Museum goes to the dogs

January 23, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Microchips injected into dogs and cats are more reliable than collars or tags in tracking down lost pets, according to local veterinarian Dr. Joe May.

Animals cannot lose microchips, and clinics and shelters worldwide are able to use scanning devices to read pets’ individual identification codes on the chips, said May, of the Kings Mountain Animal Clinic in Collinsville.

On Saturday, he discussed the technique with pet lovers visiting the “Dog Days of Winter” festival at Virginia Museum of Natural History. The festival was aimed at educating people about unique roles and responsibilities that dogs have in people’s lives, according to museum officials.

Exhibitions by St. Francis Service Dogs and K-9 units of law-enforcement agencies were part of the event.

The glass-enclosed microchips are not much larger than a grain of rice. A hypodermic needle is used to inject them into an animal’s body. Injections cause no more pain than vaccinations, and microchips last 15 to 20 years, May said.

Under state law, veterinary clinics must inject microchips into people’s pets. Animal shelters, such as SPCAs, can inject chips into animals up for adoption but not into animals that already belong to people, May said.

May urged pet owners to beware of microchip programs available online that are not linked to pet registries. A pet must be listed with a registry, he said, in order for it to be tracked down if it is lost or stolen.

His clinic and others providing microchipping services are able to enroll pets into reputable registries, he said.

Microchipping is increasing in popularity, especially with dogs and cats, May said. But they can be injected into most types of pets, he said.

“A pet snake, we can probably do that, too,” he chuckled, mentioning the reptile as an example.

But the focus of the festival was dogs, and many canine-lovers were there. A crowd estimate was not available late Saturday, but the parking lot at the museum on Starling Avenue in Martinsville was almost full.

Joe Keiper, executive director of the museum, said crowds were steady all day, and he was pleased.

He took home a dog he adopted from the Martinsville-Henry County SPCA. The beagle-pug mix was turned into the organization as a stray and no one ever claimed it, according to SPCA Executive Director Leslie Hervey.

Keiper said he has had many pets over the years, but lately he had only a snake and three fish, and he wanted an animal that he could play with while sitting on the couch.

The dog he adopted, he said, “seems to be well-behaved and a people dog.”

In fact, as it was walked on a leash around the museum, it sniffed people who walked up to it and played with them.

SPCA and St. Francis workers showed visitors how service dogs are trained to be obedient and help owners with tasks such as turning on lights, opening doors and picking up items dropped onto the floor.

Carol Waters, a field trainer with Roanoke-based St. Francis, said the dogs undergo at least two years of training before being placed with people who, for instance, are autistic or have physical disabilities.

Dogs are placed with people who need them at no charge, but it costs St. Francis about $20,000 to train one dog, Waters said. Grants, donations and fund-raisers are used to cover the cost — the nonprofit organization gets no government funding, she noted.

Ten-year-old Sarah Ashburn of Martinsville said she has a toy poodle puppy and will use information she heard at “Dog Days of Winter” to train it.

“I love dogs,” she said, explaining why she came to the festival.

“Everyone’s a dog lover,” added her dad, John Ashburn.


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