Millions of dogs go missing each year. Unfortunately, very few of them are ever reunited with their owners. Many of them become and remain strays. Others are taken to pounds or shelters, where they are all too often, euthanized. The luckier ones are saved by rescue organizations and ultimately placed in adoptive homes.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Lately, an increasing number of conscientious dog owners have begun to rely on a dual form of protection for their precious family pet. Included in this “protective package” are visible forms of identification – ID tags -- and permanent ones -- microchips.
Pet ID tags are small metallic or plastic tags personalized with your name, address, and phone number, and attached to your dog's collar. These tags are as close as your nearest pet supply store or online vendor, and if your dog ever goes missing, will immediately identify you as the owner.
Microchipping is a simple and safe procedure. A veterinarian injects a microchip designed especially for animals -- the size of a grain of rice -- beneath the surface of your dog’s skin between the shoulder blades. Similar to a routine shot, it takes only a few seconds and most dogs don’t seem to even feel the implantation. Unlike ID tags, a microchip is permanent and, with no internal energy source, will last the life of your dog. Your dog must then be promptly registered with the microchip company (usually for a one-time fee), thus storing his unique, alpha-numeric code in the company’s database.
Whenever a lost dog appears at a shelter, humane society or veterinary clinic, he/she will automatically be scanned for a microchip. If there is one, the screen of the handheld scanner will display that dog’s specific code. A simple call to the recovery database using a toll free 800 number enables the code to be traced back to the dog’s owner. But in order for the system to work efficiently, all owners are cautioned to keep their contact information up-to-date.
The most complete microchips comply with International Standards Organization (ISO) Standards. These standards define the structure of the microchip’s information content and determine the protocol for scanner-microchip communication. They also include the assignment of a 15-digit numeric identification code to each microchip; 3 digits either for the code of the country in which the dog was implanted or for the manufacturer’s code; one digit for the dog’s category (optional), and the remaining 8 or 9 digits for that dog’s unique ID number.
As with anything else, however, problems can and do arise. Not all shelters, humane societies, and veterinary offices have scanners. Although rare, microchips can fail, and even universal scanners may not be able to detect every microchip. Accurate detection can also be hampered if dogs struggle too much while being scanned or if either long, matted hair or excess fat deposits cover the implantation site. And because there are an ever-increasing number of pet recovery services, there is, as yet, no single database that links one to the other.
Since no method of identification is perfect, the best way owners can protect their dogs is by keeping current ID tags on them, microchipping them, and never allowing them to roam free.