Allegheny County police departments get their paws on pet scanners
July 8, 2014 11:46 PM
Kathy Hecker, chief humane officer at Animal Friends, demonstrates how to scan for a microchip on canine Beauty.
Chloe, 7, a rescue from Animal Friends, unwinds during a news conference announcing the distribution of microchip readers to all municipalities in Allegheny County on Tuesday at Animals Friends. Chloe is owned by April Hubal.
By Linda Wilson Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
About 25 police officers and two elected officials had their eyes on a big, mixed-breed dog named Beauty. The dog had done nothing wrong. She is an abuse victim, found in a barn where she had been abandoned without food.
On Tuesday, Beauty was a demonstration dog at a news conference where it was announced that virtually every police department in Allegheny County is getting free equipment that will help police reunite lost pets with their owners.
“She doesn’t have a microchip,” said Kathy Hecker, Animal Friends chief humane officer, as she ran a scanner over the dog that now lives in the Ohio Township animal shelter. Ms. Hecker showed police officers how to use a scanner to find a microchip embedded between the shoulder blades. The chip, about the size of a grain of rice, has contact information for the owner of a lost dog, cat or rabbit.
Ms. Hecker also ran the scanner over the backs and bodies of several dogs adopted earlier from the shelter that do have the chips. Then the police officers, who came from departments all over Allegheny County, each took a free scanner back to the towns where they work. When they find a lost dog or cat, it can be quickly returned to the owner if the animal has a microchip.
A total of 118 police departments will have a free scanner by late August, thanks to a unique project that took 18 months to coordinate. The project was unveiled Tuesday at the Animal Friends shelter.
Speakers included the people who were heavily involved in the project: Stephen A. Zappala Jr., Allegheny County district attorney; Allegheny County Treasurer John K. Weinstein; David Swisher, Animal Friends CEO and president; Robert Fragasso, financial adviser and Animal Friends board member; Point Breeze veterinarian Larry Gerson; and Reserve police Chief Fred Boory, representing the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association.
Dr. Gerson is president of the AAARF! board, and Mr. Weinstein serves on that board of the Allegheny Abused Animal Relief Fund. When Mr. Weinstein’s office collects 125,000 dog license fees each year, people are invited to make voluntary donations to the fund. Dog owners donated $1.2 million to AAARF! in the past 14 years.
The scanners that find ID microchips cost $275, and 118 have been purchased for towns where police chiefs said they’d like to use them. AAARF! donations covered half of the cost, and the other half came from Mr. Zappala’s drug forfeiture fund.
“Microchips are not a substitute for dog licenses,” which state law requires, Mr. Weinstein noted. The license tags also can be used to trace the dog’s owner.
Without a license or microchip, lost and stray dogs held in shelters or animal control agencies may be euthanized in 48 hours, Mr. Fragasso said. “We euthanize 20,000 animals a year in Allegheny County,” but if more pets have microchips, those numbers could go down.
As for Beauty, when she is adopted she will go to her new home with a microchip.
Microchips are embedded under the skin in a simple procedure at a veterinary clinic or a shelter. Cost varies, though they tend to cost $30-$40. Animal shelters often conduct low-cost “chip clinics.” Animal Friends will be offering chips for $20 on Aug. 21, Sept 4 and 18 and on Oct 9 and 23. Call 412-847-7029.
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