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Austin Animal Center offers free microchipping to help residents track their pets 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021 by Sumaiya Malik, Reporting Texas

In an effort to educate and encourage Austin residents to get their pets microchipped, the Austin Animal Center will offer a free drive-up clinic to pet owners on April 10.

The process involves implanting a microchip, a tiny electronic device the size of a grain of rice, between the animal’s shoulder blades. Once the chip is in, its unique ID can be read with a scanner that is available at the Austin Animal Center. Most veterinary clinics, animal emergency centers and pet stores also have microchip scanner.

If a pet is lost or stolen, anyone who finds the animal can take it to be scanned for a microchip. The microchip registration will include the owner’s contact information. A microchipped pet has a 73 percent greater chance of getting back home than a non-microchipped animal, said Don Bland, Chief Animal Services Officer.

A work group consisting of the staff of Austin Animal Center and three members of the Animal Advisory Commission – Craig Nazor, Jo Anne Norton and Edward Flores – is working on finding ways to educate the public about microchipping. At the March 8 Animal Advisory Commission meeting, Bland updated the commission about their progress, saying, “Lots of good ideas in terms of marketing and educating progress has been made.”

Their plan is to advertise on the Austin Animal Center website, Facebook and Nextdoor. The center will also spread the word through Spanish-language radio stations, Bland said, thanking Commissioner Edward Flores, “who made a lot of it happen.”

Microchipping for pets has been around for decades, but unlike the rabies shot, which is a requirement, microchipping is optional. 

Still, Bland would still like to see most animals microchipped. “From my perspective it is something that makes sense as one would want animals to get home,” he said. He noted that McLennan County requires all pets to be microchipped and so does the Waco municipal code.

The need for microchipping came back into focus when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. “We found with Covid the shelter had to limit intake of animals. We also could not have enough staff at the shelter,” Norton said. Before Covid-19, scanners were available at fire stations, but that stopped during the pandemic, she said.

The focus also shifted to microchipping when Austin became a no-kill city. When no-kill was adopted in 2011, 98 percent of all the animals that came into the shelter left the shelter alive, Commissioner David Lundstedt, the outgoing chair of the Animal Advisory Commission, said.

Another reason to raise the rates of microchipping is that some ZIP codes have a high rate of strays. Since Bland joined the Austin Animal Center, 78723 and 78724, the area west of U.S. Highway 183 and Decker Lane on the east side, have gone down in intake because the staff made efforts to educate and advertise to the residents about microchipping. Currently, Dove Springs in 78724 and Del Valle in 78725 are showing an uptick in strays, explained program manager Mark Sloat.

Efforts are also underway to make scanners more easily accessible to the public. Besides the current locations where scanning can be done, animal services trucks also carry a microchip scanner. “Most of my officers can do microchipping in the field,” Sloat said.

Austin Animal Center provides free microchips and tags for any pet in Austin or Travis County. “I actually brought my dog and we stood in line to get a microchip,” Lundstedt said. “It was just like getting a shot, simple and easy.” 

“In 2019, 17,000 animals were picked up by good Samaritans,” Sloat said, “and 14,0000 of them were brought in over the counter.” He explained that often wandering dogs aren’t lost, they are close to their homes when someone finds them and brings them in. “People need to understand that if a dog does not come home for a day or two, they need to check the animal center,” he said.

Currently, with 250 dogs and 60 cats in the shelter, “we are pretty much at maximum capacity with the dogs,” Sloat said.

The Austin Animal Center’s free drive-thru microchip clinic is Saturday, April 10, 8 a.m. to noon, by appointment. This is a test run. If the event is a success, the center will consider going out into the community to set up more clinics.

Commissioner Nazor expressed the hope that the cost of this free service will be far outweighed by the money saved by getting more lost pets out of the shelter and home to their owners more quickly.

Photo by I, Joelmills, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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