If you want to be proactive about saving your pet's life, regular veterinary visits, pet insurance and keeping a cat indoors only are certainly high on the list. But the most powerful tool of all could be about the size of a grain of rice: a microchip.
Sometime over the past month or so, HomeAgain, a lost pet recovery service and microchip provider, reunited their one-millionth pet with the owner. It was a challenge to tell exactly which pet was the one-millionth recovered because so many pets are found through HomeAgain -- about 10,000 each month! That’s over 300 a day, and about 14 each hour – a lot of pets.
Sadly, one in three family pets will get lost during their lifetimes, and without identification, around 90 percent will not return home.
The Baumgardner family, of Lompoc, CA, lost their Pekeapoo, Chewie, two years ago. Ultimately, a microchip made reunification possible, but it took a while.
While the family was living in Arizona, Anita and her husband went out to dinner one evening, leaving Chewie and Jack, a Cocker Spaniel/Labrador mix, at home with the couple's then 18-year-old son, AJ, and daughter Gaby, 13. Jack likes to open doors, and as AJ snoozed on the sofa, the pooch slipped out the front door. While Jack strolled only a few feet away to catch some sun, Chewie zipped past him and kept on going.
"When we returned home, we searched the neighborhood, but it was already dark," says Baumgardner. "We assumed in the morning Chewie would find his way home." That never happened. The family notified HomeAgain, called local shelters, a local pet store and Chewie's groomer, all to no avail. Time went by, and eventually the Baumgardners moved to Lompoc, CA.
"We all knew Chewie might have been hit by a car, or who knows what," says Anita. "The hope was that maybe he was picked up by another family who just didn't check to see if he had a microchip."
Having a microchip alone is of little value. It's like having a cell phone without a phone number. Pet owners need to register their contact information with the microchip provider and keep it up to date. Anita did provide new information when the family moved. In April 2012, she received a call from HomeAgain stating, "We have your dog."
"I told them, 'you must be mistaken. My dog is right here,'" Baumgardner recalls, referring to Jack.
"No, it's Chewie," said the caller.
"Well, this was two years later. I nearly fell out of my chair," Anita recalls. It turns out Chewie had been spotted walking along a road and was picked up by a good Samaritan. The pet lover did the right thing, having Chewie scanned for a microchip at a local shelter. Because his registration information was up to date, HomeAgain was easily able to contact Anita.
Family members promptly headed to Arizona to pick up Chewie. Shelter staff said that even before Anita and Chewie were reunited, the dog heard Anita and clearly recognized her voice - even after two years. The reunion was joyous on all sides.
"Chewie looked pretty good. He'd even gained some weight, though he had a few missing teeth," Anita says.
No one knows exactly where Chewie was for two years; perhaps he'll write a "tell all" book. Gaby was especially elated about the reunion. She posted photos every day for weeks on her Facebook page. "Our dogs are a part of our family, and very important to us," says Anita. "I think most people feel that way, which is why I'm such an enthusiastic supporter of microchipping."
Of course, without this service, many of the one million animals recovered through HomeAgain would have been euthanized.
"Our family is sure grateful," Baumgardner says.
For more information on microchipping, consult your veterinarian.