If things looked dismal in the summer of 2009 for Kishany Conroy, they were downright catastrophic for Hopper, her 3-year-old shih tzu. Hopper was reportedly stolen from Conroy's Ramona property in August of that year, leaving Conroy distraught and Hopper in the hands of total strangers, whose attachment to the animal was no match for the Conroy family's animal-human bond.
But thanks to some prudent thinking, all was not lost. Turns out Hopper was toting a secret form of ID, complete with a health record and Conroy's address—and, covered in foxtail stickers and fur so matted it looked like an outdoor carpet, dog and owner were reunited in May of 2010, thanks to microchipping, a newer technology at its best.
A countywide program, one official said, makes it easy for everybody to follow suit.
The downside to collars
“Having your animal microchipped ensures that your pet has a ticket home,” said Dawn Danielson, director of the San Diego County Department of Animal Services. “Animal Services strongly encourages all pet owners to have their pets microchipped... and to keep your information current with the microchip company.
“We always encourage people to have readable identification on their pet,” Danielson explained. “However, collars come off, or you can take them off. Nobody can do anything with a microchip.” Moreover, she said, state law requires shelters to scan for the presence of a microchip when an animal is brought in.
A microchip is a radio transponder about the size of a grain of rice. A veterinarian or vet tech uses a hypodermic needle to implant the device under the skin of all kinds of pets, from cats and dogs to reptiles and birds (horses and livestock are a little trickier, but they're equally viable candidates). The chip carries a number, which is plugged into a database that contains the owner's contact information. HomeAgain and AVID are among the leaders in microchip technology, with HomeAgain citing nearly 500,000 reunions since the devices became widely available in 1996.
Microchipping as a matter of course
San Diego County, Danielson said, was one of the first areas in the country to take up the program. “Now,” Danielson said, “no animal leaves [any of the county's three animal shelters] without a microchip.” She added that the county has chipped about 220,000 animals to date, “but that's a drop in the bucket.” It's estimated that one out of three pets is lost during its lifetime, with only one in ten of those being found.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, only about 5 percent of the nation's 130 million dogs and cats have been microchipped. The program is voluntary in the U.S., although the state of Louisiana requires a permanent means of identification for all horses tested for a specific type of anemia. The state determined that the law was “a significant help” in finding the horses' owners in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005.
Microchipping as part of disaster plan
Similarly, Danielson said, there's no guarantee that the county's devastating wildfires of 2003 and 2007 won't happen again. “We're already gearing up for it,” she said, “and if you go onto our website, it talks about a disaster plan for your pets. Hopefully, we won't have a disaster like that, but if we do, your animal will be identified.”
Microchipping is available for dogs, cats and rabbits at least eight weeks of age at any of the county animal services shelters (in Fashion Valley, Carlsbad and Bonita) on Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. The fee of $20 includes national registration. Dogs must be on a leash, and cats and rabbits must be in a carrier. Dogs at least four months of age must be licensed by the county or the jurisdiction in which they reside. Rabies vaccinations and dog licenses will also be available at additional cost.
For more information on the program and other county pet services, see the department's website at sddac.com. The SDDAC’s number is 619-767-2675.