Will They Really Contact You if Your Pet is Microchipped?
As a pet owner, you try to do everything you can to make sure that your dog or cat doesn’t get lost. Just in case that happens, you get your pet microchipped because you know that when “Fluffy” arrives at the animal shelter, the nice person there will call you to tell you that they have Fluffy. Right?
Well, not necessarily. Whether or not you ever find out Fluffy has ended up at a shelter depends entirely on what happens once Fluffy gets there. If Fluffy ends up in one of the six facilities operated by Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS), you may not ever know about it. It’s entirely possible that Fluffy will be killed or given to someone else without a single phone call to you, even if Fluffy is microchipped and you diligently keep the microchip company updated with your contact information.
How could that happen, you ask? Quite simply, LAAS doesn’t use microchips the way they advertise on their website or the way the microchip manufacturers intended. Unfortunately microchips are only as good as the policies and procedures that are used by the agencies that are supposed to help you get your pets back. In the case of LAAS, that’s a problem.
On its website, on the page called Microchipping your pet, LAAS tells us that a microchip is registered with a national database along with the pet owner’s address and phone number. So far, so good. That much is true. A little further down the page, it says that when an animal is impounded by LAAS, the animal will be scanned for a microchip and if a microchip is found, LAAS will contact the chip manufacturer. Still sounds good, right?
If the documents are hard to read, click on the full-screen icon below each one to see it more clearly.
The problem is that’s not what they really do. In fact, according to their own operations manual, their protocol is very different. It’s true that they are supposed to scan for a microchip. Whether or not they do, or whether they do so thoroughly, is unknown. But, in theory anyway, they let’s say they do. Their protocol after that is absolutely ridiculous and completely contradicts what’s written on their website. In short, they’re flat out lying to the public.
Here’s what they really do, and what their policy dictates. If the LAAS employee finds a microchip, he or she does not call the microchip company right away to get the information that the owner has given to the microchip company. Instead, LAAS instructs its employees to first check the owner information in its own records (a computer database program called Chameleon). Only if there is no information in LAAS’s own records related to the microchip number will they contact the actual microchip company like they say they will. This is directly from LAAS operations manual:
“If a microchip is found, the number shall be recorded in Chameleon by the employee who found the chip. The employee shall immediately place a Possible Owner (PO) hold on the animal. If the chip information is not in Chameleon, contact the correct chip company (i.e. AVID or Home Again) for the owner’s info.”
It gets even worse from there. LAAS internal policy is not to actually call the person it identifies as the owner of the animal, but to mail a letter to that person telling him/her that he/she has 7 days from the date of the letter to get his/her animal. That just defies common sense. Why wouldn’t they just use the phone? Who could possibly think that a letter is a good idea in a situation that is so time sensitive? LAAS microchip policy is plain idiotic!
“The clerk shall check the memo in Chameleon and send the letter to the address listed in the owner’s information memo. The letter will allow 7 days for the new owner to redeem the animal.”
At first that may not seem like a big deal, but there are so many ways that can and does go wrong (I’ll write a real life example soon.) Let’s say that someone lives in Van Nuys and has two dogs that are licensed with LAAS and microchipped. When you license your dog with LAAS it’s not uncommon for the clerk to ask if you want to have your microchip number included in your dog’s records too. That sounds like a really good idea and gives an added feeling of security knowing that LAAS will have all of your dog’s information right there in case Fluffy gets out one day. Great, right?
Not so fast. What you’ve really done is give LAAS just the information they need not to contact the microchip company, because now they have your dog’s microchip number in Chameleon along with all of your contact information. It still doesn’t sound so bad, but keep reading.
If Fluffy somehow gets loose and ends up at one of LAAS’s facilities, if they scan for a microchip and find one, they’ll check in Chameleon to see if they have contact information for you. In that case, they won’t call the microchip company at all, because they’ll find Fluffy’s microchip number in their records with Fluffy’s license information. They’ll mail a letter to whatever address is listed, regardless of whether it’s still your current address. If you get the letter that they mail to the address they have in their records, and if you get that letter within the 7 days they give you to come get Fluffy, you have a chance of getting Fluffy back. What if you’re out of town for a few days and you don’t get the letter in time? It’s entirely possible that Fluffy will be killed or given to someone else. If you’ve moved and your mail is no longer forwarded, you’ll never even know that Fluffy ended up at LAAS.
What makes LAAS’s procedures even worse though, is what will happen if you’ve moved since you last gave LAAS your contact information. You did what the microchip company told you to do, and in fact, what LAAS tells you to do on its website:
“If you move, it is very important to change your address with the microchip company in case your pet gets lost.”
Huh? Why do they tell people to keep the microchip company updated when they move? Nowhere does LAAS tell people to keep LAAS updated if they move. Why not? They won’t even check with the microchip company at all if they have information for you and your pets in their own system. The problem is that the information they have could be outdated.
Here’s an example: Fred and his dog, Fluffy, have lived in Van Nuys for 3 years. Fluffy is licensed by LAAS and has an Avid microchip. Fred has always been sure to keep his contact information current with Avid, just like LAAS tells people to do. Fred decides to move to Burbank one day and immediately notifies Avid of his new contact information. He gets a new license for Fluffy with Burbank animal control because it’s a different city and a different agency. Fred is a model dog owner, Fluffy has a current license and updated microchip information. He’s done everything he should to ensure that he’ll get Fluffy back if she gets loose.
One morning about a year later, Fred decides to go to Griffith Park to go hiking. While he’s tying his shoe, Fluffy sees a squirrel and pulls the leash so hard that Fred loses his grip on it. Before Fred can catch her, Fluffy is lost in the hills of Griffith Park. Fluffy gets picked up by LAAS and taken to the East Valley Shelter, where she’s scanned for a microchip. When the employee finds the chip number, she checks in Chameleon for any records LAAS might have for Fluffy.
Imagine how relieved the LAAS employee is when she finds an address for Fred in Chameleon. LAAS will mail a letter to that address to tell Fred that he has 7 days (from the date of the letter) to come get Fluffy from East Valley. Great, right?
NO! It’s the wrong address! Fred moved to Burbank a year earlier and the odds of him ever getting a letter addressed to his old address are slim to none, much less in the 7 days he has to go get Fluffy before LAAS kills her or sells her to someone else. If LAAS really used microchips the way they say they do, and the way the manufacturers intended them to be used, they would have called the microchip company immediately after detecting the microchip and getting the microchip number. Then they would have called Fred right away so he could come get Fluffy.
There is no excuse for misusing microchips the way LAAS does. What makes it so much worse is that they outright lie about it. It’s not as if they don’t know they’re doing it wrong. They were sued for it (more on that soon) — they’re very aware of it, but are either too dumb or too arrogant (or both) to change their policy, or at the very least to come clean and tell the public how they really use microchips. At least that way, pet owners who live in Los Angeles, who visit Los Angeles, or those whose pets could ever by chance end up in the City of Los Angeles would know that they should keep their contact information current not only with the microchip companies, but with LAAS as well.
Of course, that completely defeats one of the main purposes of microchips! They were designed to streamline the process of reuniting lost pets and their owners by creating a central database of owner information. Under LAAS’s model, a person who lived in LA with microchipped animals would have to update LAAS and the microchip company every time they change contact information for as long as the animal is alive. That’s insane! Oviously it’s more important for LAAS to be right than to actually do what’s right.