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Find me: Why microchips are important

When Arizona resident Ina Shaver and her dogs moved to a new town, she was sure to call her microchip registration company to let them know her new address and phone number. She’s glad she did: A month after the move, her Siberian husky Joy ran out the door and disappeared into the new neighborhood. Shaver put up “lost dog” flyers in English and Spanish and called local animal shelters, but there was no news of Joy.

Then on April 21, 2015—nearly five full months after Joy had run away—Shaver got an incredible phone call: thanks to a microchip, Joy had been found. Shaver learned Joy had been living with a homeless man until he offered her to a passerby, saying he couldn’t care for her anymore. The woman took Joy to a pet shop to be scanned for a microchip, and the store called nonprofit microchip registry AKC Reunite. Though Joy was registered with another company, AKC Reunite used AAHA’s Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool and easily found Shaver’s contact information and called with the happy news about Joy.

Shaver was thrilled to be reunited with her mellow “sweetheart.”

“I couldn’t talk—oh my goodness, I was so excited,” Shaver says. “When you lose a pet, it’s like losing a family member. I just wanted to get her back…now she’s home and she’s safe and all is well.”

Ina and Joy have one of many happy pet reunion stories enabled by a microchip. (For instance, AKC Reunite has reunited almost half a million pets with their families.) A microchip is a device about the size of a grain of rice implanted by a veterinary professional between a pet’s shoulder blades that has a unique ID number. Most animal hospitals and shelters can scan lost pets to see if they have a microchip and if so, find the owner’s contact information.

Because microchipping is a part of excellent pet care, in 2013, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) co-founded Check the Chip Day, which is celebrated annually on August 15.

“We’re passionate about microchipping because it helps keep families together,” said Kate Spencer, senior communications manager at AAHA.

What to do if you find a lost pet

What’s the first thing to do if you find a lost cat or dog? Head to an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital or local animal shelter to have him scanned for a microchip, according to Kate Spencer, senior communications manager at AAHA.

If the pet is microchipped, the veterinarian can contact the owners, provided the chip’s contact information is current. If they don’t have a chip, it’s more complicated. Spencer suggests putting up “found pet” signs in the neighborhood as well as online on Facebook and other social media sites.

“The last place anybody’s going to look for their lost pet is in your home. So you’ve got to get out there and really make it known that you have found an animal,” she says.

Spencer also recommends checking with your local animal control office to find out any local laws regarding found animals. For instance, in some areas, a pet must stay at an animal shelter for five days before he can be adopted to a new home (or by the person who found him). This allows the original owners a chance to find their pet in the shelter.

And if the owner and pet are reunited thanks to your efforts, you just might recommend microchipping to help avoid another scare.

She says one study of 7,704 stray animals at shelters found that dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9 percent of the time—that number more than doubled to 52.2 percent of microchipped dogs. And it found microchipped cats were 20 times more likely to be reunited with their owners (yes – 20 times!).

But a microchip is virtually useless without up-to-date contact information, so Check the Chip Day is a reminder to make sure your pet’s information is current with the registry.

“If your pet’s microchip doesn’t have your updated contact information, it really decreases the chances of your pet being able to return to you. If somebody finds your pet and they can’t get in touch with you, a lot of times the pet will end up in the shelter or in a different home,” she says. “It’s just so important that if you make the effort to microchip your pet, that you also make the effort to keep that information up to date.”

Spencer says Check the Chip Day is also an opportunity to call your veterinarian and ask him or her to scan your pet to make sure the microchip is still reading correctly (you can also ask if they’re hosting any sort of special event for the day). Visiting the practice for a simple microchip scan provides a positive veterinary experience for your pet.

“They just have a scanner passed over them and it’s a really painless experience,” Spencer says. “It’s a great excuse to just say hi to the veterinarian.”

Spencer says there is sometimes a misconception that microchips have GPS tracking abilities, but that is not the case. Another is that implantation hurts, though it actually is no more painful than a typical injection.

“[Getting the microchip placed] is just like a regular vaccine—it doesn’t require any surgery or anesthesia, and it can easily be done during a regular office visit. It’s pretty simple and it doesn’t bother your pet once it’s in place, so it’s kind of a no brainer,” says Spencer, whose two cats Fez and Dex, and dog Reux, are microchipped.

Ultimately, she said Check the Chip Day is about keeping pets where they belong: at home with their loving owners.

“Microchipping helps strengthen the human-animal bond because it keeps pets and their families together.”


Freelance journalist Jen Reeder asked her veterinarian to check her dog Rio's microchip after researching this story, and is very glad she did: the chip didn't scan because it had migrated into his armpit! Her veterinarian had never seen that happen before. Reeder will always "check the chip" at annual exams from now on.

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