As many as 8 million pets enter shelters every year, and owners are encouraged to microchip their dogs and cats to make sure their lost animals find their way home again.
But the NBC4 I-Team learned the microchipping system a serious flaw.
Maria Brase has been desperately searching for her dog Coco, a cherished family member who went missing weeks ago after a construction crew left a gap open in her fenced yard.
“This is a four-legged daughter I never had because I couldn’t have a second child,” she said.
But despite all her signs and fliers and an identifying microchip Brase implanted in Coco’s neck, she said she doubts she’ll ever find the pup because of a problem in the way microchips are tracked.
“Some scan it, but they don’t have a system that says ‘Oh, this dog belongs to so and so,’” she said.
Animal advocates said it’s the disturbing truth about the microchip industry.
Millions of dogs and cats have been injected with tiny chips, embedded with unique serial numbers to identify them if they’re lost, but the trouble is that they’re made by dozens of different manufacturers.
While universal scanners can read them, there is no single, shared database where veterinarians or shelter workers can enter the information to find an animal’s owner.
“There are players in the industry that aren’t playing nice,” said Olivia White, founder of Check the Chip Inc., a California start-up trying to untangle what she has called a broken system.
“The conversation to find a solution to unifying databases, trying to find a solution to the re-unification problem, they consistently don’t show up to the table to the detriment of millions and millions of pets, including my own,” she said.
Making matters worse, many pet owners don’t realize they need to register their pet’s serial number in the first place and to update the information any time there’s a change of address or phone number.
Outdated microchip information could lead to a dog or cat being euthanized, or adopted out to a new owner.
Maria Brase said she fears that will be Coco’s fate.
“It’s so many loopholes, it’s disorganized,” she said. “Come on, we’re information-age technology. We could do a lot better than this.”
One important note: animal advocates have agreed that despite the issues, your lost pet has a much better chance of finding its way home with a microchip, than without it.