At first glance, pet microchipping is brilliant. The idea is, you have this little electronic chip that you inject into your animal. The chip has an ID number that will identify the animal as yours. So if your pet gets lost, someone will wave a scanner over it, the number will come up, they'll look it up in the database, find your name and phone number, call you, and voila! you and your pet are happily reunited. And a lot of times, this is exactly how it goes down. It's a lovely thing. It's not a GPS system, but it's still a lovely thing.
But sometimes, it's not so straightforward. Here's what they don't tell you.
- There are four different types of microchips. Many more companies, but four types. Meaning that if someone finds your animal and scans it, they may have a type of scanner that doesn't match up with your chip, and your chip will go completely undetected. There are of course, universal scanners. But they're extremely expensive, and not all shelters and vets have them.
- Microchips can stop working. They can just wear out and turn off. It's recommended that at your pet's annual check up, you check to make sure the microchip is readable by your vet's scanner. But even if you remember this, a year is a long time for the chip to die without you noticing.
- Microchips can "migrate". Meaning that when it's injected into your kitty's shoulder area, it may slide down to the kitty's underside. I've seen people check for microchips at my vet, an ASPCA rescue effort in Joplin, and at a rescue I worked at. I've never seen anyone check an animal's underside thoroughly.
- Every single microchip detector I've seen someone use is "temperamental".
- I once saw a study claim that adverse reactions were noted in 10% of animals at the microchip injection site.
- In my vet's experience, around 50% of strays who have blank microchips. This means that someone either paid for a chip and neglected to input their information in the database when they got home, or that they adopted an animal which already had a blank chip, and they neglected to input the information after adoption. I'm not sure what happens if you microchip an animal and then don't pay the maintenance fee. The info might get deleted, I suppose, although that seems like a really mean move by these companies.
I already knew all of these things though. I figured the system was reasonably flawed, but still better to do the chipping than not. Now here's what happened today: A while ago, we scooped a stray cat up off the street and brought it home. It looked reasonable that he belonged to someone and we could find them. He's a beautiful neutered male tabby. Only probably two or three years old, no fleas, no worms, and loves to have his neck scratched. He's kind of stocky. Not fat, but a lot of muscle. We found him in a parking lot by a lot of Asian restaurants. He was eating a lot of lean protein scraps, clearly. Ideal food for an obligate carnivore. He was a little beat up, but he didn't look much like a stray, and definitely not like a feral. So we take him to the vet.
And... He has a chip!
Not so much.
The chip reader (a universal reader) pulls up "petlink ############". I figure Petlink is a company, so I look up the number and I call them right away, ready to find some people who have been missing their kitty and will come and pick them up tonight. Because you don't pay so much for a microchip unless you lovelovelove your indoor kitty and you miss them dearly, right? I argue with their phone menu, and finally am promised transfer to a human. But then I'm told I've reached the wrong number. Okay. The internet! I type in the number to the petlink website. The number isn't registered. I'm immensely let down. I apologize to kitty, promise him we'll find him an amazing new family. Then an hour later, I notice the tiny text. The petlink website suggests I look the number up in a universal microchip registry. So I try it. This page tells me the number is a "HomeAgain" chip number. And the date the information was last edited. I'm concerned that this webpage disagrees with the scanner, but I call. The woman the phone menu finally allows me to speak to confuses me. She wants to know the street I found him on, the zip code, the street I live on, my zip code. When I finally ask her if I can tell her the chip number, she tells me that there is no phone number that she can give me. I'm ready to call it quits and she tells me that she recommends that I take him to a shelter because there's some information that the company "may be allowed to give a shelter". At this point, I'm confused. Is there information or isn't there? Is this chip number a HomeAgain number? I understand the need for confidentiality, but why would they be able to give me a phone number for the owner while not other information?
So at this point, I have no idea what's going to happen. He's a lovely cat and he may need a new home, which I can certainly handle. But it's really irritating that this microchip system can't even tell me if he has owners. I mean, people who care less might not take a stray to the vet to be scanned, call two different numbers, check two different websites, and take him to a shelter. So will my microchipped animals even find their way back home if someone goodhearted finds them and wants to help? For a while I considered finding a microchip of each scanner type for my animals, so that any scanner would at least pick up some information. But my vet "strongly advised" that I not do that, because of adverse reactions. Clearly there is a need for a better system.