Hatfield, president and co-founder of Happy Tails. “Finally, the dog was picked up, dropped off at a vet clinic and scanned for a microchip. They traced it back to us, and we contacted the owner.”

The microchip technology, invented by AVID Microchip Identification Systems, reunites one pet with its owner every 72 seconds nationwide. The company’s PETtrac pet recovery network receives 4,000 to 6,000 calls per week, AVID spokesman Loran Hickton said.

Microchipping involves the injection of a computer chip with a programmed identification number under an animal’s skin. The number can be read by a microchip scanner that operates on radio frequencies.

As an alternative to tattooing and branding, microchip identification is multipurpose. Dr. John Wade, veterinarian and vice president of AVID, said while its most visible use is to recover lost animals, microchipping is also used for wildlife research studies, law enforcement and breeding and regulatory purposes.

“Various fish and wildlife divisions are using the chips to track animals such as the black-footed ferret, the grizzly bear and salmon,” Wade said. At the St. Louis Zoo, microchips have been used to identify most mammals and birds since the technology emerged in the late 1980s.

“We always use them in the animals that are especially hard to tell apart such as parrots and penguins,” said Martha Weber, associate veterinarian at the St. Louis Zoo.

Each animal has a standard site for chip implantation, which is commonly between its shoulder blades. The chip is the size of a grain of rice and is injected into the tissue like a vaccine. Although a slightly thicker needle is used, the animal is not sedated.

The Central Missouri Humane Society has microchipped animals for four years, and the service has been a part of the $75 adoption package for the last two years.

The humane society’s former executive director Mary Paulsell said the microchip is practically foolproof and provides animal shelters with the advantage of a national database that can match lost pets with their owners.

To encourage microchipping in pets, the humane society teams up with the City of Columbia/Boone County Health Department’s animal control to sponsor clinics that assist low-income pet owners with cheaper animal vaccinations and microchip injections. A clinic in March offered the chips for $5, while the standard price for a microchip injection is about $35, varying among veterinarians.

Microchipping is not a routine service at the humane society. While many states and some individual counties in those states require microchipping in certain animals, Missouri has no statewide chipping regulations.

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