Homeward bound: Pets found through microchip technology

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There’s a saying that every dog has its day, but to Rockefeller, a 3-month-old English bulldog, his day was a very lucky one when his Malibu owners found him-53 miles away in Azusa.

Rocky, as his owner Dawn Martel calls him, went missing only a week and half after he was brought to his new home in Point Dume. Luckily for him, a microchip had been implanted in the scruff of his neck before he was sold to Martel.

A microchip is a rice-sized device encoded with an unalterable identification number that is used to permanently identify not only dogs and cats, but also practically any species of animal, including reptiles, cows, horses and potbellied pigs. Rocky was implanted with one by the AKC-Companion Animal Recovery program (AKC-CAR), which was founded in 1995. AKC-CAR is a nonprofit organization and an affiliate of the American Kennel Club.

The technology has been around for about six years, and Pet Headquarters of Malibu, which is where Martel bought Rocky, has routinely implanted puppies for the past year and a half with microchips.

The chip is implanted between the shoulder blades of an animal, in the fatty tissue. In birds, it’s implanted under a wing. AKC-CAR states on its Web site that a chip will last the life of the pet and has an anti-migration cap that prevents the chip from moving around inside the pet’s body.

Sgt. Frank Bongiorno, from the Lost Hills Animal Control and Shelter, said the device used to implant the chip looks like a syringe that pushes the chip “right in.”

“I have never seen an animal make a sound,” Bongiorno said of the implantation process.

A hand-held scanner, similar to what grocery stores employ, is used to scan the microchip number, which is then traced either to the owner or the company the pet is registered with.

Martel did not immediately register Rocky with AKC-CAR, and when he disappeared, she first waited to see if he would show up, as he had in the past. After two days, she became frantic and started posting flyers around town with local veterinarians, at shelters and pet shops. On the fourth day, she remembered Rocky had a microchip-however, she had not yet registered him. She called the company anyway and told the operator at AKC-CAR she had not registered her dog, but had the chip number and the name of the pet shop where he came from. The operator told Martel that 10 minutes earlier a vet from Azusa had called about an English bulldog, and the numbers matched. Martel was relieved.

“I didn’t know what the microchip really was about until I lost my dog,” she said.

She was also shocked to find him so far away.

The story told by the woman who brought Rocky to the Azusa veterinarian was one her husband told her-he found Rocky at an AM/PM Mini-Mart on his way home. Rocky had a cough, so the woman brought him in to be checked out. She also told the vet she and her husband had found the dog, which prompted him to scan Rocky for a number. Otherwise, the vet had told Martel, he would not have scanned the dog.

While there is a law in California that requires all public and private animal shelters to have a universal scanner (one that can scan multiple brands of chips) and that every shelter must scan a pet and make a reasonable effort to find the owner, animal hospitals, veterinarians and pet shops are not required to do so.

Bongiorno said every animal, alive or dead, that comes through the Lost Hills shelter is scanned. He also said every animal that goes out of the shelter is implanted with a chip. It costs $5 at the shelter, and $12.50 (a one-time fee) to register an animal with AKC-CAR. Costs that veterinarians charge for implantation of a chip vary, from $20-$50.

Bongiorno recommends that pet owners take three steps in identifying their animal: microchipping, tattooing and getting a licensed ID tag.

Administrative controller Kaye Michelson, for Los Angeles County Animal Control, seconds Bongiorno’s recommendation.

“The more ID, the better,” she said, pointing out the county uses microchips from the company, Avid.

Michelson said Los Angeles County Animal Control has had great success in returning animals to their owners using microchip technology. One of the more famous reunions is about a dog that had disappeared-for five years-and when found, was scanned and reunited with its owners.

More than one million animals are registered with AKC-CAR, and more than 72,000 lost pets have been reunited with their owners.

Rocky is one of the lucky ones.