When Ponyo, a 2-year-old cat from Dublin was recovered in Reno before her owners even realized she was missing, much of the credit went to a tiny microchip embedded beneath Ponyo's skin.
The chip, about the size of a grain of rice, contained contact information for Ponyo's owners and, once the chip was scanned, led to the safe return of the wandering cat.
I just love happy endings but sadly, there aren't enough of them. And sadder yet is when someone goes to the trouble of chipping their animal, and then doesn't follow through by registering the pet and keeping the information current.
That's a big problem, says Gary MacPhee, director and general manager of HomeAgain, one of the oldest and largest pet microchip companies in the United States.
Whether owners don't understand the need to provide the information or it isn't clearly explained when a rescued animal is adopted, a lot of pets are missing their chance at a safe return.
"It's the lost pet's best chance of getting home," MacPhee says.
Getting your pet chipped is a pretty simple to do and not greatly expensive. Most of the adoption organizations and shelters automatically are chipping pets and adding the cost onto adoption fee, just as they do the costs of neutering, vaccinations and health care.
Many breeders also are routinely chipping their animals, MacPhee says.
If you have a pet that needs a chip, ask your veterinarian. Cost
According to a 2011-12 American Pet Product Association pet owners survey, one in four dogs are microchipped while just one of every eight cats have the device.
Given the ability to so quickly identify a lost pet, it's surprising not more animals have them. A lot of my friends who love their pets as much as I love mine, don't have chips because the thought just never occurred to them. After all, we all believe ourselves responsible pet owners who would never let their pet go missing. But mishaps happen.
Take Gene and Kathy Sakahara of Gilroy. Their daughter was keeping their Chihuahua-corgi mix dog, Molly, while they were on vacation. When the gardener accidentally left a back gate open, Molly slipped out and was gone.
But five weeks later, Molly was back home, thanks to a microchip.
That's why it's so important to register those chips.
Once the pet is found, a vet or animal control officer uses a scanner on the pet -- sort of like a handheld grocery scanner -- to reveal a code. A call to the registry sets things in motion.
The most common misunderstanding about the chip, MacPhee says, is that it acts like GPS, allowing you to track your missing pet. It doesn't. And as good as the chips are, the pet still needs to be found by someone and brought -- if it can be done safely to pet and rescuer -- to a vet's office or animal shelter.
Janice Ward of San Ramon recently spotted a small lost dog wandering her neighborhood. She took it to her vet to be scanned, but when the company accessed records and called the owners, it was learned that the dog had been surrendered to a shelter and the new owner had not updated the information.
Ward eventually found the owner the old-fashioned way, hanging posters around the neighborhood, but they were lucky.
If you don't have your pet chipped, consider it. And to read some happy ending stories, go to www.HomeAgain.com. They have a million of them.
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.