Chipping Away at the Challenge of Reuniting Lost Pets with Their Families
Without a doubt, reuniting lost pets with their families is one of the most critical functions of any animal shelter. Furthermore, there is no question that microchipping pets is one of the most important things shelters and rescues can do to facilitate those reunions. There are, however, many challenges – often created by the microchipping industry itself – to using microchips to trace pet owners. Fortunately, creative problem solvers are stepping up to overcome these challenges.
When I first began microchipping pets there were basically two microchip providers in the USA. They were not playing well with each other. Their microchips read on different frequencies, used different technologies, and they used different registry systems for tracking pet/owner information. What they failed to realize was that without a central, universal registry, their microchips were less effective. That should have been obvious immediately. Yet, it took years before universal scanners were readily available, and only after a third microchip, which scanned on a third frequency, entered the market in the USA.
Universal scanners solved the problem of different chips at different frequencies. But, only part way. The biggest problem with them was that they were slow, because they could not scan on every frequency at the same time. To accommodate this issue, people scanning pets for microchips needed to move the scanner very slowly over an animal’s body to give the scanner time in each location to scan each frequency. If the animal was bouncing around, or the person doing the scanning in a hurry (or both), this could result in a microchip being missed. This problem clearly accounted (and still accounts) for pets who had microchips that were not detected on intake to an animal shelter.
That problem has gotten somewhat better over time. Scanners have gotten faster. Microchip companies have become more standardized. That is certainly good news. Unfortunately, the issues with the registration of microchipped pets has gotten worse, in many ways, instead of better, primarily because microchip companies have seen the registering of pets as a potential profit center and the registered data as proprietary (read “owned" by them rather than the pet owner). Most microchip manufacturers set up their own registries, charge registration fees (sometimes annual fees) and then also make money using the pet owner’s contact information to sell services, like pet insurance. Or, they simply sell the contact information to other companies for a fee.
The desire for companies to maintain their own registries made things worse as more microchip companies entered the pet market, and fractured the registry system farther. To make matters worse, virtually all of the registries accepted registrations of competitor’s microchips. Therefore, simply knowing the manufacturer of a microchip would not necessarily tell you in what registry the pet was likely to be registered. Ugh! What a mess, and one totally created by the industry itself.
Fortunately, there has been some progress made to resolve this issue, thanks to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Ironically, their solution was to create another registry, though their registry is something a bit different.
The AAHA registry is a registry of registries. It keeps track of what microchips are registered in which registries. By searching for a microchip number at http://www.petmicrochiplookup.org you can find out with which, if any, registry the pet is registered. To their credit, AAHA was able to gain cooperation from virtually all of the major registries.
AAHA does not store the pet or owner information, only the microchip number and the registry in which it is registered. This information is provided to AAHA by the various registries.
While you cannot get owner/pet information from petmicrochiplookup.org, you can learn where to go to get that information. It is a great system and pet owners everywhere should be thankful to AAHA for setting it up. There is just one problem: many shelters and rescues don’t know about it, or how to use it.
When I ask shelters or rescues what their procedure is for looking up a microchip, they often tell me they contact the registry associated with the microchip manufacturer. But, because a pet can be registered with any registry, regardless of manufacturer, that is not an appropriate action to take, and doing this clearly adds to the unacceptably large number of animals that enter shelters whose owners are not traced.
Shelters and rescues frequently complain about the failure of many pet owners to register their pets (which is true, in part because the registration process is often unnecessarily complex and expensive, and again, sometimes even requires an annual fee). But, it is also true that shelters and rescues are often looking for owner information in the wrong places, and, therefore, not finding it.
But, a new generation of microchip companies and technology providers are working to change that. My favorite microchip company, 911 Pet Chips, for example, has set up a free microchip registry, which sends data to the AAHA system and they have made it easy for shelters and rescues to automatically register the pets they adopt. Additionally, they have formed partnerships with other agencies, like RescueGroups.org and RescueSuite Software to continue improving the microchipping and registration process. (Note: their :Tiny Chip is the smallest, easiest to implant and easiest to read chip I have experienced.)
Beyond that, they are offering deep discounts on their microchip products to RescueSuite Software users, which automatically registers microchips at no cost to the participating shelters or rescue groups. This collaboration saves shelters and rescues dollars, increases the accuracy of the registrations, and makes the registration process effortless for the shelter/rescue and the new adoptive family.
One RescueSuite Software user recently said, “The microchip discounts alone more than pays for the software. The free, automatic registration and the other perks are just extra benefits.”
Collectively, we will all fix the problems associated with the disparate and proprietary microchipping. AAHA, 911 Pet Chip and RescueSuite are all exciting partners working to that end.