Microchipping the best way to reunite lost pets with owners

single-meta-cal October 12, 2021

The following blog was written by Dr. Karen Sheppard, director of Huntsville Animal Services.

Anyone who’s had a missing pet knows what a stressful and traumatic experience it can be. We automatically assume the worst and fear he or she may have been struck by a car or killed by another animal.

This occasionally happens to some dogs and cats that stray from home. They become disoriented because they no longer recognize their surroundings. Animals that aren’t familiar with roads and highways don’t know how to respond when a vehicle approaches. The results can be deadly.

A woman at Huntsville Animal Services kneels next to a pit bull and uses a microchip scanner to look for a microchip.

Nichole Black, a shelter attendant at Huntsville Animal Services, checks a dog for a microchip using a scanner. The scanners emit radio waves, which then activate an animal’s unique microchip.

When an animal goes missing in Huntsville and Madison County, it doesn’t always mean a heartbreaking outcome. More often than not, animals running at-large are picked up by an animal control officer and brought to Huntsville Animal Services.

Unfortunately, many people don’t think to check with us to see if their missing pet is here. Even worse, many people don’t microchip their animals, a tool that can help reunite pets and owners quickly.

How it works

Microchipping is a very simple and routine procedure often done during spay/neuter surgeries. The microchips, generally no larger than a grain of rice, are easily implanted under the skin using a hypodermic needle. Each microchip carries information that is unique to your pet.

The chips, also known as transponders, are not battery operated. When a handheld scanner is placed over the microchip, it is activated by the scanner’s radio waves. The waves then transmit the unique microchip number, which is used to look up the owner’s contact information.

Less than 22% of animals without microchips are returned to their owners compared with more than 52% of microchipped pets.

Many pet owners who have their pets microchipped often fail to register them, which renders them useless. If you have your pet microchipped, be sure to get the information about the device so it can be registered online with the owner’s contact information.

It’s important to note microchips should not replace an animal’s personalized identification or rabies tags worn on the collar. Identification tags, which should contain an owner’s critical contact information, can usually be purchased for $15 or less at a pet store. It makes it easy to find an owner when a stray pet is found.

Success stories

The reason why we push owners to microchip their pets is simple ­– we love a happy ending. If one of our animal control officers brings in a stray, we scan for a microchip. If the animal has one, it’s very easy for us to find the owner.

There are occasional reunions between owners and pets that haven’t been microchipped, and we had one recently. A Huntsville couple’s dog was lost for 42 days. Even though the animal didn’t have a collar and ID tag or microchip, they continued to look. After seeing a dog that looked like him on the City’s Lost and Found page, they came down to see if it was him. Much to their surprise – and ours – it was!

The fact they found their dog at all is a testament to not only their determination, but also to the online resources we now have to reconnect lost pets with their owners. While they had the best possible outcome, it’s also not the norm.

Consider this statistic from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) – a study of 7,700 stray animals found less than 22% of animals without microchips were returned to their owners. On the other hand, more than 52% of microchipped pets were reunited with their owners. In the same study, only 1.8% of cats without microchips were returned to owners whereas 38.5% of microchipped cats were returned.

We were so glad to have helped reunite a pooch with his parents, but it could have happened a lot sooner had he been microchipped. Fortunately, his owners decided to get him microchipped and he was fitted with a new collar with ID tag.

For those who have questions about microchipping and what’s involved, the AVMA has a comprehensive information page. I’m also happy to answer any questions via email at karen.sheppard@huntsvilleal.gov.

Thinking about bringing a new pet home? At Huntsville Animal Services, all adoptable pets are vaccinated, spayed/neutered, microchipped and come with a City license and free bag of pet food. For more information, call 256-883-3782, visit HuntsvilleAL.gov/Animal or check us out on Facebook.