The microchip mess

Posted July 17th, 2013 in Rescue, Services, Shelters and tagged , by Josh

It’s my guess that the mass majority of people who have animals have no idea about what I’m about to type. I didn’t know either, until I started getting curious and looking into it myself. I never would have even thought to ponder this issue if it weren’t for being exposed to the many microchip-related mishaps that can happen at the kill shelters.

Look at your dog. Pull his or her microchip number up and I want you to do an exercise with me, as I’ve already done with my own dog’s microchips.

Here are the databases that I want you to actually search, using your own dog’s unique number. Each is considered to be a “universal” database that covers any number of different microchips…

Pet Microchip Lookup
Free Pet Chip Registry
RFID-USA Microchip Registry or here

Now I don’t know about you, but the only database that my 2 dogs came up in was the first one (Pet Microchip Lookup)… And this was only because I took the extra step of manually entering them into the FoundAnimals free database awhile back. So even though both of my dogs have registered chips with Avid, they didn’t come up in this database through Avid, and they didn’t come up in any of the other ones at all. Regarding the 1 that did list them, they came up linked to the secondary FoundAnimals database instead. So had I not taken the initiative to do that, my registered dogs would have went 0 for 8 in these databases masquerading publicly as “universal” databases. Most people aren’t told to cross-register your pets like this, so they never even think to. The only reason that I did it was because it was free. After researching I found that the 2nd database is free as well. I’ve since signed up for that one too.

The other 6 actually charge you to list your animals… Petlink charges you a 1-time fee of $19.99 per pet. RFID-USA charges you a 1-time fee of $19.95 per pet. Petkey charges you a yearly fee of $14.99 per pet. EIDAP charges you a 1-time fee of $11.00 per pet. InfoPET charges you a 1-time fee of $25.00 and an additional $10.00 per added pet. PETMAXX links with Petlink, so if they aren’t listed in Petlink they have no chance of showing in PETMAXX.

Is all of this not totally ridiculous? Why isn’t there a truly universal database that umbrellas over every single one of these poser databases? If you pay once with a microchip manufacturer then the information should be shared with every other database, should it not? And why so many damn databases to begin with? The majority of which also operate exclusively from all the others. So it begs the question: Does this industry care about returning lost animals to their owners or only about charging numerous fees at the further expense of thoroughly confusing people?

Unfortunately these organizations are not required to speak to each other. That means that they are not sharing owner information. Making matters worse, the available online databases rarely catalog tangible results. Instead of working together for the intended advertised purpose, this whole idea really shows itself to be a diluted mess.

These are some of the most well known microchip manufacturers, many who then have their own databases…

24PetWatch, 1-866-597-2424, uses their own database.
AKC, 1-800-252-7894, uses their own database.
Avid, 1-800-336-2843, uses their own database.
Datamars, 1-877-738-5465, uses the Petlink database.
FoundAnimals, uses their own database.
HomeAgain, 1-888-466-3242, uses their own database.
resQ, 1-877-738-5465, uses the Petlink database.
*resQ was created by Bayer and I can’t tell if it’s now in some way affiliated with Datamars. This and this should be required reading for everyone.

Then you get into which scanners actually read which chips… The word “universal” is again readily thrown around, yet many scanners claiming to be universal only read certain microchips. Sometimes this is done on purpose. Avid chips read out at 9 digits. HomeAgain, AKC and other chips read out at 10 digits. FoundAnimals, Datamars and resQ are ISO chips and read out at 15 digits. Some HomeAgain and AKC chips are now ISO and 15 digits. ISO microchips are what most of the non-U.S. world are currently using. It has been said that many of the scanners being used in the United States seldom successfully scan for ISO microchips. Who knows, but pretty worrisome regardless. The 3 different types of chips run on 3 different frequencies: 125 kHz, 128 kHz, and 134.2 kHz. So unless your microchip scanner picks up all 3 frequencies it is NOT universal.

Some shelters and vets assume that if their scanner picks up three different brands of microchips, it is universal. However some brands are on the same chip frequency, and some make several different types of microchip. So unless the scanner picks up all three frequencies (the 125, 128, and 134.2), it is NOT universal. And unfortunately, many organizations are unknowingly still using non-universal scanners, which means they are missing chips and therefore unable to reunite lost pets with their families.

A couple different scenarios for you… Let’s assume that the scanner actually finds a chip on a stray dog. What if a staff member from a vet’s office or a shelter opted to pull up one of these database websites instead of calling a specific manufacturer directly? What if they tried to call, got put on a lengthy hold, and since they’re busy themselves opted to hang up and use one of these websites instead? Yikes. The mere existence of all of these different databases is troubling, because a single search bringing back no results basically implies that the pet has no owner. I’m not saying that this happens a lot, but if it happens at all then it’s a total shame. The absence of a result in any of these random databases could potentially cause an owned animal to die. That’s real. Best case, they wouldn’t be found but eventually saved and adopted out to someone else. No one knows how careful or thorough people are. Just as many vets and shelters likely have detailed protocol in order to deal with this, many probably don’t. That’s scary.

Please be aware of these missteps and take matters into your own hands to make sure that your pet’s microchip is best represented. If you’ve ever adopted a pet from the shelter it is imperative that you personally register your microchip with the microchip manufacturer. You may assume that the shelter does this for you. They do not. I’d also advise registering your pet’s microchip with the free secondary backup websites, FoundAnimals Microchip Registry and Free Pet Chip Registry. Going further, next time you are at your vet I’d have them scan for a microchip just to see if they get a worthwhile result. Lastly, I’d challenge animal shelters to setup test scenarios with dogs known to have specific chips, just to see if their owned scanners are truly up to snuff. Because I have no doubt that many aren’t, and that basically means more dead dogs.