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Microchips a big help for lost pets

Lost and found: While collars fall off, embedded info allows animals to be easily returned to owners

Posted: July 16, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 16, 2011 1:55 a.m.
A microchip is injected with hypodermic needle under the skin near the pet’s collar to help identify the pet if it’s lost. A microchip is injected with hypodermic needle under the skin near the pet’s collar to help identify the pet if it’s lost.
A microchip is injected with hypodermic needle under the skin near the pet’s collar to help identify the pet if it’s lost.

Vanessa Brookman was driving home after a day of volunteering at The Brittany Foundation rescue shelter in Agua Dulce when she saw them — two dogs running loose on Sierra Highway, precariously close to traffic. It was Memorial Day weekend 2010.

An avid dog lover, the Castaic resident pulled over. A small tan boxer mix and a black pit bull mix came running to her car.
“Of course, neither one of them had tags,” Brookman said. “They were so sweet; they just jumped in my car, grateful to escape the heat.”

After giving the dogs water and checking with neighborhood residents to determine if they had escaped a local yard, Brookman went to Castaic Animal Shelter to see if either dog had a microchip. Thankfully, a scan revealed they did. It took four days, but eventually, the dogs were reunited with their owners.

“These were really awesome dogs. I was so happy they found their way home again,” Brookman said. “All my dogs are microchipped for just this reason. Since collars have a way of coming off, it‘s the best way for pets to be reunited with their owners,  instead of falling through the cracks at shelters or worse.”

Since June 2006, Los Angeles County has had an ordinance requiring all dogs to be microchipped. The ordinance was adopted in Santa Clarita in January 2007. Every dog adopted out by the county is microchipped; cats are chipped on a voluntary basis.

Each microchip has a code number embedded in it. The shelter is listed with the microchip provider as the contact until the owner contacts the company to update the chip with his or her name, address and phone number.

All Los Angeles County animal shelters offers microchip implantation and registration free of charge. Castaic Animal Shelter hosts a microchip clinic every Wednesday from 1:30-2:30 p.m., and it’s free for licensed animals. (Licensing is $20 for altered animals, and $60 for unaltered animals).

The microchip, which is approximately the size of a grain of rice, is injected underneath the skin with a needle. There is no anesthesia required, and even the smallest puppies and kittens can be safely microchipped.

When a handheld scanner is passed over the area where the microchip has been implanted, the scanner reads the microchip and displays its unique code number. That number is stored in a database that contains the owner or shelter’s contact information.

“This is the time of year, especially with holidays like the Fourth of July, when dogs get loose. Oftentimes, the people who find them will take them to a vet for a scan and try to contact the owner that way,” said Karen Stepp, shelter manager at Castaic. “If they can’t find anyone, the dog usually end ups here. At least it’s a safe place for the dogs until owners can be contacted.”

The biggest problem with microchips, according to Stepp, is either owners not turning in their contact information upon adoption or not updating information if the pet changes hands privately.

“The chips are only as good as the info they contain. But we do hold dogs with chips longer and send a form out to the last known address if the owner can’t be contacted by phone,” Stepp said.

Angel Dogs Foundation mobile spay/neuter clinic, which offers its services in Canyon Country the first three Wednesdays of each month, provides microchipping free with every spay and neuter or for $10 as a standalone procedure. A blue plastic tag with the chip identification number is also provided to place on the pet’s collar.

The nonprofit organization also participates at pet fairs and other pet-related events, offering microchipping for free.

“Our mission is to lower the kill rate at shelters, and, in order to do that, we need to prevent birth or enable animals to get home safely, so we want to microchip as many animals as possible,” Tipton said.

The animals are registered to Angel Dogs until the owners contact the microchip company, in this case, Avid, to provide their information. Angel Dogs has microchipped approximately 12,000 pets in close to three years.

“We get five to 10 calls from shelters every day about animals that have gotten loose, and their chip leads back to us,” said Lisa Tipton, founder of Angel Dogs. “The owners are so grateful. I’ve had people crying, thinking that their pet was dead because it had been missing for weeks.”

According to Tipton, the process is quick and fairly painless.

“It is kind of a big needle, but it’s so momentary. It only takes about a second to microchip an animal,” she said. “There are very rare occurrences of cancer at the injection site, and the chip may migrate, but when you look at the number of pets microchipping has helped, it’s very small.”

Some people think microchipping is form of LoJack for pets, but this is not the case, as Tipton pointed out.

“No, it’s not going to let us track down your pet’s precise location. I do think you can get a GPS monitor for your pet’s collar, but it can fall off. Microchips never fall off,” she said.

Castaic Animal Shelter is located at 31044 N. Charlie Canyon Road, Castaic. (661) 702-7098. For more information on Angel Dogs Mobile Spay and Neuter Clinic, visit www. or call (888) 504-SPAY


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