Billy, a Bull Terrier show dog that had been stolen and sold, turned up at a Boston shelter four years later with a microchip that originated in Australia. His identity was discovered through dedicated sleuthing on the part of the shelter staff, and he was returned to his owner to discover that he had become the father and grandfather of champions while he was away.
In Georgia, an ordinary domestic short hair cat was discovered behind a motel vending machine. The finder took her in to the vet and found her microchip. She was restored to her owner after a five year absence.
A few days ago, there was a video on Facebook about the reunion of a family with a dog that had been missing so long she did not immediately recognize the children who had grown up in the meantime. As soon as the dog caught the scent of the mother, she knew she was home again. These stories happened to be reported on the internet, but there are of hundreds of thousands more that are not so dramatic, though they are joyfully remembered and reported by the rescuers and the owners of lost pets.
Everybody loves happy endings. We want more of those for our lost dogs, cats, pigs, bunnies and horses, and maybe even children. We can do that! We can increase our chances for happy endings, but we must do it now, before someone leaves the door open, or the gate open, or crashes the car, or leaves them in the wrong place for fireworks and thunderstorms.
Your friendly, neighborhood animal control officer has just the thing to solve the problem. What you and your pet need is a microchip. This little ID marker is about the size of a long grain of rice, a tiny glass capsule that contains the registration number with its links to contact information.
Microchips are preloaded in a sterile applicator and injected under the loose skin between the shoulder blades. That sounds simple enough, but the needle is large and it hurts a little. Some little dogs think it hurts a lot. And you may guess what cats think of it.
The chip, of course, is not much good if the owner doesn’t do the paperwork, and update it whenever the contact information changes. What a relief it is for shelters to find a dog or cat is “chipped” and what a disappointment to discover that the owner never bothered to register.
If you’re adopting, the shelter takes care of it. It’s up to you after that to change numbers and addresses when you move. If you already own your pet, you may bring it to the shelter to have it microchipped and registered for the cost of fifteen dollars. If your pet has not been neutered and you are worried about hurting it with the shot, you can have it done under anesthetic when the spay or neuter is performed, for an additional cost of twenty-five dollars. Your veterinarian can always do it. Costs vary and you should call the office for that information.
In South Carolina, state law requires that shelters microchip all lost and stray dogs and cats that are eventually reunited with their owners. The chance of that reunion for dogs that don’t have microchips is 22%. For cats, that rate is 2%.
The odds of being reunited with pets that do have microchips are amazingly better, 52% of dogs and 39 % of cats found or picked up as strays are reunited with their owners. That’s a lot of insurance for a small cost.
Along with all the other care and keeping of your beloved pets, take the time to call the shelter and bring them in for a microchip. Share this information with friends and family.
All the other lost pets that are doomed for lack of microchips or unregistered microchips, the ones that are killed in shelters or on the roads, the ones that starve in the woods or are killed by other animals, are the costs of human failure. We can fix that, if we care enough.
Jay Booth is a retired university professor and newspaper columnist who serves as vice-president of the humane society.