AUSTIN -- Each year about seven million pets disappear. Most of them end up in area shelters. It's why pet owners have been encouraged to have their pets microchipped, but that alone may not be enough.
Romeo has quite a tale to tell. He is not only deaf, he's old -- 15-and-half years old -- and a bit of an escape artist. He slipped away while on a camping trip in New Mexico this summer.
“After three or four days we just assumed he was dead," said Mike Stotts of Lakeway.
Stotts and his wife left New Mexico heartbroken.
Two months later, he got a call he didn't expect.
"They found Romeo and the microchip and called me the next morning, and the reunion started," he said. Stotts drove all the way back to New Mexico to retrieve Romeo.
It's the kind of story pet owners hope to hear and something Jeffrey Swanson thought he'd never experience.
"I just assumed she'd died," said Swanson.
His cat Cookie ran away from his Austin home in 2007. A few weeks ago, he too got a surprise call. Cookie had been found, four-and-a-half years after she disappeared.
"It was a complete surprise," said Swanson.
Stotts and Swanson were lucky. Despite having their pets microchipped, neither had updated their information on the registry in years. Fortunately for them, their phone numbers were exactly the same.
"If my number had changed, they wouldn't have found me, and I wouldn't have Cookie back," said Swanson.
"We'll go through quite a few hoops to try to locate the owner, tax records, landlords, to they have any leads," said Troy Walters, Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer for the Austin Animal Center.
What most pet owners don't realize is that a microchip alone is not enough.
Vet clinics and shelters implant the microchips, but it's up to you to register the animals. That means there's no information tying you to your pet unless you go online and do it. (Check the links at the bottom of this story for more information.)
Many of the microchip companies charge pet owners between $20 and $35 a year to keep their registration information updated. However, one pet owner told us they were going to be charged as much as $300 to update their informatioin.
“I guess I just thought whenever they got microchipped, it was just some sort of universal system that the vets or the pounds animal shelters would use to find your animal,” said pet owner Josh Finto. “I didn't realize it was such a privatized and commercialized experience."
"It's just as important as changing your driver's license," said Kelly Hanes of the Austin Humane Society.
Many pet microchips not updated
There's evidence pet owners aren't getting the message.
One recent study of shelters across the country found 35 percent of microchipped animals that came into shelters had incorrect or disconnected phone numbers. Another 24 percent were registered to a former owner. That's more than half of the microchipped animals with no tell tale information linked to their microchip.
The Austin Humane Society scans every pet that comes through its doors and will add one to any pet that doesn't already have one. The goal is to help reunite pets with their owners.
Shelter workers can find themselves on a logistical leash, searching websites and making calls just to track down the pet owners.
"Sometimes we're working against time," said Sara Lang, foster care coordinator for the Austin Humane Society.
Pee Wee, a burnt orange Dachsund, ended up at the Austin Animal Center, the city's no kill shelter, but his microchip was not registered.
"He was a little difficult," said Walters.
Shelter workers searched for days and eventually located the owner, who admittedly can no longer care for him. So he's now with a foster family and waiting to be adopted -- proof that technology is only as good as the information you provide.
The Austin Animal Center is looking for a home for Pee Wee and will microchip your pet free if you live in Travis County.
How to update your information
There are nearly a dozen different microchip companies, and so you need to make sure you are registered. If you don’t know which company you’re with, this new website can help. It was created by the American Animal Hospital Association. It's called petmicrochiplookup.com.
This allows you to type in your pet’s microchip number regardless of the company and find out if your information is up to date. However if the information is out of date, you’ll will need to update that information with either the microchip company you used or one of those below. Remember, most of these charge between $20 and $35 a year to keep this information up to date.
Below you’ll find information on all the pet microchip companies with which you can register:
Currently, these companies are incorporated into the tool:
- Found Animals
- Save This Life