The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

February 11, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Taking a 'byte' out of lost pets

JOPLIN, Mo. — As I was walking into the YMCA last week for a post-work workout, I came face to face with the poster of a happy-looking puppy with the words "I'm missing" and a phone number written below. Now, assuming that dogs have not successfully managed to use modern cellphone technology, I figure that this was his owner's contact number.

I felt bad for this dog and his owner. For whatever reason, this dog could have ran off; maybe he got lucky and found a home where he'd be taken care of until he's reunited with his owner. In the back of my head, I couldn't help but wonder if this was the case. What steps could have been taken to expedite the reunion of that dog and his family?

In the past five years, microchipping pets has become a big trend with owners across the nation. For those unfamiliar with the process, an animal has a small radio-frequency identification chip implanted, usually in the scruff of the neck, which provides valuable information in case a shelter picks up the animal.

Regan Birkner, of Main Street Pet Care in Joplin, talked about the pros and cons of putting a microchip in your pets. Surprisingly, the whole procedure is more effortless than I would have imagined.

"We usually recommend that owners do the procedure during the spaying or neutering process," Birkner said. "Its easier just to do it then, especially with smaller animals, but the process doesn't necessarily have to be associated with anesthesia."

Birkner described the process as simply taking a large-gauge needle and putting the chip in, securing it to tissue.

Though the process is fairly quick, a vocal minority have begun speaking out against the procedure, claiming that there are health risks to an animal after the process has been done, such as inflammation of the chip site, which can lead to infection. Birkner described those issues as few and far between.

"Infection is so low that it's almost non-existent," Birkner said. "I've never treated one as long as I've been a vet. Sometimes the chip will shift positions, but that is more related to not administering it right."

Birkner also helped dismiss some of the common myths surrounding microchips.

"A lot of people think it's a GPS type of thing, and that is absolutely not the case," Birkner said. "Basically, the scanning distance is a couple of feet, and all that is transmitted is the pertinent data relating to the owner. They have to be taken to a site to be scanned. They aren't just transmitting their location at all times."

He said that this is something that he encourages all owners to do because of the opportunity it gives owners to reunite with their pets.

"This is the safest way for a pet to get home," Birkner said. "It really is the smartest return process possible."

Hopefully, the dog that I saw on that poster this week finds his way back home. If he is chipped, he might get home much quicker than if he wasn't.

I also have to acknowledge an error in last week's column. I misspelled Bill Welch's name in reference to the feral cat issue in Carthage. I caught it but not in time for print, and I would like to extend my apologies to him.

He helped bring up a lot of details on the issue, and he is a valuable asset for the town and the situation. I look forward to working with him again in the future.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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