Not long ago I had a very nice couple come in with one of the most beautiful Australian shepherds I had ever seen. He was as well mannered and pleasant as he was good looking. The people said they had been camping for the past week and this dog just showed up and their campsite and hung around the whole time they were there. He had no collar, tags, or identification of any sort. He was in good health and well groomed and he obviously belonged to someone. They had talked to everyone they could find in the area and had put up signs, but there had been no response by the end of the week when they were getting ready to leave. They couldn’t just leave the dog out there so they brought him home with them, and then brought him to me to see if we couldn’t identify him and get him back to his real owners. Our last hope for finding out who this dog belonged to rested on scanning him for a microchip that might tell us who he is.
Scenarios like this happen with some regularity at the clinic. We get lots of animals found as strays or brought in after a losing battle with a car that was witnessed by a good Samaritan. Almost always the animal has no identification, or identification that is no longer valid. Understandably collars get lost and name tags are not high on the list of things to change when your address changes, but in that time of need proper identification will reunite you with your pet.
The best form of identification available is a microchip. It never falls off or gets worn or mangled beyond recognition, and it provides proof of ownership in a way that a collar and tags cannot. These are rice grain sized computer chips that are implanted under the skin between the shoulder blades with a needle. When a scanner is passed over the microchip it registers a number, and that number can be accessed on a database that has all of the pet’s and owner’s information on it. It would be nice if it could be used as a GPS tracking device to pinpoint the location of your pet, but that is not how this technology works.
Anesthesia is not required for placement of the microchip, but the needle is large, so if your pet is going to be asleep anyway, say for a spay or neuter, that is a good time to consider having a microchip placed too.
The first microchips used to migrate quite a bit under the skin, but that problem has been solved with better capsules, and now it is extremely uncommon to have a microchip move from its original position.
Once the microchip is implanted it needs to be registered, meaning the contact information that goes on the database needs to be filled out and sent in to the microchip company. If the information is not sent then the microchip just becomes a useless piece of subcutaneous bling for the pet. I have to admit that it took me five months to send the registration in for my cat because I am just plain lazy and had a hard time getting around to it. Veterinarians recognize that this is a common problem, so many of us will have owners fill out the forms in the office and send them in for them to assure that the microchip will actually do some good if needed.
I check unidentified cats and ferrets for microchips too, and I think that both species are ideally suited for microchip identification, since they both have a tendency to bolt out the door when nobody is looking, and they are difficult to keep collars on. The humane society is supposed to scan every animal of any species that comes through its doors as well.
As for this Australian Shepherd from the camp ground, sadly for someone he did not have a microchip. Fortunately for him he has been taken in by a family that will give him a wonderful life, but somewhere out there his original owners are left wondering what terrible fate he might have met. A microchip, or a simple tag on a collar was all he would have needed to go home again.