More than 1 million pets are lost or stolen every year, and one in three pets will get lost during their lifetime, according to the California Veterinary Medical Assn. Without pet identification, 90 percent will not get home.
The CVMA recommends that animals, in addition to wearing collars and tags, be microchipped. But for this to be effective, the pet must be registered in a recovery database.
“In spite of great strides over the past two years, many pet owners are still not aware of the benefits of microchipping and enrolling their pet in a recovery database,” says Brent Saunders, senior vice president, Schering-Plough Corp. “This is why HomeAgain is investing so significantly to educate the consumer.”
Although Schering-Plough is not new to the microchip industry—HomeAgain microchips have been on the market for more than 10 years—the company recently launched its HomeAgain Proactive Pet Recovery Network, hoping to improve the odds of owners finding their lost pets.
“The proactive network supports pet owners in a number of ways, including sending alerts to local shelters and veterinarians and mobilizing volunteers to help search for a missing pet,” Saunders says.
Rescuers in the vicinity of a pet’s last known location will receive email updates with a description, a photo and recovery tips. When a pet is found, the rescuers will make the appropriate connections to area veterinary clinics or shelters.
“Our mission is to save pets’ lives,” Saunders says. “We know microchipping and enrollment in a recovery database are vital to helping protect pets, and our new proactive recovery network goes much further in helping lost pets return home safely. Our goal is to reunite more pets with their owners, and reduce the number of pets in shelters and rescue organizations.”
However, about 40 percent to 50 percent of pet owners who get their pets microchipped at the vet forget to take the next step and enroll, says Carmen Battaglia, DVM, president and chief executive officer of the American Kennel Club’s Companion Animal Recovery, which recently became the exclusive distributor of Trovan 128 kHz microchips.
Missed registrations are much lower—less than 5 percent—with pets coming from shelters, mainly because shelter workers wait while the pet owner fills out the form and then mail it in themselves. Dr. Battaglia recommends that vets do the same.
However, with more databases coming out on the market, Battaglia says he worries this may cause confusion. Shelters won’t know what database to call, he says, and with multiple databases, how many will they call? Battaglia says he would like to get together with other database providers and discuss how to address this issue.
“We would like to get on the front end of the thinking and demonstrate there is a way that we can help this infrastructure work even if there is a proliferation of databases,” he says. “That is to set a standard, a new standard that says if you are going to be in the business of selling microchips and having databases, these are the minimums you have to provide.”
The addition of newer databases does have a potential to get complicated as time goes on, says John Wade, DVM, vice president of Avid, which uses the global database PETtrack. Dr. Wade, who is also an advisory board member of the American Microchip Advisory Council for Animals, says AMACA recognizes this and is doing something about it.
AMACA, comprising microchip manufacturers, shelters and recovery networks, among others, announced the development of a nationwide umbrella database to assist in tracking microchips last November. It will work with recovery networks already in operation.
The concept of the umbrella, based on a model that has been used in Spain for 15 years, is to easily direct callers to the appropriate manufacturer or recovery service, says Hannis Stoddard III , DVM, president and founder of Avid and an AMACA advisory board member. In turn, “Pet owners will have additional confidence that their animal will be found and reunited.”
The umbrella would store all microchip numbers from the participating manufacturers or recovery services. No other data would be associated with it, protecting the pet owner’s security and privacy.
“We want to keep it as basic as we can and still keep information safe and under control,” says Coy Willis, director of Animal Services–Midland, Texas, past president of the National Animal Control Assn. and an AMACA advisory board member.
Willis says he hasn’t heard of any opposition yet. Manufacturers all want the same thing, he says, to get pets back to their owners.
Pauline White, executive director of the San Diego Veterinary Medical Assn., agrees. With new microchips on the market, the umbrella is an additional step to help shelters reunite lost pets with their owners, she says.
“I anticipate that companies would be desirous to join in order to assist with pet recovery,” she adds.
At Veterinary Practice News’ press time, a draft of the plan had been provided to the AMACA Advisory Board for consideration and comment. Issues such as fees and funding were still being discussed.
Willis says he hopes to see the umbrella up and running sometime before the end of the year.
Tom Hopper, director of marketing for Bayer Animal Health, says he’s not familiar with the specifics of the organization, “but I would say as a general philosophy, Bayer believes strongly that the broader reach of databases that are searchable, while respecting the clients needs for privacy and maintaining data integrity, is ultimately in the best interest of pets and their owners and animal welfare workers.”
Bayer Animal Health recently entered the microchip market with the launch of its resQ pet identification system, which is based on the ISO-standard 134.2 kHz frequency. Through resQ’s PetLink registry database, resQ pet owners are granted free registration and a lifetime of free updates, a feature that Hopper says enhances pet owner compliance.
Based on market research, registration fees are considered a deterrent to owners registering their pets, Hopper says. And because resQ charges no fees, anyone can register the animal. Shelters can handle the registration as a package, he adds.
“Anytime you ask a pet owner to take a second or third step to complete [the registration] process, you risk whether it will be completed properly,” he says.
Hopper says that Bayer Animal Health recognizes that the significant challenge of microchipping these days as the need for databases to be searchable. He said that’s why Bayer Animal Health and partner Datamars have brought the search engine Petmaxx to the United States.
Petmaxx enables PetLink or shelter operators to input a microchip number and search global databases for the registry of a pet.
However, Petmaxx relies on other manufacturers to open their databases, which at this point, they haven’t been open to doing, he says.
In the end though, the recovery process begins with the initial process of registering the pet.
“The point of microchipping all falls apart if that animal isn’t registered and if that registration is not maintained,” Hopper says.