Bill says no microchip, no pet
Terri Green holds a kitten while it receives an implanted microchip from Sarah Frey at the county’s Department of Animal Services on Wednesday. — Photo by Peggy PeattieThe San Diego Union - Tribune August 18, 2011
SACRAMENTO — When Assemblyman Ben Hueso’s family returned home to Logan Heights in March, they were crushed that their beloved Coco, a Jack Russell terrier, was not there to greet them.
“We never thought we would find him,” recalled Hueso, D-San Diego. “It was devastating for my wife and kids. They really fell in love with that dog.”
A miracle — in the form of an implanted microchip — produced a surprise phone call 10 weeks later. Coco, then 9-months-old, had been left with a veterinarian in Fresno.
How Coco wound up 350 miles north remains a mystery. Hueso knows for certain that without the microchip, “We would never have found him. Never, ever.”
That’s why Hueso supports legislation that would require owners of dogs — and cats — to agree to a microchip before shelters return their lost pets to them. It would also become a condition for adopting shelter animals.
The statewide microchip law would be the first of its kind in the nation, according to its author, Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance.
“It’s a way to reduce the unnecessary killing of animals,” Lieu said.
The measure, pending on the Assembly floor after clearing the state Senate by a wide margin, would also save taxpayers money, Lieu said. By reuniting pets and owners sooner, Senate Bill 702 would reduce shelter costs by millions of dollars now spent on staff time, housing, care and food, he said.
“This is a cost taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear,” he said.
Studies, Lieu added, indicate that three out of every four lost pets embedded with microchips are reunited with their owners. Without the device, a pet stands about a 1 in 10 chance of going home. Statewide, about 1 million pets are impounded every year. Half of those stories end unhappily.
Policies vary by shelter, but most offer discounted microchip services. In San Diego, county animal services Lt. Dan DeSousa said $20 implantations are every Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Sometimes there are additional costs to register the number nationally, but the San Diego shelter includes that in the price.
“Our goal is to get these animals home,” said DeSousa, who noted the county has taken no formal position on the bill.
Opposition has emerged. Some state lawmakers argue the bill is another example of unwarranted government intrusion.
The California Federation of Dog Clubs, which represents a coalition of breeders, hunting groups and others, organized to counter what they believe are overreaching regulations, according to its website. Another is the California Responsible Pet Owners’ Coalition, which has a similar membership and goals.
They warn that there have been scattered reports of problems, such as infection and formation of cancer.
“In light of the risks and dubious benefits associated with these devices, it is ill-advised to mandate their routine usage,” Geneva Coats, of the dog club federation, wrote in a letter of opposition.
Instead, other identification practices should be encouraged, they say. Those include tattoos and tags. Also, chips are not uniform, making it difficult for shelters and veterinarians to easily find owners, the critics say.
Plans are in the works for more uniform equipment and a completely accessible national database, Lieu said.
Lieu and his supporters dispute the health risk claims. And many animal control specialists counter that the happy reunions, including three in San Diego County in the month of May, are evidence of the need.
“We impound way too many dogs and cats that never find their way home,” said Allan Drusys, chief veterinarian for the Riverside County Department of Animal Services.
Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a position. However, he does have a pet Corgi. A spokesman cited security concerns in declining to reveal whether the first dog, named Sutter, has a microchip.
The San Diego County delegation has generally supported the bill. Sen. Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, was the only local lawmaker to vote no when the measure passed the Senate 32-6.