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February 25, 2006 | Episode 8

Hosts Cyadnee Welburn and Rob Keefe spend time with some furry friends
Hosts Cydnee Welburn and Rob Keefe spend time with some furry friends
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Pet Microchips

How to make sure you’re really safeguarding your animal



That adorable bone-shaped ID tag is a great way to ensure a reunion if your pet ever gets away from you. But an increasingly popular method of safeguarding cats and dogs involves implanting them with a microchip. Hang on — it’s not as scary as it sounds. Just bring Fido to the veterinarian or a shelter and a technician will use a syringe to insert a tiny device into the skin behind the animal’s shoulders. The chip, no bigger than a piece of rice, contains a unique alphanumeric code and does not interfere with the health of your pet at all. If Fido wanders away from home, the person who finds her can take her to a vet, a shelter, or an animal-control office, where she will be scanned with a handheld device that can reveal that ID code. The office then contacts the chip company’s national registry (through an 800 number) and you get a call letting you know where your animal is. Cue heartwarming reunion music.

Sounds ideal, right? For the most part, it is, but shortcomings have existed in this program since it came on the pet-saving scene about 20 years ago. “The biggest problem we’ve encountered is the lack of a universal standard when it comes to scanners,” says John Snyder, vice president in charge of the companion-animal section of the Humane Society of the United States. For a long time, several different companies produced both chips and scanners, and only their scanners could read their respective chips. So if you had a chip by company A and the shelter that found your lost dog had only a scanner by company B, the shelter might not have found the chip at all and then let your pet be adopted or, worse, put it to sleep. It happened. It still happens.

The reason? Frequency. Some chips are 125 kilohertz, and some are at 134 kilohertz (the latter is the international standard, used in Europe and Canada), which means that certain scanners do not work with certain chips. While the debate about creating an official U.S. standard is finally coming to a head — thanks to the introduction of a 2005 Congressional bill that would initiate studies on which frequency to use — the problem is far from being solved. In the meantime, the 125-kilohertz chips have become the de facto standard. Even so, some companies choose to encrypt their chips so that the ID number will not be revealed if it is detected by a rival’s scanner.

These days the two main companies in this field, Avid (www.avidid.com) and HomeAgain (www.homeagainid.com), both offer chips of the same frequency — 125 kilohertz. Even better, Avid scanners can read both brands of chips, and HomeAgain just announced the creation of a scanner that will also read both (encrypted or not), as well as any of the 134-kilohertz variety (known as ISO chips).

To chip or not to chip?

Despite the possible snags, both the ASPCA and the Humane Society recommend the microchip as a good safety measure for companion animals. But before you put Fido through the procedure, you’ll need to make a few phone calls.

First, “talk to your vet and to your local animal shelter,” says Stephen Zawistowski, senior vice president for national programs at the ASPCA. “If your dog slips the collar, he will probably end up at the local animal shelter, so you need to find out what system of technology they’re using.” Find out what brand of chip your vet uses (he or she will have bought the chips from a company) and what type of scanner your local shelter or animal-control office has (companies send scanners to shelters for free), and follow suit.

Second, be sure to register your chipped animal with the national registry of whichever company you end up with. Some shelters will automatically register your pet when you adopt, but in many cases you’ll have to send in a paper or electronic form to the registry, along with an additional fee. “Not only do you need the chip,” says Zawistowski, “you need to register with the database and keep the data current. This is especially critical in this day and age, because people are changing their telephone numbers a lot more than they used to.”

Finally, make sure anyone who finds your pet knows that the animal has been chipped. You can do this by making a note on the pet’s ID tags or by getting a separate tag that says so. And, most important, don’t discard Fido’s old-fashioned tags. That bone-shaped tag immediately provides any Good Samaritan with your contact information and acts an important backup plan to any microchip. Plus, it looks adorable.

 
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