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Old June 22nd, 2003, 05:55 AM
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Implanted microchips help reunite owners, pets

Rebecca Baker Erwin , Register Staff 06/22/2003

Betsy Brennan decided to protect her Christmas present with a little technology.

The Woodbridge resident had her veterinarian place a tiny microchip in her golden retriever puppy when he was getting his shots last winter.

Today, if "Jasper" gets lost without his collar or stolen, most shelters and animal hospitals can wave a wand over his neck, see his number and phone his owner.

Call it a LoJack for pets.

"Itís tremendous peace of mind," Brennan said. "And itís a good idea. As much as you protect your dog, they can get loose."

Brennan is among nearly 16,000 Connecticut residents whose animals have a computerized ID chip the size of a grain of rice embedded in their skin.

The pet ID chip has helped reunite 755 animals with their owners statewide, according to the American Kennel Club, which keeps a database for the HomeAgain brand chip.

The technology has been around for years and is commonplace in Canada, Great Britain, and some states, particularly California and Florida.

But Connecticut has been slow to join the trend. Local veterinarians who offer the service say they wish more dog and cat owners would join the trend.

"We thought it would catch on faster," said Norman MacKay, a veterinarian at New Haven Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine. "I think itís great.

My own dog has one." The New Haven Central Hospital started "chipping" pets regularly about three months ago. MacKay said he is seeing more puppies come from pet stores with chips already in them.

"Itís a permanent ID without scarring them with tattoos, and itís much less painful," he said.

The technology works like this:

A veterinarian uses a thick needle to insert the chip into the loose skin behind the petís neck. The procedure hurts no more than a vaccination or rabies shot, according to pet owners.

The petís name, identification number and its ownerís name, address and telephone number are entered into a national database operated by the chip manufacturer.

When lost dogs or cats arrive at an animal shelter or hospital, an employee can scan them with a hand-held wand that reads the number inside the chip.

The employee then can enter the information in the office computer to cross-reference the owner with the identification number, or calls the manufacturerís toll free number to find its owner.

Tanisha Sultzbach of Seymour had a chip installed in her Sheltie, "Skyler," three years ago when she lived in Florida. She has trained the dog to obey her without a leash and does not want him to fall into the wrong hands.

"If he gets nabbed, I donít want someone to go to a vet and say, ĎI just got this animal and I donít know much about him,í she said. "The chip will show him heís mine."

She said "chipping" animals is the norm in Florida, especially among owners of Rottweilers and pit bulls ó valuable dogs that thieves often target.

Sultzbach, who works as a veterinary assistant in Orange and Derby, said she gets a few calls every month from people who want more information about the chip. But some pet owners simply do not want to spend the money to have the chip embedded in their dog.

The cost is not extravagant. A veterinarian will charge approximately $50 to insert the chip. A clinic or shelter will normally charge less.

"Itís hard to push it," Sultzbach said.

"Clients are already paying so much for vaccinations and care."

Sultzbachís boss, Derby veterinarian Jeffrey Schpero, has an office database of 54 animals with the ID chip. And the list is growing.

"Iíve sold over 40 of them this year," said Pam Cagliotti, a veterinary nurse for 27 years who also works for Schpero.

Cagliotti said she heard about pet ID chips two years ago while working at the New Haven animal shelter. She said countless animals could have been saved if they had the ID chip at the time.

"They wouldnít be euthanized on the eighth day because we couldnít find their owner," she said. "It would save a lot of dogs from an unnecessary death."

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, only 17 percent of lost dogs and 2 percent of lost cats are reunited with their owners. Up to 20 million lost pets are euthanized each year.

As of May 30, more than 140,000 pets have been recovered through the HomeAgain chip, according to the companyís Web site. The American Kennel Club has 1.8 million animals in its HomeAgain database.

But the technology didnít catch on until 2000 ó five years after the American Kennel Club and the maker of HomeAgain started promoting the chip.

"They simply werenít that accepted at first," said Glenn Liken, director of the AKCís Companion Animal Recovery Program.

"As soon as we had growth in our enrollment, we saw the recoveries," he said. "We could tell people that it really works."

Most animals with the HomeAgain chip ó 1.3 million ó are dogs. Cats are second, with more than 432,000 chips.

Other animals that have the HomeAgain chip include 1,579 birds and horses, 804 ferrets, 511 rabbits, 73 pot-bellied pigs, 72 monkeys, 25 tortoises, six foxes, five mules, four skunks, a cow, a goose and a two-toed sloth.

The other leading pet ID chip maker is California-based AVID, which stands for American Veterinary Identification Devices.

AVID has about 3 million pets in its database and claims more than 11 million worldwide. They charge a one-time fee of $15 to register a pet, or $40 for up to eight pets.

While the company did not have an up-to-date breakdown of states or species, company spokeswoman Kathleen Hall said AVID recovers more than 500 animals a day as a result of the microchip.

"We get more than 1,000 calls a day," she said. "Connecticut is getting aware of it now. The results are becoming obvious."
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