Skip to main content

North Hills Monthly

Lost Pets Found More Easily with Countywide Microchip Program

Aug 29, 2014 08:58PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Losing a beloved pet is a heart-wrenching experience that can go from bad to worse if your pet doesn’t have identification.

In an effort to help pet owners keep tabs on their critters, a countywide program has provided 118 police departments with free ID microchip scanners at a cost of more than $24,000. The hand-held scanners were purchased with funds from Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s drug forfeiture fund and donations to the Allegheny Abused Animal Relief Fund (AAARF!), which was created 10 years ago to help pay for the care of abused and neglected pets. The program also trains officers to use the scanners.

Since police departments are usually the first to be contacted about both lost and found pets, the scanner project ensures that every municipality in Allegheny County has the ability to scan lost dogs, cats and rabbits. It’s likely the first project of its kind in the country.

According to Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein, the program has also facilitated an historic partnership between the county and local participating veterinary offices, which now offer $10 off the cost of a regular microchip procedure for licensed dogs. “Microchipping does not replace licensing your dog,” he reminds owners, noting that license tags can also be used to find a lost dog’s owner. “Both are a must to keep dogs safe and protected.”

Dr. Nathaniel Gaiser, associate veterinarian at Allegheny North Veterinary Hospital in Ross Township, says he often microchips younger dogs at the same time that they’re getting neutered or spayed. “If a dog is lost or slips off its leash and gets away, this is a great way to identify that pet and get back it to its owner,” he explained, noting that microchips have been used not only to find pets in the area, but to find pets that get separated from their people in unfamiliar surroundings while on vacation.

There are a variety of brands of microchips available, and Gaiser’s clinic uses HomeAgain chips, as they are designed to resist any kind of migration. “The chips themselves don’t contain a battery, but once you put a low radio signal over the chip, the circuitry turns it on and displays a 15-digit number,” he explained, adding that another bonus of having a dog microchipped is that the owner can then apply for a lifetime license.

Gaiser acknowledges that the 14- or 16-gauge needle used to implant the chip is a bit larger than the needle used for vaccinations, so smaller dogs may find it painful. “A treat–like a spoonful of peanut butter—can be given while the procedure takes place to take the dog’s mind off of what’s going on,” he advised. “The chip is usually implanted right between the shoulder blades, just under the scruff. It’s about the size of a grain of rice.”

In addition to dogs, Gaiser said that he mostly chips indoor/outdoor cats, but even indoor cats can benefit from the procedure in the event of an emergency or a door being inadvertently left open.

Unidentified dogs held in Allegheny County shelters or animal control agencies may be euthanized in 48 hours, and each year more than 20,000 animals lose their lives. This program is designed to bring that number down, but pet owners also have to do their part by making sure that their animals get chipped.

 In addition to the county coupons, Animal Friends is offering low-cost microchipping services for dogs and cats ($20 per animal) on two Thursdays of each month until December 11. Microchips are offered for rabbits on a case-by-case basis, so call ahead if you plan to bring your bunny. Visit for more information.