Some Pet Microchip Companies Acting Irresponsibly
Microchipping saves lives. This is an accepted fact among those in the veterinary and animal welfare community. However, some microchip companies may now be compromising a system that’s reunited countless numbers of pets and their owners.
A small chip (approximately the size of a grain of rice) is injected into the pet. If a pet is lost, a universal scanner can “read” the data on the chip (no matter which company originally sold the chip), ideally providing current contact information for the family of the pet, or at least identifying the chip provider.
The handful of established microchip providers have always made it easy for shelters, veterinarians and pet owners to contact them; reaching out online or calling a 24/7 “hotline” phone number. Once reached, the company may have information that can help locate a lost pet.
Until recent years, each microchip company had a distinct company ID prefix number. Today, however, there are at least six microchip companies with the same 900 company ID prefix number, making them nearly impossible to distinguish from one another. These companies appear to play by their own rules, rather than by industry standards.
Increasingly, animal shelter officials are voicing their frustration, even outrage over these 900-only chip businesses because they mislead consumers and reduce chances that lost pets will be returned.
“I can’t figure these companies out; how they’re even allowed to operate this way,” says Abby Smith, executive director of Felines & Canines, a Chicago, IL animal shelter.
The established microchip providers have dedicated ID numbers associated with their individual companies. For example, if scanned, PetLink chips read, 981; HomeAgain chips read, 985, etc. These numbers are used to look up contact information for a pet’s owner.
With the 900-only chips, the number on any individual chip could be associated with any number of companies. “Animal shelters don’t have the time to sit on the phone and try five or six or more companies (when there’s a 900-only prefix code). We don’t even know for sure who all these companies are,” Smith says.
Meghan Conti, Virginia Beach, VA Animal Enforcement Officer adds, “We’ve called these companies when lost pets have a 900-only chip prefix number, if there’s a phone number to even call. Of course, we leave a message, and to date, not ever a single phone call back. We sure don’t get pets back to owners this way. Who are these people?”
Conti answers her own rhetorical question: “The 900 companies are in the business of selling chips, all right, but (they’re) obviously not in the business of recovering lost pets, which is the entire idea.”
The appeal of the 900-only chips, by all accounts, is that they simply cost less for unaware veterinarians or shelters to buy. Sometimes that savings is passed on to the general public, but perhaps at the expense of a pet’s life. (Microchips typically cost from about $40 to $60, including registration of owner contact information.)
Buying a 900-only chip may be no bargain. One of those 900 companies, K9Microchips, has this wording on its own website: “We make no promise to keep information on who purchases microchips, nor to document which microchips are shipped to which customers.”
The implication is that the company makes no promise to maintain a database of customers. (My emails to K9Microchips have generated no response. Reaching out to two other 900 microchip companies likewise yielded no response).
Conti and Smith aren’t the only ones who’ve been unable to reunite any dogs or cats with their owners using the data from 900-only chips. “I’ve lost sleep over these issues because I have no doubt that pets have lost their lives,” says John Bowman, supervisor Norman, OK Animal Welfare. “Municipal shelter systems only have so much space. If an animal can’t be identified, then there’s a cost associated for an animal to be housed in a shelter. And if the pet isn’t claimed by the owner, the reality is that not all pets get adopted.”
Conti adds, “And that poor family who lost a pet thought they were doing the right thing by microchpping, not knowing that they may have purchased one of these 900-only chips. In reality, they may never see their pet again.”
Now, what people with 900-chip numbers can do is to re-register, or register their chip number with most established companies, the cost is about $10 to $25, depending on the company.
Several years back, to help everyone involved navigate the often confusing world of microchipping, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), a leading proponent of microchipping, began a non-branded online “pet look up service.” By entering a microchip number on the AAHA look-up site, individuals have another way to determine the company a chip belongs to. However, some 900-only companies don’t participate in this program.
Dr. Michael Cavanaugh, AAHA executive director, didn’t know about the 900-chip issue. And he’s not alone.
“I’ve not spoken with a veterinarian who’s aware of the issue, or a pet owner who knows about it. That’s why it’s so essential we get the word out,” Smith says.
It’s ironic that May happens to be Chip Your Pet Month. The lesson here is, buyer beware. “Of course, companies must be reputable,” says Cavanaugh. ”Microchipping is more than about getting a microchip into a pet; it’s about pet owners updating their information when they move or change contact information, and it’s about pet recovery. A microchip without a responsible recovery service means little.”
©Steve Dale Pet World, LLC; Tribune Content Agency