A Registered Microchip Helps, But Doesn’t Solve Everything

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I heard a crazy story recently: My son’s neighbors lost their cat. It was an indoor/outdoor cat and just went missing; one imagines the worst. A few weeks later, the owners get a call from a veterinarian in a town about 30 miles away. The vet’s office representative asked, “Are you missing a cat?” They said, “Yes!” The vet staffer asked, “Can you provide proof of ownership?” They said, yes, they can send their adoption agreement from a shelter, their vet records, photos of the cat, and their “lost cat” fliers.

Long story short: The cat was brought into the vet’s office by someone who said they recently got the cat and wanted to have it vaccinated and microchipped. Before implanting a chip, however, the vet did what vets (and shelters, rescues, etc.) are supposed to do and checked the cat to see if it already had a microchip, and lo and behold, it did. Fortunately, the microchip was registered and the phone number was up-to-date. We can probably thank COVID for the fact that the cat was safely in protective custody inside the clinic when these discoveries were made, with the client waiting outside in the parking lot.

As most of us are doing during COVID, the vet called the client on the phone to say, “Hey, this cat already has a microchip, and can you tell us where you got the cat?” When the person couldn’t or wouldn’t answer, the vet told them, “I’m sorry, the cat already has owners who have been looking for their cat.” The way I heard the story, the client stormed out and the rightful owners of the cat were able to recover their friendly kitty later that day.

What are the veterinarian’s legal responsibilities?

This got me wondering, though: What is the veterinarian’s legal responsibility in this case?

It turns out that this is a bit of a grey area.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes that veterinarians routinely recommend that pets be microchipped as a way of proving their identity and ownership – so they are stakeholders, as it were, when it comes to the question of a vet’s responsibility if they check for a microchip and discover that their client is in the possession of a lost or potentially stolen pet. The AVMA has a microchip policy which contains this text:

“A veterinarian is expected to exercise his or her professional judgment on ownership before establishing a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR). In those circumstances that raise suspicion that the presenting person may not actually be the lawful owner of the animal, a veterinarian should ask for documentation of ownership, such as governmental registration, bill of sale, adoption documents, or microchip documentation.”

The veterinarian in the story I heard about my son’s neighbors’ cat did just that, which is great. And the cat’s rightful owners were easily able to prove that not only were they the cat’s owners, they had been actively looking for the cat.

But the AVMA also recognizes that a veterinarian has zero authority to refuse to return an animal brought to them by a client – and a vet who did so may well be sued by the person who brought the pet to them. It’s dicey all around.

As I researched this a bit, I came across multiple accounts of pets who were found to contain two microchips, with different registered owners. What then??

Have you heard a story about unclear ownership of a dog that microchips possibly made more complex, rather than solving?

24 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting article, I s add m getting a new puppy next month and the breeder micro chips the puppy before giving it to the new owner. I have to asked her about that in which name she chips the puppy.

    • Breeders who want to control their lines often do that; many have contractual provisions in their sale agreements to retain a level of control/ownership over the dog and its potential progeny. As the owner, however, you should be able to be listed as the primary owner, with the breeder as a secondary. Having multiple levels of ownership on the chip registry is a good idea especially to assure proper changes of custody that can happen in in the cases of sale, the owner passing, the theft of the dog, or simply a missing dog. Maybe someday, we’ll have blockchain technology in place to track everything, including pets!

  2. I used to recommend my puppy buyers get the microchip and add that number to their AKC registration so there would be a paper trail of who owned the dog. Then I heard the stories about stolen dogs whose microchip had been surgically removed so they could be sold. Kinda defeats the purpose of a microchip if they are that easy to remove. Makes me think maybe going back to the old fashion tattoo, although that’s not real helpful in long haired shelties where that tat is hidden by the coat.

  3. I have read stories that there are different kinds of chip readers so if the place (shelter or vet) who gets your pet does not have that type of chip reader, it does not help anything at all. I also have researched it extensively and have chosen not to chip my dogs because of chips causing cancer and other things at the spot it was put in. I had this happen to me and that was the cause.

    • Exactly! My experience: two rescue dogs that I adopted already chipped and I am not allowed to change the data in the chip (they require previous owners to relinquish ownership; these dogs were abandoned!). Vets will not give out information on the chip. So I have two dogs with incorrect micro-chip information. My vet says they are impossible to remove.

      • If you adopted them through a rescue organization, you should be able to call the microchip company and explain. Providing the adoption papers as proof of ownership. I know our rescue receives dogs all the time that are already chipped and with adoption we are able to chip the information to the new owner.

  4. OMG as the mother of 4 furkids this is scary to me. I don’t know why, mine are never outside not harnessed, have chips and tags, etc.. but you just never know!!!

  5. I have had pets since the early 80s, and until recently, had all my pets chipped AND tattooed. The one person doing tattoos in my area, is no longer here doing them, so none of my current pets has a tattoo. That has left me feeling nervous about what might happen should I lose one in a car accident. This article illustrates my concerns clearly. I am in the process of getting a new pup from a reputable breeder, as a possible service dog candidate (a rarity, since I have rescued every animal I have acquired since the late 90’s). This has now spurred me to find a tattoo artist willing to do this pup, and my current Service Dog (who is only microchipped). Thank you for addressing this issue.

  6. Usually, the breeder gives the new owner the forms to fill and send in. It is a common practice. Breeders who do this want to make sure the dog is chipped.

  7. My only bad experience with my dog, was she became lost, no news for a while, eventually I received a call, the microchip had travel part way down her front leg!!!
    I’ve observed people just scanning dogs in the area where microchips are implanted, I often wonder why they don’t do a full body scan.

  8. Our previous dog, adopted to us by the owner of her sire, had two microchips. I discovered it when she was being licensed and the chip they scanned was not the chip on her papers. Further scanning revealed the correct chip number as registered. She was born in Canada which possibly explains a second chip.

  9. As a retired police officer, I have a different perspective on this issue. Proof of ownership is important, wherever you are. Different states have different laws, but that proof is always most important. Receipts, adoptions papers, chip paperwork, tattoos, photos, all these things are excellent sources to prove ownership. Insist law enforcement is called if someone attempts to take your pet, or pull out your phone and call 911 yourself. Depending on the monetary value of your pet (we all know our fur babies are priceless) we could be talking about a misdemeanor or a felony crime, if another party is trying to take unlawful possession of your pet. Do NOT give up!

  10. Thank you for your perspective, Candance! It is SO inportant to speak for (protect) those that we hold dear, whether 2 or 4 footed!

  11. Wow – the microchip article blew my mind! I always felt that with the advent of the microchip my dog would always be safe and protected if God forbid he were ever lost! It now appears the microchip actually offers little to no protection!!! I will still have to be obsessively protective of my pets!!! Bummer!!!

  12. Good article.
    In case of an animal having 2 microchips perhaps a veterinarian could do what the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II did when two women were brought before him to settle an argument. It seems one of the women had a baby and the other woman could not conceive, so she stole the child from the former. But which was which? Ramses declared, “I shall slice the child in half so you may each have a share”. As he drew his sword one of the women instantly leapt foreword and said, “Please my Pharaoh, do not kill my child. Let her have him, just please let him live.” Ramses sheathed his sword then handed the child to the woman on her knees before him. The other was ordered to the dungeons for stealing the first woman’s baby.
    Okay, maybe it’s a bad idea. It’s a good story though.

    • That was Solomon, the third King of Israel….not an Egyptian pharaoh. But I can see why they would want to borrow his story of great wisdom.

  13. I had 2 schnauzers microchipped when I got them. My lawn man left the gate open when he left and my dogs got out. I never saw them again! I had hoped their chips would help bring them home but if someone found them, they either didn’t want to find their own, or if they took to vet, the vet didn’t scan for a chip. I wish all vets would always scan pets brought in for any reason to make sure the pet wasn’t stolen! It only takes a second to scan and it would help the actual owner from the pain of losing their precious fur baby!

  14. I have two rescue dogs that were already micro-chipped. Try as we may, we have been unable to change the data; we are told that the previous owner needs to first contact the company to relinquish ownership. We don’t know what else to do. Our vet says extraction of chip is nearly impossible. In our experience chipping is a disaster and we will not do it to our third dog.

  15. HomeAgain Pet Microchip clearly states that:

    HomeAgain is a pet recovery database. Registration of a pet will help enable the lost pet’s safe return home.
    It DOES NOT ( my caps ) signify ownership.

    this phrase in under the ‘Pet’Primary Contact Information on the Shelter Rescue Transfer Form.

  16. One of my dogs was returned to the breeder by the first owners who couldn’t keep her. I am the second legal owner. They had already chipped her and when I tried to get the information changed (updated or deleted) the chip company wouldn’t do it. They couldn’t contact the previous owner and refused to accept my documentation or to help me at all! They said that it was a privacy issue like I was asking for info on the previous owners which I wasn’t. The breeder tried to work it out but still no luck. My pup now has my chip and their chip in her as my vet didn’t have a way to deactivate the chip she had. It worries me because there will be confusion if she’s ever lost. I have 8 years of documentation, pictures, and the original purchase contract and hope that will help clear things up. It would help if I could deactivate the previous chip but I let it go after a while because the company was so awful about it.. She’ll just have to stay with me and never get lost I guess. There should be an easy, safe and verifiable way to change out chip information when a dog goes to a new home.

    • Yes, there should be. But chip technology, and the problems that come with it, are still fairly new. Keep all this info handy in case your dog ever does get lost and there is a question of ownership. Your records, contact with the breeder, and the chip company, will help you establish legal ownership in the event of a discrepancy.

  17. Great article. I did not realize there were issues in transferring ownership with the microchip registries when an animal is rescued. Regarding the occasional case where a chip travels from the normal location to another part of the body, I’ve started asking the veterinary staff to scan my pets’ chips during our visit, at least annually. I want to be sure the chip hasn’t moved. And with a newly-adopted animal, I want to verify that the chip number scanned matches my adoption paperwork. As a reminder, many people think that their veterinarian or breeder registers their contact information with the chip registries, but this is not the case. The owner must register the details with the registry. It’s heartbreaking to see lost pets brought in, scanned, and a chip found, only to learn there is no owner data because the owner never completed the registry information or failed to update it after moving.

  18. I guess I am the only one with a good chip story. When I got my dog from a previous owner, the previous owner contacted Home Again and changed the owner contact information before I picked him up. After reading this article, I’m glad she was so well-informed and proactive.

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