Mi­crochips iden­tify dogs: they can’t track lo­ca­tion

Fingal Independent - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WEDDERBURN

While watch­ing a Net­flix sit­com re­cently, the story line in­trigued me. A cat had gone miss­ing, and its own­ers were try­ing to find it. They picked up their smart­phone, and thanks to the mi­crochip that had been im­planted in their cat, they were able to track its pre­cise lo­ca­tion in real time.

This may have sound plau­si­ble to many view­ers of the pro­gramme, but the truth is that, us­ing to­day’s tech­nol­ogy, it’s im­pos­si­ble to do this.

Lo­ca­tion-track­ing de­vices are avail­able, but they are far too big to be in­jected in the scruff of the neck: they are around the size of a small match­box. They can be at­tached to an an­i­mal via a col­lar, or placed on a har­ness, but they can­not be per­ma­nently im­planted.

The tech­nol­ogy is con­tin­u­ally im­prov­ing and get­ting smaller, but we are still a few years away from hav­ing in­jectable lo­ca­tion track­ers for pets.

The cur­rent pet mi­crochips can­not be used to track lo­ca­tion: this is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion, and the prob­lem with pro­grammes like the Net­flix sit­com is that they can per­pet­u­ate this type of myth.

A mi­crochip only achieves one sim­ple task: stor­ing and trans­mit­ting a fif­teen digit num­ber.

A fif­teen digit num­ber trans­lates to a hun­dred tril­lion, which is the same as a hun­dred-thou­sand-bil­lion. It’s es­ti­mated that there are 500 mil­lion dogs in the world, which means that there are around two hun­dred thou­sand pos­si­ble mi­crochip num­bers for ever dog. In other words, there are more than enough unique mi­crochip num­bers to go around, and there is no pos­si­bil­ity of two dogs hav­ing the same num­ber.

So a mi­crochipped pet car­ries this “unique” num­ber, and that’s all. The mi­crochip does not carry any ex­tra in­for­ma­tion (like an owner’s name and ad­dress), nor does it have the ca­pac­ity to trans­mit the pet’s lo­ca­tion.

A mi­crochip is tiny (around the size of a grain of rice). It con­tains a few elec­tronic com­po­nents en­closed in a cap­sule of bio­glass, a sil­ica-based, smooth, shiny sub­stance that’s widely used in a range of med­i­cal im­plants in hu­man and an­i­mal medicine. The bio­glass pro­tects the in­ter­nal elec­tron­ics, and en­sures that the an­i­mal’s im­mune sys­tem doesn’t re­act to the mi­crochip. This is why a mi­crochip can sit un­der the sur­face of the skin for many ears with­out pro­vok­ing swelling, red­ness or pain. In con­trast, if a grass seed or a splin­ter of wood man­ages to pen­e­trate the sur­face of the skin, it causes a sig­nif­i­cant tis­sue re­ac­tion, and it needs to be sur­gi­cally re­moved.

When a mi­crochip scan­ner is passed over the skin of a mi­crochipped pet, the im­planted mi­crochip is stim­u­lated by a spe­cific fre­quency of ra­diowave to emit its own ra­dio sig­nal in re­sponse. This ra­dio sig­nal con­tains one mes­sage: the fif­teen digit num­ber.

The scan­ner dis­plays this num­ber – the mi­crochip num­ber - on its screen.

The num­ber is noted by the per­son do­ing the scan­ning, and it’s then en­tered into the search box of the web­site of a Eu­rope-wide se­cure on­line mi­crochip data­base. This Euro­pean data­base iden­ti­fies which Ir­ish mi­crochip data­base con­tains the full de­tails of the an­i­mal and its owner. It’s then pos­si­ble to go to the lo­cal Ir­ish data­base web­site to re­trieve the owner’s name, ad­dress, phone num­ber and email ad­dress.

It’s com­pul­sory for all dogs in Ire­land to be mi­crochipped, and for the num­ber to be reg­is­tered on an of­fi­cial data­base. What this means is that if any dog is found lost or stray­ing, it should be pos­si­ble to scan them, re­trieve their mi­crochip num­ber, then iden­tify their owner.

The law is one thing, and en­force­ment of the law is an­other. No­body knows how many Ir­ish dogs are mi­crochipped, but I would guess that it’s still sig­nif­i­cantly less than 90%. The new law has only been in place since 2016, and there must be many older dogs whose own­ers have not both­ered to get their pets im­planted. In the­ory, dog war­dens could scan any dog in pub­lic to check them for a mi­crochip, but in prac­tice, this has not hap­pened in any wide­spread way. It will take a few more years un­til it be­comes stan­dard prac­tice to have all dogs mi­crochipped.

And even when a dog is mi­crochipped, this is only half the story: the mi­crochip num­ber still needs to be up­loaded to a reg­is­tered data­base with the owner’s de­tails. A fee must be paid to the data­base to store this in­for­ma­tion, and so many mi­crochips re­main un­reg­is­tered. This means that when the dog’s mi­crochip num­ber is en­tered into the Euro­pean data­base, noth­ing will be found. There will be no on­line trace of the mi­crochip num­ber, and it will be im­pos­si­ble to iden­tify the owner. An un­reg­is­tered mi­crochip is a waste of time: it per­forms no func­tion what­so­ever. + Is your dog mi­crochipped?

+ Is the mi­crochip prop­erly reg­is­tered on one of the of­fi­cial data­bases?

If you are not sure about the an­swer to these ques­tions, ask your lo­cal vet. It’s very easy for a vet to scan a dog and to check to make sure that the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion stored on­line. And if it turns out that the mi­crochip is not prop­erly reg­is­tered, it’s very easy to sort this out. It will cost less than fif­teen euro, and it could make the dif­fer­ence be­tween your dog be­ing re­turned to you or be­ing per­ma­nently lost.

It’s easy to scan a dog to re­trieve its mi­crochip num­ber

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