Microchipping was the promise of a permanent identification for the life of a dog.
It seemed miraculous -- a subcutaneous bit of glass and electronics, just a little bit bigger than a piece of rice, that could be linked up to your name, address, phone, Social Security number, web site address, etc.
If a dog lost a collar or you changed your address, it would be no problem to check the registry and find Bowser again.
If your dog was lost on the opposite side of the country, stolen, or sold on, the dog could still be found.
But that's not how it has worked out, at least not all the time.
Things started to fall apart quickly.
Twenty years ago, when microchips were just starting out, the folks in Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia agreed on a standard 134.2 kHz microchip, now called the ISO standard microchip. The first pet microchip companies in the US, however, were AVID and HomeAgain, and they partnered with vets (who profited handsomely) to sell a 125 kHz microchip that could NOT be read by the ISO readers.
In addition, AVID encrypted its microchip information so only facilities with an AVID scanner could read the chip at all -- a way to sell more expensive scanners at the cost of canine and other animal lives.
Eventually, scanners were made that could read both kinds of microchips, but even now not all vets and shelters have them, nor do these universal scanners work all that well all the time (tests show that some scanners miss up to 40% of all chips).
Another major problem is that the folks who get their pets chipped are a little confused about the concept. The chip should be registered to the dog's owner, not the veterinary clinic that implanted it, or the breeder or pet shop that sold you the dog or implanted the chip. This is a big deal.
For instance, when Moxie and Misto got their rabies vaccines, they also got ISO-chipped, but it was up to me to register the chip on line, and this point was not stressed.
The good news is that I got my name, address, email, telephone number, and web site in the data base. If I had just put in one bit of data, however, what good would that do do if I changed addresses, phone numbers, or emails? And who is out there to remind folks to update their registry information when they change address or phone number? Another problem!
Another problem (how many more can there be?) is that even if you put in a chip that is read at a shelter or vets, and the data in the registry is good, which registry is your chip linked to?? Who knows! There's no universal pet registry, which means your information could be with a registry that is not being checked. The good news (and yes, there is good news) is that there is now a Microchip Lookup tool hack put together by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) which now scrapes most of the data out of most of the systems.
The problem is that there is still one asshole company -- AVID -- that is not playing well with others. This company would rather turn a profit through price-gouging than actually save canine lives.
So what bit of advice can I offer?
- Get your dog microchipped with an ISO chip. Every time you go to the vet, make sure they can read the chip. Despite all the problems with microchips, an ISO chip with your up-to-date information in the data base is always the right thing to do, for both you and the dog.
- Put every piece of information you can into several data bases -- your name, address, phone, email, web address, relative's address, etc. Yes, you can register ANY chip with ANY of the data bases. The more times your chip is in a data base, the more likely the dog is to be returned to you. NO, you do not have to keep paying to keep a dog registered, though some registries try to make you think you do (including the AKC's registy, from what I have been told).
- Keep a nylon collar with slide tag on your dog all the time. A slide tag, unlike a dangle tag, will not wear through at the contact point. Check the information on the slide tag several times a year, and update with a new tag as needed. Count on the tag to get your dog returned to you, not the microchip. Where to get a slide tag? I recommend Boomerang Tags.