What Is Microchipping?
Popular free or low-cost microchipping clinics are offered at Animal Care and Control, 1200 15th Street (at Harrison), on three Sundays every year, from 1 to 4 p.m.: the second Sundays of February, April and June. If a second Sunday falls on a holiday, like Easter, the clinic is moved to the third Sunday that month. This annual series of Friends-sponsored microchipping clinics began in 2001. Beginning in 2006 FSFACC has offered the same service at Dog Days in Duboce Park, presented by SF DOG and Duboce Dogs on the first Saturday of August.
Frequently Asked Questions about Microchipping at ACC
1. What is microchipping?
A microchip is a tiny metal chip encased in a surgical glass case about the size of a grain of rice. The glass is inert and cannot dissolve, corrode or interact with living tissue. The chip inside does not hold any information other than a 10-digit number. It is a rudimentary transponder but cannot transmit that number more than a few inches. When someone passes a wand-like "scanner" over the chip it displays the chip's number on the scanner's screen.
A vet or veterinary technician injects the chip under the loose skin (not into muscle) on the animal's back (in ACC's case, dogs or cats only), typically between the shoulder blades, but this can vary from the neck area to the mid-back area. The needle used to inject the chip is then safely discarded. The microchip is a passive device, meaning that it carries no battery and remains inactive except when it is being scanned.
When you fill out ACC's microchip application with your pet's information and your own contact information, we stick the chip's ID number and barcode on the application, so the number is unique to each pet and owner. ACC staff then enters all the data into its own database.
Each microchip comes from a "kit," which includes the chip inside a large sterile injection needle, along with several self-stick paper copies of the same ID number and barcode, a yellow tag with the same ID number, a metal ring to attach that tag to a pet's collar, and an enrollment form and pre-addressed envelope that the owner sends in for national registration.
2. Does it hurt?
Yes. As we mentioned, the needle is very large, and no local anesthetic is used. Most small dogs and puppies scream. It can also cause temporary light bleeding at the injection site, which is most visible on light-colored animals. We have peroxide handy to clean this up. It is usually not serious. However, we recommend that puppies and kittens be at least two months old (and weigh at least two pounds in the case of kittens) before subjecting them to this procedure. True, the pain lasts only a couple of seconds, but keeping the animal's well-being in mind, the entire ordeal of being taken to a strange place with strange people and other animals can be stressful, even traumatic for many animals of any size and age. It's always a good idea to let your pet eat either an herbal remedy or vet-prescribed sedative at least a couple of hours before going to the vet or other "strange" (to the pet) location, like our microchipping clinic.
3. Does the microchip move around under the skin?
4. Suppose my pet gets lost and gets picked up by someone who brings her to a vet or other place with no microchip scanner?
Most vets do have the scanners, as do all shelters and some commercial kennels. We can't guarantee everyone will have a scanner, but unless foul play is involved, most lost pets eventually end up at a place where a scanner is used.
5. How much does it cost?
Most vets and vet hospitals charge from $30 to $80, but this may include other services our clinics do not offer. The service is free to San Francisco residents (a minimum donation of $10 per pet is requested) and is provided for a nominal donation of only $15 per pet to nonresidents (again, additional donations are welcome).
(Note that you will be putting your contact info on the application form, which is where you would like your pet returned after getting lost, so putting another person's San Francisco address to get out of paying this charge would defeat the purpose of the microchip.)
We also provide a pre-addressed envelope and enrollment form with your pet's chip number and barcode on it to mail in at your convenience to the manufacturer for national registration. This normally costs $17.50 per pet, but because you will be getting your microchip from a nonprofit shelter (as evidenced by ACC's address that we stamp on each application), Schering-Plough charges only $6.25 per pet. Schering-Plough announced in early 2007 that this national enrollment rate will go up to about $20 and will require an annual renewal. Until then, ACC is deciding whether or not to switch to another supplier but will continue to use the current inventory of Schering-Plough chips at the old rate.
6. What if I can't afford the $15 fee for nonresidents?
We will still perform the procedure but will provide a form you can mail in later to the Friends of San Francisco Animal Care and Control, the sponsor of the clinics, to make a donation at a more convenient time. In the meantime, please contribute whatever you can afford at the clinic.
7. Is there anything I should know beforehand?
The application that you fill out at the clinic asks the pet's name, breed, size, age and description, including hair length, and the owner's contact info. Please be prepared to answer these questions when you arrive. We may be very busy and may not have time to answer these questions for you. (Yes, we have been asked all of these, including what we think the pet's name should be.)
8. What microchip system do you use?
It is the HomeAgain brand, manufactured and managed by the Schering-Plough company. By "managed" we mean they also maintain the database of all microchip numbers and contact data, a function they took over from the American Kennel Club early in 2005.
There are other systems in common use in the United States, the most common being AVID, which actually invented the technology, but HomeAgain is the system most Bay Area shelters use, so if your pet got lost in a county adjacent to San Francisco she or he would still have a good chance at a speedy reunion with you, assuming you enrolled your pet nationally.
If an animal already has a chip from another system, ACC's "universal" scanner can identify the brand of chip but may not always be able to read its number.
9. Is your microchip recognized elsewhere?
When you get your pet microchipped at ACC your info goes into the computer system at ACC only. However, if you mail in the national enrollment form, which ACC highly recommends, the chip will be recognized anywhere in the U.S. as well as in some other countries.
10. Where do you hold the clinics?
Outside in the dog run park immediately adjacent to the shelter (1200 15th Street, at Harrison, San Francisco) in good weather and inside in the second-floor lobby in bad or cold weather. In 2007 all clinics were held inside. ACC is ADA-compliant, with no front steps, and has an elevator.
11. How do I get national registration?
After the clinic complete and mail in the national enrollment form that you receive at the clinic for each pet separately. Because your pet received the chip at a nonprofit shelter the fee is about a third (currently $6.25) of what others pay. According to HomeAgain's Web site you can also enroll online. The enrollment fee is good for the life of your pet.
12. Suppose I transfer ownership of my pet or move with my pet to another address?
You can call HomeAgain's toll-free number, (866) 738-4324, at any time to report changes in the pet's home address so that, if lost and found, he or she can be returned to you (or the new owner) right away. The number is on the mail-in national registration form, so be sure to keep a photocopy of it for the life of the pet or give the microchip registration info to the new owner. New owners pay a $6 fee to HomeAgain to change contact info.
If you are taking your pet with you on vacation or on frequent temporary business trips you can still notify HomeAgain of your temporary address to ensure continuous coverage of the service. In that case, HomeAgain prefers that you e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), fax (315-634-9076) or mail (HomeAgain Pet Recovery Service, Attn: Updates, P.O. Box 2014, East Syracuse, NY 13057-4514) the contact info to them, rather than call them.
13. How many animals can I get microchipped at the FSFACC-sponsored clinics?
There is no limit, but each dog must be on a separate leash, and each cat must be in a separate carrier (an exception would be for older kittens, who may share a large carrier). Please do not bring animals other than dogs and cats, and please make sure they're large enough to endure the injection without too much discomfort (see question #2 above). We've had people abuse this service, like the rescue organization that brought 15 dogs and puppies and then didn't donate a penny towards the substantial costs of the clinic. Please be reasonable. Also, each animal must have a separate application filled out before getting a microchip.
14. Do you microchip animals besides dogs and cats?
No, mainly because most shelters do not scan for microchips in animals other than dogs and cats, and the large needle would be needlessly painful for a smaller animal, like a bird, hamster or lizard.
15. Should I bring my pet's "paperwork" (proof of vaccinations, vet visits, licensing, etc.)?
No. San Francisco dogs must be licensed, but we take your word for it. ACC is open during the clinic, however, if you wish to get your dog licensed at that time. Licensing DOES require up-to-date proof of your dog's rabies vaccination, which ACC staff will ask to see, but the microchipping clinic volunteers do not ask to see that either. Cats and nonresident dogs do not need to be licensed, though cat registration is available from ACC (not the clinic) for $11 for the life of the cat. You can also license your dog online. The licensing rate for an altered dog for three years works out to about $10.67 a year.
16. Do I need a reservation?
No, nor do we accept them. If you have a disability that requires that you be in and out quickly, and there's a line when you arrive, let one of our volunteers know, and we'll move you to the front of the line. It is not necessary to phone ahead and ask for this service.
17. What time should I come?
The clinics run from 1 to 4 p.m., so please come no later than 3:45 p.m. The vet must sometimes leave at 4 on the dot. The line is longest at the beginning, with some pet owners arriving as much as an hour early. If you come between 1 and 2 p.m. be prepared to wait at least 15 minutes. However, this is not necessary. If you come later, like between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. you should be able to zip right through.
18. What if I have other vet questions about my pet?
You may ask the vet as your pet is getting microchipped, but we request that you keep it short and simple, since others will usually be waiting their turn, and we will have only one vet administering the microchips.
19. Do microchips really work?
Nationwide, on average, almost nine percent of microchipped animals are reunited with their families because of their chip. That's almost one out of every 11 microchipped animals.