The Microchip Maze – Searching the Databases- (Part 2)

file8211347375862Your microchipped lost pet has been picked up and turned into a vet or shelter.  He should be home quickly, correct? Well…. not so fast. In Part 1, we explained how the 900 prefix chips are very difficult to identify, thereby delaying or preventing a successful reunion. We also explained how sticking with one of the Big 5 microchip companies was the best chance your lost pet has to get home.

In this section, we’ll discuss the  different microchip databases and how to navigate them. Each of the Big 5 microchip companies (PetLink, Home Again, AKC Reunite, 24 Petwatch and AVID) maintain their own databases. When a pet is microchipped and enrolled the information is stored in their database (a fee may be required).  Each of these Big 5 companies also has a unique prefix making it fairly easy to identify the manufacturer of the chip if your vet or shelter has a “cheat sheet” like this handy.

cheatsheet
But if the finder of the dog doesn’t have this cheat sheet, they can still be forced to call all five companies until they find the right one. This can waste valuable time.
To expedite reunions,  the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) created the AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool (see screenshot below).  This is an internet-based application that enables veterinarians, shelters, animal control facilities, pet owners or the public to search various registries and identify those registries on which a particular microchip is registered.
AAHA look up site
The AAHA Pet Microchip Lookup Tool works by checking the databases of the participating microchip companies to determine what company has registration information available for a microchip.  Click this link to see which microchip companies participate.
Simply enter the microchip number into the tool and it will pull up the information. When an enrolled chip number is entered the following information will quickly appear on the screen:
AAHA enrolled chip
 Sounds simple, right? But wait! Not all of the Big 5 companies allow the AAHA tool to access their databases.  PetLink, Home Again and AKC Reunite do.  AVID and 24 Petwatch do not. By NOT participating it leaves 100’s of 1000’s of microchips vulnerable. HOW? If an organization is enrolling ALL the different types microchips they get in, ( i.e. a Home Again chip, AKC, etc.) in ONLY the 24Petwatch database, via their shelter software, when that chip is searched in AAHA, it will not give the finding organization ANY information that that chip is enrolled in the 24Petwatch database.
The AAHA Microchip Lookup tool will make a guess at the type of microchip it is but it won’t be sure. Here is an example of the tool making a guess at the type of microchip.
AVID
 AAHA has done a really wonderful thing by creating and maintaining the Microchip Lookup tool but until ALL of the microchip companies cooperate and participate, it won’t have the far-reaching effect it was designed to have.
If a microchip is registered in more than one of the participating databases it will pull up both. The vet or shelter should call the company with the most recently updated information. Here is an example: homeagain
Because microchip companies are always trying to build a better mousetrap, many of them have started their own free databases that you can enroll any  pet’s microchip information into, even if it wasn’t purchase from them.  Some people will do this instead of paying the fee to enroll their pet’s chip into the manufacturer’s database. Bad idea.  Some of these companies will probably fail and drift off into the sunset, along with your pet’s data. Some of them are obscure and unless the vet or shelter staff know about them, they may never be checked.
Even if they do seem to be a good, reputable company – you are still probably adding one extra step or phone call for the shelter or vet staff. You need to make it as easy as possible for them to contact you.
Don’t risk it.  Always make sure that your pet’s information is enrolled and kept up to date in the manufacturer’s database. That is the best likelihood that your pet will make it safely back home.
Next, we’ll talk about the confusing array of enrollment plans and packages that the microchip companies sell.  Do you really need to pay a yearly fee?
Posted in Microchips | Tagged , , , ,

The Microchip Maze – Buyer Beware! (Part 1 – The 900 Chips)

file0001017965891No one will dispute that microchips can be a valuable tool in helping reunite lost dogs and cats with their owners. In our day-to-day work at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, we have seen many cases where microchips have resulted in wonderful homecoming stories and may have possibly even saved the dog’s life. But there are many cracks in the current microchip system and we would like to express some of our concerns in this next series of articles.

A microchip is a small chip (about the size of a grain of rice) inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades of the dog or cat. Microchips do not locate a missing pet (they are not GPS-enabled).  If a missing pet is picked up and taken to a vet clinic or animal shelter that has a universal scanner and uses best practices for microchip scanning (click here) the data that corresponds to the microchip number can be used to help locate the owner.

One thing we know with absolute certainty. Time is of the essence. Impound fees can quickly rack up.  A short stay in an animal shelter can easily set an owner back several hundred dollars. Plus, the longer the pet is in a crowded animal shelter, the more likely he/she is to get stressed and sick.   A looming vet bill on top of the reclaim fees means that many pets will be abandoned at the shelter by the owner who simply cannot afford to pick them up.

The key to a successful reunion once a pet is at a shelter, stray holding facility or vet clinic is the speed with which the owner can be located.  Unfortunately, several new microchip providers have entered the market that make it difficult, if not impossible to track down the owner. Illinois blogger, Steve Dale,  first wrote about this problem a couple of weeks back in this article in Chicago Now and we would like to thank him for shedding light on the issue.

At Lost Dogs of Wisconsin we host microchip scanning events throughout the year. We have a universal scanner and can quickly scan owned dogs and provide the owner with their microchip number, the brand of their dog’s microchip and the toll-free number of that company.  We can do this because the big 5 microchip companies (PetLink, Home Again, AKC, AVID and 24 Petwatch) all have unique identifying numbers . (eg. all PetLink chips begin with the prefix 981)

The big five microchip companies have been assigned a designated manufacturer’s source code by the International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR) based on the volume of their sales. When we can identify the microchip company by the prefix,  the owner can then call the company or go online to their website and make sure their information is up to date and current. Some companies will charge a fee for this service.

The small microchip companies do not have a designated source code.  They share the 900 prefix (shared by over 100 companies worldwide) So, at an event when our scanner pulls up a microchip number that begins with the numbers 900 – we’re left scratching our heads. There are at least six American companies who sell the 900 prefix microchips (made in China) at reduced prices to shelters, vet clinics and rescues.  Without an identifying prefix we are not able to determine which brand of microchip is inserted in the pet.

Now consider the found pet brought into a shelter or vet clinic. With a designated prefix that is easily recognizable, shelter staff or vet clinic staff can identify which company the microchip is from and can hopefully make one simple phone call to retrieve the owner’s information. When the system works, a found pet can be home within a few hours of going missing.

When a pet implanted with a 900 prefix microchip is brought in, it is a different matter. Shelter staff, animal control officers and veterinarians and vet staff are busy people.  They don’t have time to wade through the quagmire of microchip lookup tools and websites. They don’t have time to email each manufacturer or sit on hold waiting for a customer service representative that may or may not be able to help them.  They may have to call all six companies before they get the right one and they may not even realize these companies exist! A couple of the 900-prefix microchip providers come with a collar tag. Kudos to them, but that only helps if the tag is on the collar and/or doesn’t fall off while the pet is missing.

Several of these companies are trying to start their own database;  some free, some for a fee.  Some have manned call centers, some don’t. One is  a “google chip” but if you use any other search engine, it’s useless. Some only allow email contact. Some promise “lifetime registration” but what does that mean if they go out of business? Who has time to sort this all out? Remember, time is of the essence. A microchipped pet may go unclaimed because vet clinic and shelter staff don’t have time to sort through the maze.

This is truly a case of “penny wise and pound foolish”.  A few dollars saved on the front end when purchasing microchips can cause heartbreak on the back end. Rescues, shelters and vet clinics trying to save money on  their microchips are putting their clients at risk. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting owner who thought they were doing the right thing by microchipping their pet will be the one to suffer.

This troubling screen shot was captured from the website of one of the 900 companies, K9 Microchips. They actually admit that they won’t be responsible for keeping track of who they sold the microchips to.  “K9Microchips.com & it’s representatives are in no way obligated to assist anyone in anyway that did not directly do business with K9Microchips.com.  We make no promise to keep information on who purchases microchips, nor to document which microchips are shipped to which customers. ” K9 Microchips

This same scenario is applicable to most 900 chips.  The purchasing organization must do the microchip company’s job and track it back to themselves because they can not rely on the microchip company to keep these records.

U.S. microchip companies that sell the 900 shared manufacturer code (there are over 100 companies worldwide that use the shared code) include:

  • Smart Tag (collar tag included)
  • Save This Life (collar tag included)
  • nanoCHIP (no collar tag)
  • K9 Microchip (no collar tag)
  • Homeward Bound (no collar tag)
  • Petstablished (no collar tag)

Our advice to the microchip consumer and purchasing animal welfare organizations and vets – stick with one of the Big 5 below. Your pet (or your client’s pet) is depending on you to help bring them safely home.

  • Datamars/PetLink
  • HomeAgain
  • AKC Reunite
  • AVID
  • 24 PetWatch

ONE universal system that everyone participates in is paramount. In our next article we will discuss the issue of  the American Animal Hospital Association search engine. Which of the big 5 microchip companies participate? Which don’t? Stay tuned.

Posted in Microchips, Rescues and Shelters | Tagged , , ,

How To Trace Dead End Microchips and Tag Information on Found Pets

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We would like to thank Marilyn Knapp Litt, the Director of Lost Dogs of Texas for the information in this article. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Marilyn formed a group of volunteers which successfully reunited animals that had been displaced by the storm with their families. 

If you could spend ten minutes researching a disconnected phone number and get a shelter animal back home – would you do it?  Here are quick and easy instructions for shelter staff or volunteers to do free searches and find the lost families of shelter animals.  This small investment in time will get more animals home, free up kennel space, save money and spread good karma!

Scenario 1:  Animal’s contact information from either a tag or a microchip leads to a dead end.

1. First Sources to Check: 411 Info or Yellow Pages

As of 07/2014, these are sources for free phone numbers and reverse look – up. This will only take a few minutes.  Search on a person’s name to find any contact information.  If you do not have the name, search on the address (reverse lookup tab) or phone number to find out the person’s name and then search the name.  A good rule of thumb is if you to click to see additional information, you will have to pay to see the information.

Google:  Search on the name.

2. Second Sources for Names: ZabaSearch

This is a name search only.  If the name search fails, you get a service charging a fee.  Reverse phone is a fee service only.

3. Third Sources for Names: Social Networks, Etc. These are for the persistent searcher!

Pipl:  Can search for name, email, user name and phone.  This is a very interesting resource.  At the bottom of the page, suggested Facebook profiles are pulled up.

Spokeo: Can search for name,  phone, email, username, friends.  If name search fails, you get a service charging a fee.  You can use a username found on Pipl in the Spokeo search.  People often reuse their username.

Facebook:  Facebook is a good resource, but I would not use it until the last, unless you are searching an unusual name.  If the first name search does not work, try adding a city.  You can also search Facebook for a phone number!  This can be very effective. A message goes to the “other” folder unless you are Facebook friends with the person. Send a message, but don’t count on it to go through. Sometimes you have the option to pay $1.00 to Facebook to make sure they receive it – but the person still has to look at the page to see they have a message, so this does not mean your message will be seen. Look to see if there is a place of employment listed on their profile and call their work. Look through their friends list for people with the same last name and try to call their relatives at work or send a message. You can also try to research their relatives for contact information. Never assume you have made contact until you are messaging or talking with the owner!

Veromi:  Use the “People Search”.  this is a name search, but like ZabaSearch, will show possible relatives.  It may show congregations and organizations.

Dex Pages: Photocopy of a physical phone book – not in all areas.

Comprehensive list of people databases:  For those who don’t want to give up!

Tips:

  • The very best resource you can use is Lexis.  It is an expensive data service.  Many law offices have access to make background reports.
  • A reverse phone number or address search will give you the name of a person.
  • A neighbor search on an address gives you the names of people who live nearby and who should be called as they many know where the family has moved.
  • Do not stop with leaving one message.  The person may not be home and might be reading Facebook.  Or someone might not use Facebook, but might answer the phone.  The trick is to leave many messages at different places.
  • If you have to make an extra click to see the info you searched on, a screen will pop up to charge you. This is without exception.  The pay service may or may not give you the information needed.  Sometimes they will give you a refund and sometimes you will end up with monthly charges or even be scammed.  You need to be vigilant if you pay, but of course you might get exactly what you were looking for. This is meant to be a resource to quickly try and break through a dead end.  The many creative ways to find an animal’s lost family are beyond the scope of these instructions.  For additional help finding someone contact Marilyn at marilyn@marilynlitt.com

Military Owners:

If you think the owner is in the military, you can always “guess” at the address.

For years, the primary format for Army email looked like this:  firstname.lastname@us.army.mil

Of course, soldiers with common names would get an address like: firstname.lastname23@us.army.mil but perhaps your email might get redirected to the right person.

Now, the Army has created a new format that looks like this:

firstname.middleinitial.lastname.mil@mail.mil

That’s what a soldier’s email address would look like.  An Army civilian employee or contractor would have an email address like this: firstname.middleinitial.lastname.civ@mail.mil

Both formats are used.  You may guess at an address if you have a soldier’s name.  The other branches have their own format.

If you know the base, you may be able to contact HR.  They will not tell you how to contact someone in the military, but they may pass on a message about a missing dog if you are polite.  You may also find support groups on Facebook for the base that could be helpful.

Scenario 2: You have determined the brand of microchip (via AAHA microchip lookup) but the microchip has not been enrolled to an owner.

When you call the microchip company, always be friendly.  State that you are calling trying to find the family of an animal.  If you are working or volunteering for a rescue or shelter, be sure to state that right away.  You want to know every bit of information they have and ask for that.  Double check all spelling and numbers.

If the microchip was not registered, ask if they can tell who implanted the chip and if not, who bought the chip.  In the U.S., microchips are sold in bulk by number range to the shelter or vet who does the implanting. The microchip company can usually tell which organization received a chip for implant. When a chip is not registered to an individual, the organization may have that information.  Try calling late at night when the staff will not be as busy and may have more time to help and talk.

Click the link below for more information on microchips (including international microchips) and tattoos. Clicking this link will open a pdf file: chip (2)

 

Posted in Found A Dog?, Microchips, Useful Tools | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Why We Do Not Endorse Lost Dog Tracking Devices and Tags

The Garmin  GTU - 10. Soon to be useless! It is still offered through 3rd party websites. Don't waste your money!

The Garmin GTU – 10. Soon to be useless! It is still offered through 3rd party websites. Don’t waste your money!

Thanks to the power of social media and the loyalty of our fans,   Lost Dogs of Wisconsin and the sister organizations of  Lost Dogs of America have developed a very large Facebook following and audience (over 200,000 Facebook fans).   Many product developers contact us hoping that we will endorse their products.  The lost pet product market is booming.  Distraught owners will spend a lot of money both before and after their beloved pet goes missing.

These new devices range from nifty, high-tech ID tags to complicated GPS tracking devices that you affix to a collar.  The problem is that they all rely on a company that may or may not be around in a couple of years. Competition amongst these companies is fierce. Many will fail. I want to take a few minutes to share my story.

I have a high-flight risk dog named Pixie.  We often leave Pixie at a boarding kennel when we are out of town so my husband felt that purchasing  a collar tracking device would give us peace of mind while we were away.

My husband did the research on several devices and  purchased a GTU-10 mobile tracking device from a trusted company, Garmin. It cost about $200 and requires a $50 yearly service fee.   The pros of the device: highly accurate, waterproof, easy to attach to the collar.   The cons:  a short battery life when it was in “search” mode, and it was fairly large and heavy for a small dog.

Regardless, we were happy with it. Until recently.

A visit to the Garmin website revealed the following message.  (We did not receive any notification from Garmin).

Here is what they have said:  “The connected services provider for your GTU 10 has determined to cease operations of its 2G network by approximately Jan. 1, 2016. Unfortunately, the third-party services necessary to support the network connectivity operations of your GTU 10 unit will be impacted. At this time, there is no viable alternative of such services; therefore, after such date your GTU10 unit will no longer be operational. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

The device will be useless by January 1, 2016. They are not going to offer a replacement device and they have not offered any sort of credit or refund despite my phone calls to their customer service department. One of the customer service representatives actually had a “too bad, so sad” attitude that we had spent several hundred dollars with Garmin and are now going to have a useless device.

Lesson learned and let this be a warning to all. GPS and cellular phone technology is changing so rapidly that many companies that are here today will be gone tomorrow. Although Garmin is not going out of business, the company that provided the support services for the GTU-10 is and apparently there is no viable alternative.

The best way to protect your dog is with a good old-fashioned visible ID tag (not a fancy gizmo tag that connects to a service) and a microchip from one of the 5 big reputable companies (Datamars, Home Again, AVID, 24 Petwatch or AKC) that has your current information registered.  If your dog goes missing, get the word out using old-fashioned flyers and  intersection signs.  Based on our 5 years of operation, flyers and signs are the Number One way that lost dogs are found.

Kathy Pobloskie, Director and Co-Founder Lost Dogs of Wisconsin; Co -Founder and Co-Director of Lost Dogs of America

Posted in Lost Dog Scams, Microchips, Prevention | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

How Are We Doing? Year to Date March 2015

LDOW March 2015 Stats

Posted in Our Organization, Statistics | Tagged , ,

Not All Stray Dogs are Homeless

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We are gearing up for the second annual National Lost Dogs Awareness Day which is Thursday April, 23rd. We are reaching out all over the nation to increase awareness and to show that not all stray dogs are homeless. Most have a family out there frantically searching for them. They don’t need a new home, they just need help getting back home.

Join us on our mission to spread the word and increase awareness throughout the month of April, Then join us on Thursday, April 23 as we observe the second annual National Lost Dogs Awareness Day created by the founding members of Lost Dogs America.

Posted in Lost Dog Awareness Day, Our Organization, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Use Facebook to Help Increase Your Shelter’s Return to Owner Rate

dogx-topper-mediumMany animal shelters in America have contracts with local municipalities to hold “stray” dogs for the state-mandated stray hold to give owners an opportunity to reclaim their lost dog. This period of time varies from state to state.

A shelter typically has two windows of opportunity to help people find their lost dog:

  1. When a person who has lost a dog comes in or calls to file a report.
  2. When “stray” dogs are picked up and impounded at the facility.

Today we want to talk about using Facebook to maximum potential to help lost dogs get home. We are thrilled to see so many shelters and animal control facilities (big and small) using Facebook to try to reunite lost dogs with their owners.

We have been in the Facebook game since our inception in early 2010 and we’ve seen a lot of changes along the way. We have gained a large following (45,000+ Facebook fans) and have learned many lessons from our successes and failures. We have seen what does and doesn’t work. We have also seen some shelters start to post impounded found dogs on Facebook and then stop, claiming that it isn’t working or that it requires too much time.

We would respectfully like to offer some suggestions that may help make everyone happy:  shelter management, the taxpayer, the shelter donor and volunteer,  the dog’s owner and of course the dog that gets to go back home!

The benefits of posting found dogs on Facebook are numerous:

  1. You will decrease the length of stay for animals in your shelter.
  2. You will free up space for needier animals.
  3. You will increase your shelter’s reputation and goodwill (and possibly generate donations from grateful owners and fans). Nothing tugs at heartstrings better than happy reunion photos when an owner reclaims their dog. Make sure you have a camera handy!
  4. You will become a resource in the community for owners who are missing their dogs. Post articles and tips to help people find their missing dogs. Also post happy reunion stories, microchip clinics in the area, and lost pet flyers for members of your community who are missing their pet.
  5. You will help your community make a “paradigm shift” that not all stray dogs are homeless.

If your “stray” intake is low use your main Facebook page to post them. The beauty of posting lost and found dogs on Facebook is that a neighbor or complete stranger might “happen chance” to see the post of the found dog and know where he/she belongs. Or, they might see the lost dog and then see the post.

Yes, the people that are actively matching (the owner, our volunteers and members of the public who enjoy doing this) will seek out the info where ever it is stored, whether it be on a website or a separate Facebook page but that only takes care of the actual matches (where a lost report matches a found report) which is still a fairly small percentage of the reunions.

The best chance for a “happen chance” reunion is to get the posting in front of the biggest audience possible, which is almost always your main Facebook page that you use for all of your shelter Facebook posts. Pictures of impounded pets are one of the most widely shared posts on Facebook (much more than adoptable pets) so posting them on your main Facebook page has the added benefit of driving traffic to your page so that your adoptables, fundraisers, etc. are also more likely to be seen.

A common mistake we see is shelters that try to run a separate Facebook page for found pets and then not actively working to build the fan base of that page. The average person is not going to stumble across the Found or Stray page by accident and Facebook does not make it easy to search.  So you will only reach those that are actively looking for your page and the likelihood of “happen chance” reunions will be greatly diminished.

If your shelter has such a high intake of “strays” that posting them on your main page is not feasible, then yes, perhaps setting up a separate Facebook page is the best solution.

Here are a few suggestions if you set up a separate page:

  1. Make sure that you include your location name and county in the title of the Facebook page. Make it as easy as possible for people to find it. Include it on your website and in any literature you distribute.
  2. Include links to the Stray page in the “About Us” section of your main Facebook page.
  3. Drive traffic to the Stray page at least once per day (more at the beginning) by sharing a post from it onto your main page and reminding your fans that “All impounded pets at xxxx shelter can be seen by visiting our Stray page”. Use hotlinks and Facebook tags whenever possible so that people can just click and be taken directly to the new page.
  4. Ask one or two volunteers to help you with this page and give them full access to it. They should engage with the fans and commentors. It’s called “social” media for a reason!  Make sure they answer every question and respond to comments. Get your community actively engaged in helping reunite found pets!
  5. Volunteer Facebook administrators can also share the posts on other neighborhood pages – including police departments, newspapers, radio stations, vet clinics, dog parks, town pages, garage sale pages, buy/sell pages and popular neighborhood hangouts like bars and restaurants. This can quickly increase the fan base of your page and makes an excellent and rewarding volunteer opportunity for someone who cannot make it into the shelter to do hands-on work.
  6. Do not get discouraged if the public offers to adopt the dog rather than trying to find the owner. Create some standard responses that your volunteers can copy and paste below these comments. And remember! You are lining up potential adopters if an owner does not come forward.
  7. Link your “Stray” page to a Twitter account with a free Facebook app that will automatically retweet everything you post. Once it is set up it is seamless and maintenance free.  You will reach a much broader audience especially if you use hashtags in front of the location. Many police departments and media outlets monitor twitter via hashtag and will retweet your posts for lost and found dogs.

Thank you for helping more lost dogs get home! You can find more tips to help increase your Return to Owner rate in this blog post: Reuniting Lost Dogs With Their Families – How Shelters Can Help

Posted in Rescues and Shelters | Tagged , , , , , ,

Correct Microchip Scanning Procedures Saves Lives!

Here is an easy to print, clip and hang poster for your shelter or vet clinic that explains good microchip scanning procedures.  (Courtesy of Animal Sheltering magazine)mouthpieces

Posted in Microchips, Rescues and Shelters | Tagged , , ,

Paws and Protect Event in Marathon County was a Success!

10960424_10152592088266333_2556025340602840108_o 10644777_10152592088456333_307783231054848162_o 10710218_10152592088616333_597685852009976701_o“So much fun seeing and meeting all the hundreds of animal people with their furry best friends today at Paws and Protect. Great to see Stacy Cole from WIFC, and Thank You to Ashlee Bishop , Wausau’s animal control officer for inviting us at Lost Dogs of Wisconsin.
HOW AWESOME IS IT TO BUMP INTO 4 DOGS THAT WE HELPED GET HOME WHEN THEY WERE LOST ??
People were lined up at 8 AM and the doors opened at 10.
The line snaked down the sidewalk, through the parking lot and back out to the street for people getting free rabies vaccinations and free microchips for their cats and dogs. Watch for the next one to be held in about 3 weeks. Approximately 250 – 300 animals were served.”

– David Woods, LDOW Marathon County caseworker

Posted in Events, Our Organization | Tagged , , , ,

How Are We Doing? Year to Date January 2015

January 2015

Posted in Statistics | Tagged , , ,