Posted by: petsweekly | November 18, 2010

The Importance of Microchipping Your Pet

This week, we learned that a dog named Target was mistakenly euthanized by Pinal County Animal Care & Control (PCACC). If you missed one of the many hundreds of articles, you can read more of the details here.

And so, of course, our first inclination is to blame the Pinal Animal Control facility that sent Target off to a cold, nameless death.  And why not? This is the story of an exceptional dog, one who saved the lives of 50 soldiers by intercepting a suicide bomber about to enter their barracks at Dand Patan, near the Pakistan border. Afterwards, Target was flown to her new home in the US to live what all hoped would be a long, happy life under the care of Sgt. Terry Young.  This brave, loyal dog was even featured on Oprah, and has had articles written about her worldwide. It’s a beautiful story – and we were all touched on a deep level, one that proves dogs really are man’s best friend.

Ironically, mankind is fast proving to be a dog’s worst enemy.

After all, a dog who saved 50 American lives, survived a war, and endured a journey halfway around the world – was unable to survive a single weekend within the United States animal shelter system.

We’re all outraged, but the fact of the matter is that Animal Control kills animals. They’ve never tried to say they don’t kill animals, they’ve never tried to hide it. They freely admit that less than 50% of the animals who walk into animal control will ever walk out again. For this sobering statistic, we can thank irresponsible owners –  people who refuse to spay/neuter their pets, people who give up their animals because they are an “inconvenience,” those who don’t want their dog to be microchipped or wear a collar. We can thank the parents who wants to “show their children the miracle of birth” by breeding their family pet, or the person who decides that their pet no longer fits their “lifestyle.”

In fact, if it weren’t for the countless number of small, no-kill animal rescue groups who repeatedly step in and pull animals out of the way of a needle, we would be reading stories like this every single day. (The next time you’re bitching about high adoption fee for one of these groups, remember that…)

I don’t have the stats for Pinal County, but let’s take a look at a neighboring county – Maricopa. According to records from Maddie’s Fund, Maricopa County alone took in a total of 55,000 dogs and cats. Out of that, only 14,435 adoptions were made. Approximately 12,000 additional animals were taken into no-kill shelters and less than 5,000 were claimed by their owners. During the year 2009 – in Maricopa County alone – approximately 26,000 animals were destroyed.

That’s an average of 72 animals per DAY, every single day, for 365 days – by ONE county. (Rumor has it that Pinal county has an even higher rate.)

So, let’s take an honest look at the situation.

The fact of the matter is that Target was NOT microchipped. She was NOT wearing a collar or any type of identification.  She was NOT picked up the minute his owner learned where she was. In fact, Sgt. Young left the dog in the pound for the weekend under the assumption county was closed. Three days – the minimum time required for the state to keep animals.

Folks, this is an important lesson for us all… The county pound is not a place where you can casually say, “I’m sure she’s fine – I’ll just pick her up next week.”  In fact, if you’ve lost a pet, you had better plan to commit to walking the floors of every single animal control location, at least once per day. Because if your pet is picked up and has been injured, appears uncooperative, seems stressed, looks distraught, isn’t wearing ID, or doesn’t get along with other animals – you can bet that animal will be put down unless a no-kill rescue takes a liking to them during a walk-thru.

There is a lesson to be learned from the tragedy of Target.  Microchip your pets. Collar your pets. Make sure that your pets – all of them – are wearing ID at all times. It doesn’t matter if they “never leave your yard.” It doesn’t matter if “he’s old.”  Pets escape yards. Sometimes by accident, other times on purpose. What is in our control is ensuring that pets are wearing the proper ID, are easily returned to us, are spayed/neutered, so that they are as secure as we can make them. If you learn where your pet is, please understand how important it is to pick them up that moment! It doesn’t matter how inconvenient it may be to do so. Stories like this happen EVERY day and it’s not fair to place all the blame on one group. This is a community issue and it needs to be addressed as such.

You’ve taken on the responsibility for a life when you accepted a pet into your home.  Please take it seriously. If you need help, ask. There are THOUSANDS of resources out there to help pet owners with everything from keeping your pets fed, to insuring they are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped.

This was not entirely an Animal Control problem – there was shared responsibility on this tragedy, just as there are in all stories. When you decide that your pet is an inconvenience and you drop him/her off at animal control or the humane society, don’t delude yourself by saying, “He’s a good dog – he’ll get adopted in no time.” Because chances are excellent that if you don’t want them, no one else will either. At the very least, have the grace to look into your pets’ eyes as he stares up at you with blind admiration and unconditional love – and acknowledge the fact that you are sentencing him to at least 72 hours of pain and fear, followed by strangers injecting him full of poison in a room of death.

Everything else you tell yourself is a lie.

This is not a “single story about a dog”. This is a story that happens an average of 72 times per day, every single day of the year, in ONE relatively small county shelter. Multiply those 72 animals by every single town, every single county, in every single state and you have barely a glimpse inside the world of animal rescue. Remember this as we look around the room for someone to blame. Remember this when you create problems for the neighbor who is doing their level best to make a difference in the world. Remember this when you complain about that “stray dog running loose.” Remember this when you decide you want a “cute little puppy” only to find them boring after they’ve grown up in six months. Remember this the next time you bypass a donation box because you “just don’t see the point.”  Remember this when you decide it’s cheaper to just buy a pet from a pet store rather than adopt from a no-kill rescue.

Because if you’re not doing something to help, whether it’s financially, physically or politically – you’re part of the problem.

And while you’re seeking out someone to blame, let’s not forget that the real victim here is an innocent, four-legged war hero named Target…

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