Why more Pittsburgh pet owners are finding their lost pets

Here’s how to make sure your lost pet comes home.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

For about the last three months, Pittsburgh Animal Care & Control has returned, on average, between two and five lost dogs and a few lost cats per week to their owners instead of taking the animals to the shelter.

In October, Pittsburgh Animal Care & Control started using pet microchip scanners, making reunions between pets and owners quicker and more frequent, Animal Care & Control supervisor David Madden said. 

Once a pet has a microchip, he said, there is no way to remove it, making it more reliable than a collar. Sometimes collars don’t work for an indoor/outdoor cat or a dog has its collar off in the house, but the pooch escaped out the front door, collarless, Madden said.

Now, the first question Animal Care & Control asks about a lost pet is “Is your animal chipped?”

How the scanners work

Handheld scanners allow animal control officers to see if there is a microchip inserted under the skin of a lost dog or cat. If there is, the chip contains the owner’s contact information, so the pet can be returned.

The scanners cost about $250 to $300 each and were donated to the city’s animal control by HomeAgain, a pet microchip company, Madden said. Animal Care & Control now has six scanners, one for each truck, which is exactly what the department needed, Madden said. Each officer doesn’t need to carry a scanner, because animals are scanned once they are securely in the truck.

Officers run the scanner over the animal’s body to see if it indicates that there is a microchip — which is about the size of a grain of rice — inserted under the dog’s or cat’s skin, usually in the neck area. Madden said officers check the animal’s entire body because chips can shift and pets have multiple chips.

If the officer finds a microchip, the officer can take the pet home (which is usually near to where it was found) instead of taking it to the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center, Madden said. He aded that the owner must be present for the animal to be returned, so sometimes it has to wait at the shelter for the owner to get home.

How to get your pet chipped

Local animal shelters and veterinarian clinics also have microchip scanners, and they usually can put the chips in, too, Madden said. He advised calling your pet’s veterinarian for information or looking for a microchipping clinic (which are usually sometimes offered at rabies shot clinics). That’s also when owners learn how to add their information to the chip, usually online.

Pittsburgh Animal Care & Control officers are also working to educate more pet owners about the benefits of microchips. Madden estimated that quarter to a third of pet owners in the city have chipped their animals.

Plus, he added that owners need to remember to contact their microchip company when they move to make sure their contact information is up to date.