Pet Identification and Overpopulation

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It's estimated that one-third of all dogs will become lost at some time during their lives. Shelters report that the vast majority of strays lack identification, undoubtedly contributing to the somber estimates that only 16% of dogs and only 2% of cats entering shelters are reunited with their guardians. These strays add to the tragic surplus of cats and dogs and as a result, countless pets die needless deaths because their guardians cannot be located.

Without proper identification, lost animals are likely to stray for extended periods of time. Unless spayed or neutered, the longer an animal is without the supervision of its guardian, the greater chance it has of reproducing and adding to the overpopulation problem.

Caretakers who manage feral cat colonies have found that identifying the animals for the purpose of maintaining sterilization and vaccination information is essential, but troublesome. The difficulty, and in some cases inability, to access this information costs caretakers valuable time and resources that could more effectively be used to manage the colony and curtail its population growth.

Millions of animals are abandoned to fend for themselves when their irresponsible guardians no longer wish to care for them. Without any definite means of identifying the animal (and its caretaker), there is little chance of identifying and punishing the thoughtless perpetrator.

In her book Stolen for Profit, author Judith Reitman estimates that as many as 2 million dogs are stolen every year, with many destined for research facilities. While some institutions attempt to return identified pets to their rightful guardians, dealers thwart these efforts by removing collars and identification tags, thereby condemning cherished family pets to doom in scientists' laboratories.


A microchip is a tiny transponder that can be safely implanted into animals to provide permanent and unequivocal identification. The chip is encased in a tiny glass tube which is formulated to be compatible with living tissue. The entire piece is only as large as a grain of uncooked rice, but it can provide a wealth of information about the animal in which it's implanted.

Each chip is assigned a unique identification number that can be read by special scanners using low-frequency radio waves. This number corresponds to a database record in a national registry which provides the information necessary to contact the animal's caretaker. The record can also include alternate contact persons; a medical history of the pet, including whether it's spayed or neutered; health conditions; necessary medications; and even favorite foods. A toll-free number is provided to retrieve the information and phone lines are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The database record can be updated when the guardian moves, if the animal should change homes, to update medical information, etc. Microchips take only a fraction of a second to read with the proper equipment and are correctly deciphered approximately 99% of the time. With an average life of 25 years, the chips offer virtually permanent identification.

The simple process of implanting a microchip is similar to a vaccination. A syringe is used to inject the microchip in a designated spot, which for dogs and cats, is under the skin between the shoulder blades. This allows vets, shelters, and animal control officers to know exactly where to scan when a stray animal is found. It's not necessary for a veterinarian to implant the chip; increasingly, shelters are microchipping all adopted animals and many offer the service to the public as well.

Microchipping as a means of permanent identification offers a multitude of benefits to animals, caretakers, and the general public. Microchips are invaluable for reuniting lost pets with their caretakers, sparing both pets and guardians considerable anguish and affording unaltered strays less opportunity to reproduce. Microchipping feral cats provides a definite means of maintaining information on each cat and can greatly assist those caring for the colonies. Since the chips can't be altered or removed, microchipping can aid in returning stolen pets to their guardians. Because a microchipped animal can be traced to the person responsible for its care, microchipping can serve to deter people from abandoning their pets, particularly when incorporated with a mandatory identification program. Faster and more frequent reunions between strays and their caretakers will result in less noise and mess caused by strays; fewer cats turning feral or dogs forming packs; a reduction in confrontations between strays and other animals or humans; fewer strays as hazards to vehicle traffic; and decreased financial and staffing burden on shelters, many of which are funded by taxpayers.

Microchips are preferred to more traditional forms of identification because unlike tattoos, a microchip is easy to apply, easy to read, it won't fade, and it cannot be altered. In contrast to collars, the chip can't become lost, pets can't slip out of the house without them, and they cannot be removed.

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