In practice, microchips have not yet lived up to the hype. Much of the gulf between expectations and experience is attributable to a lack of standards in the microchip industry. In short, it appears that economic considerations and attempts to corner the market by different microchip manufacturers have interfered with the purported goal of the devices: returning lost pets to their owners.
Proprietary technologies initially played a role in the problem. Each brand of microchip could be read only by scanners made by the same company. For instance, in 2001 a commonly available microchip scanner (manufactured by Home Again) could not read chips made by the company’s main competitor, Avid. When scanned, Avid chips would not display the unique code that was supposed to identify the pet. Instead, the scanner display would simply read “AVID”. I had to refer lost pets with Avid chips to a nearby facility with an Avid scanner.
This problem came to a head when a large chain of corporate veterinary practices decided to start using an entirely new type of microchip. This chip would not even register on most commercially available scanners. In other words, pets with the new chip would appear not to be microchipped when scanned with many devices.
A furore erupted. What if a lost pet with a family desperately searching for it were euthanized because an animal shelter’s scanner could not read its microchip?
This concern lead to the development of universal microchip scanners. These devices read all brands of microchips.
That’s a good start. But after a microchip has been scanned successfully, the chip must be matched to the person who registered it. There are several microchip registries.
For instance, when I scan my pal Buster’s microchip, the following information appears on the device’s screen:
(I have redacted a few digits from the code to protect my privacy)
This sequence of numbers and letters can be plugged into the appropriate database to reunite Buster with the people who would be frantically searching for him if he were lost. But there are several databases out there. Where to start?
Enter the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The Association has launched a new web site, www.petmicrochiplookup.org, which will track the registry of a microchip and direct a good samaritan to the proper database. In theory.
I entered Buster’s microchip information into the site and retrieved the following:
[WebException: The operation has timed out]
_Default.ImageButton1_Click1(Object sender, ImageClickEventArgs e) +1819
System.Web.UI.ImageClickEventHandler.Invoke(Object sender, ImageClickEventArgs e) +0
System.Web.UI.WebControls.ImageButton.OnClick(ImageClickEventArgs e) +108
System.Web.UI.WebControls.ImageButton.RaisePostBackEvent(String eventArgument) +118
RaisePostBackEvent(String eventArgument) +10
String eventArgument) +13
System.Web.UI.Page.RaisePostBackEvent(NameValueCollection postData) +36
Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint) +1565
Some day perhaps microchips will live up to their potential. I hope that day comes soon.