The Problem with Microchips

Technology is usually a good thing.  From the beginning, microchips seems to be just that; a way to identify our pets with out the worry of misplaced collars and tags.  But, at best, microchipping your pet is a poor secondary form of identification.  It is better than nothing, but not much better.  The fact that your pet is microchipped, is no excuse for failing to place identification on your pet.

From the beginning, microchip companies did not want to share their microchipping secrets.  One company even encrypted their microchips to prevent other microchip companies from being able to scan for their chips.  Then microchips began entering the United States from Canada and new microchip frequencies began to enter our market.  It became increasingly difficult for animal shelter to find the implanted chips due to the lack of universal scanners.  Even today, with universal scanners on the market, microchips remain unfound because of frequency issues.  The issue has become so great, that many animal shelters refuse to scan for microchips because of the difficulty of finding the chips.

Responsible animal shelters believe that if a pet owner is going to microchip their pet, then the shelter will perform the scan.  Anything to get the pet back to its owner.  Because microchips are elusive to find, animal shelters will scan for the chip three times: upon intake of the animals, during the medical examination, and at disposition.  Microchips can migrate within the pet; I once found a microchip that had migrated from the injection site (in the shoulder blades) to the front paw, for this Great Dane, that was a migration of three feet.  It is so critical that every inch of the animal is scanned.   If you realized the number of microchips that are discovered just prior to euthanasia, you would understand why I state that the microchip is a poor secondary form of identification.

Animal shelter personnel get so very excited to find a microchip, only to find that few microchips are traceable.   The most common cause of an untraceable microchip is from microchips that are purchased from veterinarians, where the veterinarian expects the pet owner to register the microchip with a national registry.  Many veterinarians just sell and implant the chip, but fails to associate that chip with the owner and those that do, might purge the records of pet owners who fail to return for follow up medical examinations.

We are a mobile society.  Pet owners fail to keep current their pet’s microchip registration.  Some animal shelters have to go to great lengths to trace an owner through their microchip.  Originally, it had been the hope of our profession to find lost pets in the field and return them home before the owner even discovered the pet was missing.  That happens infrequently, but those occurrence are occurring even more rarely.

One of the most frustrating things that animal shelter personnel face is that pet owners with microchipped pets feel that it is not necessary for them to look for their lost pet because the microchip will guarantee the animal’s return.  With this mindset, the pet owners might have to wait a year or two to see their pet again.

Microchipping your pet is no excuse to be lazy.  Buy an ID tag, purchase your local pet license and be proactive in finding your lost pet.

Maintaining Herd Health

Most veterinarians will tell you that the best way to keep your shelter animals health is to keep your animal population low.  In today’s world of No Kill, people don’t want you to euthanize any animal, even aggressive animals, if you have open cage space.

Some foolish States created laws preventing the euthanasia of shelter animals if open cage space is available.  The people creating those laws did not have the common sense to understand that open cage space is necessary to provide for incoming animals.  Without open cage space, every new animal intake would create a crisis: do you force the doubling of animals in cages or quickly euthanize an animal to make space on every intake?

Maintaining an animal shelter at full capacity creates stress on the animals.  Animals under stress are more likely to get sick.  A shelter full of sick animals is a shelter’s worst nightmare.

Even shelter maintaining the proper population balance will hit a crisis when animals are dumped on them from natural disasters or hoarding cases.  Usually longer holding periods will be required during natural disasters in hope of the pet’s owner returning home.  Hoarding cases often require holding periods to get the owner through the court process; these holding periods could easily exceed months.

The business of animal sheltering frequently forces shelter management to move from one crisis to another.  When tough decisions are made to manage the overpopulation at an animal shelter, the No Kill folks will be first to criticize the those decision when they see an empty cage.

Practicing Veterinary Medicine

I came across an article that a rescue organization was charged with practicing veterinary medicine in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  Tax funded organization, if property funded, have access to veterinarians.  Most animal rescue organization are not so funded.

In a world of pet owners failing to provide even the minimum level of veterinary care to their pets, I think we can give a break to experienced care givers who is trying to help the animals in their care.

The veterinary profession has engaged in legislation that assures their own survival by forcing pet owners to obtain specific services from them.  In some states, animal shelter workers are not allowed to simply vaccinate animals unless under the direction of a veterinarian.   The their efforts to secure their own profits, the veterinarians hinder the ability of animal caregivers to legally provide medical care for the animals in their care.

One example is the administration of a rabies vaccination.  Veterinarians have attempted for years to restrict access to rabies vaccines to veterinarians only.  They claim that only veterinarians are capable of maintaining the proper refrigeration of the vaccine.  In most states, only rabies vaccinations administered by a veterinarian is considered a legal vaccination.

If you vaccinate your dog for rabies yourself and your dog bites a person, the dog will be considered unvaccinated and your dog will have to undergo the quarantine of an unvaccinated animal.  Only a rabies titer test would be evidence that the dog had been vaccinated.

I don’t fault the veterinarians for drumming up business, they have earned it; but, it doesn’t justify going after our rescue partners who are in the business of doing good.

Preparing for Hurricanes

One of the nice things about Hurricanes is that you see them coming.  But, in spite of the advanced notice of its arrival, we see emergency personnel rescuing pets that were abandoned by their owners who had evaluated.  This is clear evidence that the pet’s owners had no emergency plan.

Emergency plans are pretty simple, you plan early and you plan for your pets.  With all of the websites available to assist pet owners in making a plan, there is no excuse.  Disasters are rough on pets, especially the ones who have been left behind.

Preparing for Disasters

One of the greatest outcomes of Hurricane Katrina was FEMA recognizing the importance of pets during a natural disaster.  FEMA opened the door to the creation of pet friendly shelters.  People like the idea of being sheltered with their pets.

Often preparation is the most important aspect of disaster preparedness; but cleanup after a disaster will aid in being allow back.  I was never able to make headway in opening pet friendly shelters in a county in north Florida because one previous attempt was made, years before my arrival, in a public school.  Whoever organized the sheltering of animals in the school left the cleanup to school personnel.  School administration never forgot that.

It is an important reminder that cleanup after a disaster could be the most important aspect of preparing for your next disaster.  In the Boy Scouts, we always had a rule to leave a campsite better than we found it.  It is a good rule to follow when closing down a pet shelter following a disaster.

No Kill Statistics

I happened to see an article about an ex-employee, from one of the organizations that I ran, running to the media to be a whistle blower about how statistics were doctored to report higher live release rates.  With so much pressure being placed on shelter managers, the risk is high that statistics could be doctored to make the shelter look like it has a higher live release rate that it does.

Often, animal shelters might document that the relinquishing owner has surrender the animal for euthanasia because the animal is sick.  In most cases, the city/county will investigate and find nothing wrong; unfortunately time and effort has to be spent responding to a disgruntled (ex-) employee.

Due to people like this, it is becoming more and more important to track changes to animal intake records to show who is making changes after the fact.  When purchasing an animal shelter software tool, asked about change reporting within the software.

If changes are made to the software entry, they usually occur at the time of disposition (when the decision is made to euthanize the animal).  The intake entry is changed to justify the euthanasia.  Change reporting will track who made any changes to the animal’s record and when.  This reporting ability is equally important to show that no such change occurred.


I grew up in a profession that believed that our volunteers were the life blood of our organization.  Our volunteers could give our animals the special attention that we didn’t have time to provide.

I continued to believe that throughout my career until I ran into a group of volunteers who believed that their service to the organization gave them justification to have the right to direct the operation of the animal shelter.

It was the first time in my life that I believed that our volunteers were a detriment to the organization.  Sure, they were providing valuable care to the animals, but they became a force of demanding staff to overlook the behavioral problems associated with dogs, so as to push the aggressive animals into adoptive homes.

The volunteers were quite effective.  They complained to the right people, made their plea to the media.  There purpose was to undermine the mission of the animal shelter staff to protect the public.

To some degree the volunteers were success in getting the power players to question the decision of staff.  But, mostly these players didn’t like to be embroiled in conflict.  They saw the volunteers as representing a caring community, instead of their role as inflicting their special interest.

This was a problem that was being experience State wide to such a degree due to the high frequency of aggressive animals being released from animal shelters back into the community, the State had to step in and enact laws to force shelters to tell the truth about the behavior of the animals in their care.

Volunteers have special interest, the care that they provide the animals makes them biased towards those animals.  Many volunteers will try to force a shelter to ignore the shelter’s mission to protect the community.  Our elected overseers should have the foresight to recognize this dynamic.

Advisory Committees

The animal welfare profession is a very volatile profession.  So many things can and will go wrong.  For this reason, many communities will attempt to provide guidance through citizen committees.  These committees are given birth to help the animal shelter avoid mistakes by assisting the shelter in making policy decisions that reflect the morays of the community.

The hope is that the community members will reflect the values of the community.  Like most communities, people are appointed to these communities after volunteering to be placed on the committee.  Many communities have not figured out that the desire to serve on a committee is evidence that a person has a special agenda that may not represent the will of the community as a whole.

In one organization, it was so rare to have someone volunteer to sit on a committee, that County Commission members selected the first person to come along who wanted to serve.  The Advisory Committee became a group of special interest people wanting to steer the animal shelter in a direction that may not have been in the best interest of the community.

It is no wonder that in recent years that organization became a place in which unreasonable chances were taken in trying to adopt aggressive dogs.  Staff were placed at risk trying to care for these animals.

For the most part, advisory committees are a feel good thing.  In order to keep the committee effective and providing a service to your community, it is important to know the motivation of the people wanting to serve on your committee.

Dog Breeds

When I was developing software for animal shelter management, one of the most common requests from our users was to all them to use “mixed” as a primary breed indicator.  I refused, knowing that using that term was just an excuse for the user to not identify the breed.

I still feel that way; however, I have to admit that in my early days breed identification was much easier.  Something happened since then to cause pet owners to randomly breed dogs into new breeds that were difficult to determine the original breed that they arose from.

One unfortunate outcome arose that most of the dogs had phenotypic characteristics of a wide, thick head of a pitbull, thus exasperating the problem in which half of the shelter’s animals were described as pitbull mixes.

At this time, sterilization is still the best answer to pet overpopulation.  Pitbulls have led the way in the problem of shelter overpopulation.  I’ve always believed that any breed that overwhelms a shelter should be identified as the breed that pet owners would be forced to spay/neuter.

What is in a Breed?

Due to the restrictions placed on pitbulls, and the fact that pitbulls are in the largest numbers in animal shelters, many shelters have stripped dogs of their breed so as to disguise the pitbull dogs among the other dogs.  The shelters see this as giving pitbulls a chance at adoption when potential adopters cringe an the notion of adopting an aggressive breed dog.

This behavior of disguising the breeds of dogs in animal shelters make it more difficult for owners of lost dogs to find their pet.  The breed of an animal is the greatest descriptor for identifying an animal.

The fact that an animal shelter disguises the breed of an animal makes you wonder what else they are hiding.