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A chip on their shoulder

By Ed Brock

Elba Gallagher's dog, the Count of Heidelberg, has a real chip on his shoulder.

And it's a good thing, too.

The Count, as he's usually called, has a microchip implanted between his shoulder blades that, when scanned, reveals his number in the American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery database. The Gallagher's, a military family, live in the Jonesboro area, had the chip implanted more than a year ago after a promotion of the device at the veterinary clinic on Army Fort McPherson.

That chip, or at least the yellow rubber tag that accompanies it, helped get The Count, a German short-hair pointer, back home a few months ago.

"Basically the dog broke his leash in his run in the back yard and ran away," Gallagher said. "Then we were watching TV when we got a phone call from this person who told us the dog was in our neighbor's backyard."

The neighbor had called the AKC-CAR 1-800 number on the Count's yellow tag, given the operator the identification number and the operator called the Gallaghers.

"We were a little confused at first," Gallagher said.

The AKC-CAR program has been in existence since 1995. There are 1.8 million pets enrolled in the program and marked either with a microchip or a tattoo, according to AKC spokeswoman Kim Rose. And as of July 30 those pets include one baboon, seven wolves, 83 llamas and 72 monkeys along with 1,407,806 dogs, 446,967 cats and other species.

Two weeks ago the microchips in two Labrador retrievers in Colorado, Mo and Ziggy, led to their return to their owner after a Canton man found them by the side of the road and brought them all the way back to Georgia. When he brought the dogs, which did not have tags, to the vet the rice-sized chip revealed their identity.

And yet the word about the use of the chips doesn't seem to have gotten out in Clayton and Henry counties, said Jonesboro Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Don McMillan Jr. They've performed the implant procedure for patients in both counties but McMillan said they are uncommon.

Implanting the chip is literally as simple as giving the dog a shot. The chip comes in a ready-to-use syringe.

"Typically when we do this there is no reaction," McMillan said.

The implant procedure costs $35 and there's a $12.50 fee to register the dog with the AKC-CAR program. McMillan has yet to see an infection or other reaction arise from the chips, but in the early days of the procedure there was a problem with "migration."

"The chip started out where you put it and then traveled down to a leg or some lower area," Mc Millan said.

That problem seems to have been overcome. The chip is inert until scanned, McMillan said, so there's no need for a power source.

"It's not like it's constantly sending out a signal," McMillan said.

He's heard the companies that make the chips plan to come out with a version that can monitor the dog's temperature as well, McMillan said. And the vet also recommended other ways to make sure a dog comes home safely.

Pet insurance would encourage people to take advantage of otherwise costly procedures to extend the dog's life, and preventive medicine is another good idea.

Clayton County Animal Control uses the AKC-CAR system, but Henry County Animal Control does not, supervisor Cathy Hewitt said.

"The problem with the scanners is that there are three or four companies making these things and we can't afford to buy several different scanners," Hewitt said.

There is a universal scanner, Hewitt said, but it only determines that a chip is present but doesn't provide the necessary information. If a truly universal scanner is made the system would be great, Hewitt said.

As for those wondering if this technology can be used in humans, an American company called Applied Digital Solutions has been marketing its VeriChip for use in humans for about a year now. The company promotes the chip, which costs around $200, as a product to be used by people who work in secured areas, to insure that the right person is taking money out of an ATM and to provide medical information for people with certain conditions.