Yesterday’s first case was a non-starter. The Yorkie cradled in this well-dressed woman’s arms was a foundling. She wasn’t a dog person, or so she claimed, but she was well-informed, nonetheless. She wanted to know whether this young, intact purebred had a microchip. Good call. He did.

Unfortunately, this dog’s microchip was not the kind our hospital carries. We use Home Again (for the record, because this brand seems to migrate less after implantation, but I won’t swear to that). The Yorkie’s was an Avid chip.

So we offered to keep the well-behaved beast for the day while we attempted to locate the owner for this time-stressed non-client. (This policy is an excellent recipe for collecting strays, I might add, but what was our alternative?)

At lunchtime, I drove a couple of miles to the closest Avid-reading practice, pup in arms. Armed with his ten identifying digits, I rang Avid’s 1-800 number. Predictably, the microchip was unregistered. This means the owner, who generally bears responsibility for registering a chip in their name (so the pet can be located appropriately if lost), didn’t fill out a simple form and mail it in with a one-time, $15 to $20 registration fee.

I was disappointed, but this wasn’t a dead end yet, as I know from experience. When prodded, the customer service guy kindly gave me the lot number for the microchip and supplied me with another toll-free number. This company routed me to yet another toll-free number.

At this point, I could tell I was getting warmer. I had a real person on the line—this one had both pulse and personality. She was an area distributor for the chips and it was obvious she took her job seriously. Her records immediately disclosed the identity of the breeder to whom this chip had been sold. She promised to call right back. Ten minutes later I had my answer:

The “breeder” confirmed that the litter of puppies pertaining to the digits in question was sold in Florida. She kept no records beyond that. In other words, this breeder was a de facto puppy mill-style purveyor.

Consistent with my previous foray into the world of Byzantine microchip machinations, this unregistered dog had come from one of those places where puppies are born and raised in something of a black box for all the world really knows—or cares.

These anecdotal findings underscore my rock-solid belief that microchips are only as good as the people who register them…or fail to.

 In this case, as in so many others, several ancillary issues come to mind:

Those getting pups from questionable sources are not usually informed of their need to register a chip. They may or may not even be told the chip’s there.

Moreover, most new chip-bearing parents of pets don’t understand the chip system. Many assume the chip is already registered in their name once they buy a dog.

My experience with pup owners (even from excellent sources) also tells me that new parents are so overwhelmed with their responsibilities and the excitement of puppy parenthood that don’t always understand the need to register a microchip, even when they are told explicitly they need to do so.

Although it’s not [directly] our responsibility, every new pet owner is briefed on the benefits of microchipping, every new pet is scanned for an existing chip and every microchip-bearing pet is informed of the futility of the chip should they fail to register it.

So who’s responsibility is it? IMHO, the individual(s) who will benefit most from the presence of a microchip: the owner’s. But that doesn’t mean the “breeder” gets off scot-free. The breeder or adoption agency should be required to maintain private records of pets sold/adopted (and their microchip numbers) for both commercial and legal reasons.

A point of clarification: Most breeders who “install” chips aren’t doing it to protect the pets. They’re doing it to comply with their local laws. This means they have precious little incentive to inform the final buyer of the pet’s microchip status. This is especially problematic when the original seller is two distributors removed from the pet store.

All breeders and shelters need to be made aware of the spotty efforts of owners to comply with the registration process. Thus informed, I would expect the responsible breeders and rescuers among us to ensure the pets they sell don’t end up lost forever. How? Through a basic, privately maintained record system. How hard is it to keep track of what you sold (or who you adopted out) and to whom?

Under current microchipping practices, a box of maxi-pads gets more care than our pets do. How do I figure? Our consumer-product bar-coding system can successfully track an individual item from one part of the country to your address without ever losing sight of it. (Don’t for one second think Wal-Mart doesn’t know when you get your period—or not, as the case may be.)

Pets should also get the benefits of such widely available technology. Of course there are privacy issues with pets (although none quite so personal as the tacky example above)—but if Katrina’s lessons hold any water, a system for keeping pets with their people is of value to our citizenry. And while mass-microchipping pre-sale/adoption and owner registration is the best method of getting there, this veterinarian’s experience suggests that self-registration alone is not enough.

By way of offering you a happy ending after yet another Dolittler rant, I’m delighted to disclose that this young dog has a new home…with the same, self-proclaimed “non-dog person” who found him.