Creature Comforts

My husband, Dave, also a veterinarian, has a funny story. He’s been telling it for years now, but instead of getting tired, this story has stood the test of time.

It begins on a typical busy day at a veterinary practice in Harrisburg. A colleague was working up a case of a dachshund with back pain. Anyone who knows dachshunds, would find this to be a very boring story so far.

The veterinarian took radiographs (x-rays) of the dog in an attempt to locate a problem with the dachshund’s vertebrae and found something unexpected.

Dave, my husband, happened to be passing by the view-box as the radiographs were put up and stopped to comment.

“Hey, look at that. Looks like this dog was shot – those are B-B’s,” he said.

Sure enough, there were small, spherical, metallic foreign bodies located in the muscles of one of the hind legs.

“Yeah, weird, huh? But it’s not causing any trouble with this dog today – that’s not where he hurts at all,” said the other vet. “Must be an old injury.”

A bit later, the other veterinarian emerged from the examination room slightly flushed. She pulled Dave aside, “I have to tell someone about this last appointment,” she said.

“What happened?” he asked.

“I was going over the radiographs with the owner of that dog,” she said. “Things were going fine until I mentioned those B-B’s, and that I felt they were of no consequence.” The owner was a very nice, older German woman with a very thick accent.

Imitating the accent, the veterinarian went on, “The owner said, “Shot?! Oh, no, he could not have been shot! He is indoors all ze time – it could not be.” So I said, (intending it to be a joke), “Oh, in that case, maybe it’s some sort of tracking device or something.”

At that point, the woman’s eyes got very large and she drew in a big breath. “You know,” she said, conspiratorially in a low whisper, “I sink you are right. He has been acting very strangely lately – up late at night all ze time looking up and barking at ze moon! It must be some sort of implant! Perhaps he is trying to contact ze mother ship!”

At this, the veterinarian looked a little shaken. “Dave,” she said, “this lady was dead serious.”

They say that the truth is stranger than fiction. Please believe me when I say I am not making this up – I’m not that creative. In fact, when I tell these stories, (and I have accumulated a few in my nearly 20 years of practice) I try to be as accurate as possible and embellish very little, if at all.

This story does bring something serious to mind lately, however: the microchip implants we are using more regularly for identification of pets.

The dog in the story did not have one – the metal objects were in fact, B-B’s, but many people are wondering about the microchip and its use, so I’ll explain.

There are several brands of microchips available to permanently identify pets.

These devices are tiny (approximately the size and shape of a grain of rice) metal computer chips placed just under the skin. They cause no reactions, nor do they give off any signals or radiation. They are designed with the same technology as the bar codes used in the supermarket.

The grocery item is waved over the scanner that is looking for a bar code. When it finds one, it registers within the scanner a number, which can be attached to a wealth of information about that item: type of food, department, price – it can even remove it from the store’s inventory automatically.

When a microchip is implanted under a pet’s skin, a similar scanner is used to read it.

The information retrie-ved is a number, which can be traced to the facility that implanted the chip and eventually to the owner and pet itself. This is very useful for reuniting lost pets with their owners.

It has been used to tag laboratory animals for permanent identification for many years. The nice thing is that it cannot be lost like a tag or fade like a tattoo.

The other nice thing is that the state of Pennsy-lvania, among many other states, has accepted the microchip as a form of permanent identification for dog licensing.

This means that if you would rather not march down to the courthouse and renew your dog’s license every year, you may now choose to implant a chip and pay once for a lifetime license – good for the dog’s life, and transferable if you move.

You no longer need to have the dog tattooed (although it still is available) and can opt for a much easier, quicker procedure.

The microchip can be implanted in most pets while awake during a regular appointment.

It is inserted under the skin with a very sharp needle that most pets don’t mind any more than their vaccines.

The SPCA is equipped with a scanner, and is offering microchips for adopted animals.

We have been micro-chipping animals for ma-ny years and are thrilled that this is becoming more popular. We hope that more owners consider it for all pets that may get lost – cats and ferrets, too.

Anybody who is considering a microchip for their pet should consult their veterinarian for more information.

But remember: the microchip is useful for reuniting lost pets on earth; it is not terribly useful for alien abductions.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.