Action Alert: Shelters Must Check for Microchips & Contact Owners of Lost Pets

In response to the killing of two microchipped pets at Jackson Co AC in Oregon, I am asking readers to contact the following groups for a response.  I have a included a sample letter below, which anyone is free to copy.  Please share with your fellow animal advocates and let me know if you receive any responses.

AVMA:  avmainfo@avma.org

Jackson Co Board of Commissioners:
John Rachor – Commissionerrachorjv@jacksoncounty.org
Don Skundrick – Commissioner - skundrdw@jacksoncounty.org
Dennis C.W. Smith – Commissionersmithdc@jacksoncounty.org

Sample Letter:

The American Veterinary Medical Association indicates on its website that a shelter has only ever killed a microchipped pet once, and that was due to the facility’s scanner being unable to read the dog’s chip.  The AVMA states “the likelihood that this will happen again is very low”.  In fact, there is no way of knowing how many microchipped pets are killed by animal shelters in the U.S.  Stories of such killings have made the news however when broken-hearted owners have chosen to go public.

In 2010, a lost microchipped cat named O’Malley was impounded by the Broward Co pound in FL and left to suffer in a cage for 5 days while his health deteriorated.  When the pound’s staff removed him from the cage to kill him, they found the chip but it was too late to save O’Malley’s life.  He was killed at the pound.

In the fall of 2011, a lost microchipped dog named Jake was impounded by the Jackson Co pound in OR.  The pound did not contact the owners until after the 5 day holding period had expired and the owners were unable to immediately pay the $150 redemption fee.  Despite the owners wanting their pet back home with his 11 year old boy, the pound suddenly killed him, saying he was aggressive.  Then in December, the same pound accepted a microchipped cat named Max who had been trapped by a person who was not his owner.  Local station KTVL reported the following:

According to the shelter’s website it says the “disposition of cats at large bearing no identification may be made at any time after impoundment.”  That means if Max was too aggressive when he was brought in the shelter may not have checked his microchip before he was put down.

[Max's veterinarian] said when he called the shelter to ask why the cat was put down and was told it was because the shelter’s microchip scanning device wasn’t working.

Regardless of which story is accurate, Max is dead.  So are Jake, O’Malley and an unknown number of other microchipped pets whose stories did not make the news.

The AVMA’s member veterinarians, along with animal shelters throughout the country, push the sale of microchips to pet owners as a means of getting their lost pet home if he ever gets impounded by animal control.  The industry likes to promote stories of lost pets being reunited with their owners because of their microchips.  But that is not the full story.  The potential for a microchip being used to get a pet back home is only worth what the impounding shelter is willing to put into it.  And some shelters invest very little effort in saving pets’ lives.

In Washoe Co NV, animal control officers scan lost pets in the field for microchips in an effort to get them back home and avoid impound altogether.  For pets who are impounded, a re-scan is performed upon arrival at the shelter just in case the chip was missed in the field.  Washoe Co Animal Control boasts a return-to-owner rate much higher than most shelters because of their efforts. Shouldn’t this be the national standard that the AVMA promotes and all shelters uphold?

Further, I believe the AVMA, its member veterinarians, and microchip manufacturers have an obligation to hold shelters accountable when microchipped pets are not returned to their caring owners.  By sweeping these stories under the rug and minimizing the risk to the public of microchipped pets being killed by shelters, all parties involved lose credibility.  The call for reform to shelter practices which result in the needless killing of microchipped pets should be loud and clear:  It is unacceptable and entirely avoidable.

All pets must be scanned for microchips in the field and if found, immediate attempts must be made to contact the owners.  If no chip is found and the animal is impounded, he should be re-scanned upon intake with immediate attempts made to contact the owners if a chip is detected.  If there is any way to return a lost pet to a caring owner, shelters must act appropriately to accomplish that. These are simple, minimal effort tasks which would increase the effectiveness of microchips and save pets’ lives.  Would you please respond to this issue so that the public knows where you stand?

Leave a comment

33 Comments

  1. I just went straight to the point – short and angry:

    What do you think Microchipping is for? So that a lost pet can be returned to it’s owner. But I think you already know that. So why are you killing microchipped pets?????

    What is wrong with you????
    STOP KILLING PETS THAT BELONG TO OWNERS WHO ARE LOOKING FOR THEIR PETS!!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Sheri

     /  January 18, 2012

    Nebraska Humane Society in Omaha put down a dachshund who was elderly and wandered off the night before without checking the microchip or giving the three days for the owners to claim him. And yes he was very old had arthritus, could barely see, but he was well cared for and loved by his family.

    Reply
  3. Michele

     /  January 18, 2012

    We had an incident here in Illinois where a neighbor trapped cats and took them to the shelter saying they were feral. One of the owners found her cat at the shelter just minutes from being euthanized. She asked them how many feral cats had ID collars on and purred when handled?

    After this happened the Illinois Federation of Dog Clubs and Owners, of which I am a founding member, ran our first piece of state legislation. It passed easily and it is now law in Illinois that all Animal Control facilities must scan an animal upon intake and again prior to euthanizing, adopting or transferring that animal. Registered owners on the chip must be contacted, and records kept of the contacts. If the owner cannot be found then the facility must contact the implanter of the chip, which might be a breeder, veterinarian or another shelter.

    The Illinois Federation of Dog Clubs and Owners is also going a step further and is assisting all animal control facilities in our state to obtain new scanners or additional scanners at little to no cost to the facility.

    If your state does not have a law like this then please consider asking your representatives to enact one. It’s a no-brainer and benefits everyone, especially the animals. If anyone has questions on how to do this in your state please contact me at schipnut58@yahoo.com.

    Reply
  4. I had a friend that had a dog and fenced yard and a microchip in the dog.Something happened dog got out and he ended up at a shelter .they didn’t check for the chip ,by the next morning she went to the shelter to see if he was there ,you would know that they has gassed him as a stray he was dead when she got there I can not say much more there is a lawsuit pending but the money will not bting back her dog ,this women has had to be put on medication and is sstill on it she almost hadb a nervous breakdown.

    Reply
  5. The OVMA has this to say about microchips: http://oregonvma.org/care-health/pets-need-id
    They can be contacted here:
    http://oregonvma.org/contact

    Reply
  6. Angie Vipperman

     /  January 19, 2012

    If this happened to me I would be so upset. I can’t imagine.the pain everyone went through. WE must stop this from happening ever again!

    Reply
  7. Advocate

     /  January 19, 2012

    Note – the AVMA revised their oath in 2011 “to emphasize their animal welfare commitment”.

    “From today forward, every graduate entering our profession will swear an oath not only to protect animal health but also welfare; to not only relieve animal suffering but to prevent it. That’s a powerful statement defining ourselves and our responsibilities, not a vague symbol,” Dr. J. Bruce Nixon, AWC chair-elect, said about the Executive Board action.”

    http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/jan11/x110101a.asp

    How do you protect the welfare of animals if you don’t give them a chance to be reunited with their families or adopted into a new home? “Shelters” that kill for space or population control commit some of the worst cruelty against animals, so shouldn’t the AVMA advocate that the No Kill Equation be put in place in all communities?

    Hopefully if enough people contact them, the AVMA will correct their info about few microchipped pets being killed. Other animal welfare issues have demonstrated the organization does always act in the best interest of animals; they are a trade organization that looks out for the business interests of it’s member veterinarians. This is the opinion of veterinarians advocating for improved animal welfare policies that need to be based on newer evidence.

    Also from the AVMA site:

    “The Current State of Microchipping in the United States

    Each year, eight to 10 million pets stray from their home in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Companion Animal Recovery (CAR) program. Only a fraction of them are returned to their owners, despite the best efforts of shelters, animal control officers and veterinarians…”
    http://www.avma.org/readallchips/default.asp

    “despite the best efforts of shelters, animal control… and veterinarians.” Pul-eeeze.

    Some data shows 1 in 3 pets will go missing in their lifetime Estimates say that 80% or more of stray animals are lost pets that could be returned home if shelters/animal control did a better job (used proactive redemption programs and policies, including Missing Animal Response and education about recovery techniques).

    Absolutely they must scan for chips, (if chips aren’t universal yet, more than one scanner is needed) and animals must be held for the required time, or better yet, not killed at all.
    (I’ve been told that shelters and rescues are usually provided chip scanners for free. Don’t know if that’s true all over.)

    Not sure if the AVMA would care much about saving shelter pets since vets also profit from killing animals for space. They probably don’t want the public to think of them that way, but why don’t you think more vets speak out about killing shelter animals?

    Many vets like cats to be tested for feline immunodeficiency virus, then killed if they’re positive. They push shelter, rescue groups and cat owners to do that. It’s not necessarily because they’re really worried about possible future suffering or transmission to other cats. (Cats can test positive if they received the vaccine against it. FIV+ cats can live as long as FIV negative cats with normal, attentive care. FIV is not easily transmitted to other cats.)

    No. It’s a fact that spaying and neutering is normally done at or below cost in order to gain a new client. A spay/neuter takes longer and is less profitable than testing, killing, and disposing of pets.

    Since dog owners tend to spend more on their dogs and give them more vet care, it’s common for vets to know less about cats and care less about them. If vets in the U.S. (and Canada) truly cared about these issues, they would discourage, not promote, convenience surgeries (ear crops, tail docks, amputating cats’ toes – a.k.a. declawing), would advocate for better pet food and human food regulations, and would be more outspoken about killing shelter pets (future clients!) for space.

    There is so much more that can be done increase the return-to-owner and live-release rates. The community, including vets, need to have facts so they can be educated about the issues.

    Reply
  8. Advocate

     /  January 19, 2012

    Correction to my comment, “Hopefully if enough people…”

    “…Other animal welfare issues have demonstrated the organization does *NOT* <<< CORRECTION …

    always act in the best interest of animals; they are a trade organization that looks out for the business interests of it’s member veterinarians. This is the opinion of veterinarians advocating for improved animal welfare policies that need to be based on newer evidence."

    Reply
  9. Janine Plimbley (@Wildchild001)

     /  January 19, 2012

    Im in the United Kingdom and I have just sent the sample letter to the 4 email addresses shown. Hope they reply,

    Reply
  10. Jennifer

     /  January 19, 2012

    I have heard stories about shelters that get too busy and do not have the time to scan for microchips. I would assume that they would not know which animals they have scaned and which they have not!

    All my dogs are microchipped but I still worry about someone finding them if they got out and keeping them without having someone check for microchips. This happened to someone I know in MI and the dog had a medical condition which was left untreated for over a week.

    It is fairly easy in my area to get your pets microchipped as all the shelters have it and my vet holds a microchip and eye clinic once a year in addition to having it done during regular office hours.

    Reply
  11. Erica

     /  January 19, 2012

    Reading these stories makes me wish for the “good old days”…back when one of our dogs got out and after searching for hours we found out AC had picked him up. I had already called and notified them about him breaking out of our fenced in backyard AND told them that he had seizures and HAD to get his meds or he’d be very sick. We got a call after the shelter had closed that he had indeed been picked up. When I spoke with the ACO and explained what was going on – as he was reading the message – that guy stayed for an extra hour (without pay mind you) and waited for me to drive there and get our dog.

    But that was back when we actually had staff at the pound that CARED and wanted to make sure people got reunited with their pets……

    Reply
  12. Janine

     /  January 19, 2012

    Hey guys, I got a reply from Dr Patricia Wohlferthe-Bethke:

    Dear Janine,

    Thank you for writing the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) with your questions about microchipping in the United States.

    The AVMA policy on microchipping titled “The Objectives and Key Elements Needed for Effective Electronic Identification of Companion Animals, Birds, and Equids” can be found at http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/electronic_identification.asp. You will find that as a national organization, we agree and advocate that to be successful there has to be steps taken to assure that animals are scanned by organizations that take in animals for the presence of a chip. Owners must keep their information up to date, or the microchip number becomes useless. Please read this document carefully as you will find links to many articles about situations that may cause the microchip to be missed, such as weight gain, a thick coat and a scared animal, as well as techniques to proper scanning and scanning intervals. We are fully in support of procedures that will make microchipping a more effective tool to help get animals back to their rightful owners.

    Now that backwards and forwards scanners are in place in shelters, chips of different frequencies can be detected to avoid the scenario you mentioned from our FAQ document. Sadly we know that this is not a one-time incident and we did not mean to imply that it only happened one time. We worked with a coalition of States and humane groups to make backwards and forwards scanners available to shelters and police stations in the United States several years ago.

    Individual State governments are the entities that license and regulate the activities of shelters and humane groups in their state. Some states have passed laws that are very clear as to how stray animals must be scanned for the presence of a chip (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/clout/chi-lost-pet-microchip-scan-measure-signed-into-law-20110803,0,1253636.story) , but not every state has done that yet. Even with regulations in place, the individual shelters must have a dedicated staff and support from the shelter management to institute these procedures and practice them every time.

    I hope I have answered your questions. The AVMA is in support of making microchipping better. The AVMA will continue to reach out and educate the public and our members on ways to do so. With States passing laws to require thorough scanning techniques of animals accepted by shelters, things are slowly getting better, but could be even better yet.

    I was in veterinary practice so I know that microchipping can work. I worked in an office where we scanned every pet that came in. I also worked in a shelter where the animals were scanned properly several times, so I know there are places that are dedicated in using the tool to the fullest.

    Please read all the documents that we have on the topic and you can see the amount of information we have available for everyone to see. I know you saw the FAQ’s (http://www.avma.org/issues/microchipping/microchipping_faq.asp). There is also the Backgrounder (http://www.avma.org/reference/backgrounders/microchipping_bgnd.asp) and again the policy we have (http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/electronic_identification.asp). These are very thorough documents that provide all knowledge that we currently have of making microchipping work if certain steps are followed. It is up to individuals to follow through as the information is available for all to see. It is up to each State to regulate how it is required to be done.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Pat Wohlferth-Bethke

    Patricia L. Wohlferth-Bethke DVM

    Assistant Director, Membership and Field Services Division

    American Veterinary Medical Association

    1931 N. Meacham Road, Suite 100

    Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360

    847-285-6679

    The AVMA Veterinary Career Center – For veterinary professional and support staff employment needs. See http://www.avma.org/vcc.

    Reply
  13. Did it this morning!

    Reply
  14. Wow, some great info post on this page — in the article and in the comments. I tweeted and Facebooked (do the same please): Does your local #AnimalShelter Check ALL incoming #pets for Microchips & Contact Owners? http://ow.ly/8zJMB Force them to w/a #law

    Reply
  15. Janine

     /  January 19, 2012

    I think that the reply I got was just to try and justify that the microchips are not always detectable but during my time as a dog warden we always scanned any dogs we found, and any chips the dogs had inserted were always located. I think the issue of the dog putting on weight is rubbish, those chips should still be located.
    MAS is an utter disgrace.
    Has anyone thought of contacting any celebs? Pink is a dog lover? aybe by getting a celebrity on the case would bring more attention to what they are and are not doing,

    Reply
  16. Just today I got the exact same letter as Janine from the AVMA to my letter: Canned response. No action.

    Dear Kellee,

    Thank you for writing the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) with your questions about microchipping.

    The AVMA policy on microchipping titled “The Objectives and Key Elements Needed for Effective Electronic Identification of Companion Animals, Birds, and Equids” can be found at http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/electronic_identification.asp. You will find that as a national organization, we agree and advocate that to be successful there has to be steps taken to assure that animals are scanned by organizations that take in animals for the presence of a chip. Owners must keep their information up to date, or the microchip number becomes useless. Please read this document carefully as you will find links to many articles about situations that may cause the microchip to be missed, such as weight gain, a thick coat and a scared animal, as well as techniques to proper scanning and scanning intervals. We are fully in support of procedures that will make microchipping a more effective tool to help get animals back to their rightful owners.

    Now that backwards and forwards scanners are in place in shelters, chips of different frequencies can be detected to avoid the scenario you mentioned from our FAQ document. Sadly we know that this is not a one-time incident and we did not mean to imply that it only happened one time. We worked with a coalition of States and humane groups to make backwards and forwards scanners available to shelters and police stations in the United States several years ago.

    Individual State governments are the entities that license and regulate the activities of shelters and humane groups in their state. Some states have passed laws that are very clear as to how stray animals must be scanned for the presence of a chip (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/clout/chi-lost-pet-microchip-scan-measure-signed-into-law-20110803,0,1253636.story) , but not every state has done that yet. Even with regulations in place, the individual shelters must have a dedicated staff and support from the shelter management to institute these procedures and practice them every time.

    I hope I have answered your questions. The AVMA is in support of making microchipping better. The AVMA will continue to reach out and educate the public and our members on ways to do so. With States passing laws to require thorough scanning techniques of animals accepted by shelters, things are slowly getting better, but could be even better yet.

    I was in veterinary practice so I know that microchipping can work. I worked in an office where we scanned every pet that came in. I also worked in a shelter where the animals were scanned properly several times, so I know there are places that are dedicated in using the tool to the fullest.

    Please read all the documents that we have on the topic and you can see the amount of information we have available for everyone to see. I know you saw the FAQ’s (http://www.avma.org/issues/microchipping/microchipping_faq.asp). There is also the Backgrounder (http://www.avma.org/reference/backgrounders/microchipping_bgnd.asp) and again the policy we have (http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/electronic_identification.asp). These are very thorough documents that provide all knowledge that we currently have of making microchipping work if certain steps are followed.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Pat Wohlferth-Bethke

    Patricia L. Wohlferth-Bethke DVM

    Assistant Director, Membership and Field Services Division

    American Veterinary Medical Association

    1931 N. Meacham Road, Suite 100

    Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360

    847-285-6679

    The AVMA Veterinary Career Center – For veterinary professional and support staff employment needs. See http://www.avma.org/vcc.

    Reply
  17. marie

     /  January 20, 2012

    DO NOT take any found pet to a shelter . If you can capture them take them to a vet’s office or a emergency hospital first which ever is open and have them read the code on the pet instead of putting the pet and the owner out to such a horror .. chances are they are chipped than they get reunited that much faster.
    All vets offices have chip readers..!!!

    Reply
    • Michele

       /  January 21, 2012

      Marie,

      Wish that were a true statement. In many parts of Missouri and I’m sure other states, the vets do NOT have scanners. Many vets who do have scanners have the old models that will not read the chips with the newer frequencies. In Illinois, it is illegal for someone to not notify animal control of a found dog, and many communities require that the dog be turned over to the nearest animal control facility.

      Reply
      • Jennifer

         /  January 21, 2012

        All the commercial breeders/dealers-USDA breeders and dealers in MO have to have their dogs easily identifiable and this is done by microchipping. In the old days the dogs used to be tattooed. There are thousands of these breeders/dealers in MO. I would assume that the vet would verify the ID of a dog at the commercial kennel before doing an exam.

        I find it absurd that MO vets cannot afford a $300 microchip scanner! What other kind of care/procedures can a MO vet not afford or do?

      • Michele

         /  January 21, 2012

        Not so at all. I recently got in a rescue dog from MO where the vet had done her spay at full term. One of the puppies was found by a staff member crawling out of the amniotic sack in the garbage can. The vet offered to euthanize it but the staffer took it home instead. The dog had been dumped in the country and the man that took her to the vet and paid for her spay, shots, etc. didn’t even know about microchips. At the vet’s office the dog was never scanned, they don’t have a scanner, nor do they do microchipping. This is a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. You cannot assume that all vets practice medicine the same way as ones you are familiar with. This is not the first time nor will it be the last time that I know the vet has no scanner. We get our rescues from different states and it happens more often than I wish.

        Also, the cost of an AVID scanner to a vet is usually in the $700 range plus the cost of chips, etc. AKC CAR makes it way more affordable to both vets and breeders since they are a non-profit. I found that AVID would not work with our rescue group unless we signed a multi-year exclusive contract with them and it didn’t have much affect on their pricing. This was a few years ago and we switched to AKC CAR and have been very happy, cheaper too as with every chip we register we get a free chip.

  18. Sharon

     /  January 23, 2012

    Very well put article. I was horrified when I read that some shelters NEVER scan for microchips at all! My dog has one because you just never know, and if she died in a shelter because either the shelter’s policy was not to check or some bozo failed to check or missed it, there’d be hell to pay. I’m NOT the kind of person who would keep quiet and let it go.

    Reply
  19. Rob

     /  August 13, 2012

    My dog got out of our fenced yard (at 12 AM) and was picked up by the cops.
    They took him to a Shelter…We picked him up the following day when they opened up.We were charged ($ 62.50 for a Microchip) that we DID NOT authorize? I asked them who gave THEM the right to inject chip in our 13 year old dog and they said,Its the Illinois Law that “ALL dogs impounded get a chip”.To which I rebutted—
    “and YOU inject the chip for $62.50- why couldn’t I take him to OUR vet and have it done?
    She said pay up or you dont’t the your dog.

    Seriously….Thats the Illinois Law?

    DUMB….
    Rob

    Thekahboom@yahoo.com

    Reply
  20. animaladvocate3

     /  November 29, 2013

    I SWEAR, THE DEVIL LIVES AT ALL COUNTY ANIMAL CONTROLS!!!!!!!

    Reply
  21. we have been fighting for this for over 15 yrs… we have rescued from kill shelters who never scanned and we scanned and found owners… one even telling us they went to that very shelter to find their pet and was told he was not there… UGGGG should be law.. period.. how many are killed and could of been saved… I also travel out of country and had to by my own scanner for the flights.. just in case… 1. Microchip 2. make sure to make your voice heard that all shelters scan pets. 3. push to look at the animals in hold area, or you may have your pet over looked if missing

    Reply
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