County adding to pet security

Animal Control can implant chips to help identify missing animals

August 13, 2006|By ALIA MALIK | ALIA MALIK,SUN REPORTER

The lowly pet collar is going high-tech.

Within the next two months, Anne Arundel County will offer a new way for owners to reunite with their lost pets: a tiny microchip injected under their skin.

It will expand a pilot program begun in May for people who are adopting or picking up lost cats or dogs at Animal Control headquarters in Millersville.

Animal Control will host clinics for pet owners where they can have a veterinarian implant a microchip the size of a grain of rice between their pets' shoulder blades, said county police Lt. Jonathan Church, who oversees Animal Control.

Scanners can read the microchip, which identifies the pet's owner and can display contact information, Church said.

"If we have the ability to scan a pet out on the street and bring it to its home nearby, it's much better than bringing it to Animal Control and hoping the owner shows up for it," Church said.

He estimated that the county has been scanning stray pets for microchips for three to five years but could recall only one animal that had one. Animal Control also implants microchips in potentially dangerous dogs to warn officers who encounter them.

Since May, 75 to 100 people have had the chips implanted through Animal Control, Church said.

Animals are typically sedated for the procedure, said spokesman Justin Scally. Each chip is programmed with a unique identification number and the owner's name, which are kept in a database, Scally said.

Owners have the option of registering their phone numbers and addresses with HomeAgain, the company that makes the microchips, so that information can be displayed when scanned.

For the traditional collar, Home-Again gives the pet owner a yellow tag with the company's phone number and the pet's microchip identification number. That allows good Samaritans who find lost pets to call the company, which can then contact the owners.

Animal Control scanners aren't limited to Home- Again's product. They can also read chips made by other companies and installed by private veterinarians.

No regrets

Sharon Nealon, 22, of Millersville had a HomeAgain chip implanted in her puppy at Waugh Chapel Animal Hospital about a year ago while he was sedated from neutering. She said she doesn't regret spending the $65.

"It just puts my mind at ease in case he ever runs away, or if someone kidnaps him," she said. "I think it's an excellent idea overall, just for the safety of your pet."

Animal Control charges pet owners $20 to implant the microchips, Church said.

No pets with microchips have been recovered since the pilot program began, but images of abandoned or lost pets wandering the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina galvanized interest in microchipping, Church said.

"Katrina brought to light a lot of separation issues, the concern with reuniting a pet with their owner, not only if they're lost or stray, but in the event of any natural disaster," he said.

Katrina inspired

HomeAgain spokeswoman Julie Lux said use of the microchips has risen nationwide since Katrina. The company has been making the chips for 12 years.

A counter on HomeAgain's Web site shows that the company has implanted chips in more than 3 million pets around the world, about 300,000 of which have been recovered.

"I expect that many pet owners can tell you that if their pet is returned to them on one occasion, then the chip has paid for itself," Church said.

alia.malik@baltsun.com

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