SELECT * FROM Celko – March 2011

My wife just quit her job at an animal shelter after five years. I am hoping she will actually write that book that she keeps talking about on this industry. When you get into it as a full-time worker, you learn about spay and neuter, rabies laws and feline diseases. And about chipping.

All the animals get a microchip inserted under their skin. The injector is a simple plastic tool. You put a cartridge with a needle on the tip, pinch the skin and slip the needle into the fold, slide the trigger forward and pull it out. The actual passive RFID unit is the size of a small grain of rice. There is no need for anesthesia for the animal. The only pain involved is when your wife leaves one of those needles lying around and you sit on it.

The unique ID number can be read with a gizmo that looks like an original Star Trek prop. The model my wife uses has an open loop at the top, an LCD display on the handle and it runs off of standard ‘C’ batteries. Newer models do not have the antennae loop, uses smaller batteries and look like a Star Trek: Next Generation prop.

When your cat or dog is lost, a vet, shelter or animal control agency scans the animal for a chip and gets his id number. Fido and his family are then re-united. Sounds like great inventory control, doesn’t it?

Well, not quite.

In the U.S., there are three proprietary transmission protocols, along with the ISO ISO-11785 and ISO-11784 Standards. Most scanners in the U.S. read at most three of the four types. This is slowly changing, but we are not there yet. The four types include: Trovan Unique type, which is used by the American Kennel Club’s chip registration database service, AKC Companion Animal Recovery Corporation at www.akccar.org; FECAVA type is sold under various brand names including 24Petwatch; AVID brand Friendchip type, which has simple encryption. This was for detection of counterfeit chips, but it lacks authentication features.

The good news is that the registration agencies share data. The bad news is that it did not happen until 2009. The American Animal Hospital Association has www.petmicrochiplookup.org, which allows you to input a microchip number of a found pet, and it does searches several of the major U.S. Microchip registries in real time. They have AKC CAR, Home Again, and PetLink among other smaller ones.

The basic wholesale material cost is pretty cheap, about $5.00 per chip and registration. The ISO Standards are interrelated, so there are ten bits for ISO-3166 Country Codes. There is a lot of  future use  bits but we have a ten-digit ID code and a flag for  animal/not animal so these chips can be used for other things.

But the real problems are not technical. My wife’s former employer—and lots of other shelters—does not chip when an animal arrives. The recordkeeping system is still paper forms and file folders. Rabies shots and other requirements are not electronic; in fact, the only consistent electronic document is a photograph for the website and the paper folder.

The animal’s records are identified by their names and not their chips. The names might come with the animal, as in the case of a surrender or collared stray. But more often than not, a shelter worker makes up something on the fly or from a first impression. The dog with a spot on the side is named  Spot and so forth.

You can see the problems. Animals leave without a chip because no procedure was in place. Animals get double chipped because nobody did a scan. Nobody checked to see the animal arrived with a chip and did it. The other way is nobody looked at the paperwork or even recorded the chip.

This makes no sense to me. The chip is cheap, you are going to chip the animal anyway; and if it dies before it is adopted, it is better than the cost of sloppy records. Remember that there are animal control and health laws, so sloppy records have consequences. This is not like losing some inventory in a retail operation.

I had a theory. If the scanners had a USB connection and some software to build a database on a PC, then life would be good. People could not be technophobic in this millennium.

As it turns out, there is a thing called the Asilomar Accords that started in 2004, which define how kennels and shelters should be run, standardizes reporting and other things. And there is software for implementing the Asilomar Accords. Some of the software is commercial and some of is freeware.

So much for my theory; people actually are technophobic in this millennium.

Wrong again, Celko.

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About Joe Celko

Joe is an Independent SQL and RDBMS Expert. He joined the ANSI X3H2 Database Standards Committee in 1987 and helped write the ANSI/ISO SQL-89 and SQL-92 standards. He is one of the top SQL experts in the world, writing over 700 articles primarily on SQL and database topics in the computer trade and academic press. The author of six books on databases and SQL, Joe also contributes his time as a speaker and instructor at universities, trade conferences and local user groups. Joe is now an independent contractor based in the Austin, TX area.

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