Hello and Happy Sunday! It's time for the Sunday Read again, and in this week's post I want to explore a subject that I could talk about FOREVER! It's what I call The Microchip Gap.
Let's start at the beginning - with the teeny tiny microchip itself. In a capsule about the size of a grain of rice, each microchip contains a unique registration number for your cat and a telephone number for the particular company that makes and manages the chip. They are implanted painlessly, just between a cat's shoulder blades, and read with a microchip scanner that uses radio waves to talk to the chip and extract the information within.
Can we just pause for a moment to marvel at how fabulous this is?! I LOVE the fact that while we wander around with cumbersome paper passports, our futuristic kitties are sporting electronic microchips that can be read with the wave of an electronic wand. If we needed any more evidence that cats are the rulers of the world with humans as their humble slaves... look no further!
If you haven't guessed from my enthusiasm already, I wholeheartedly believe that every cat should be microchipped. In some places - like many parts of Australia - it's required by law.
But something has gone a little awry in the message that people have been taking away from the microchipping campaigns.
The intended message: All cats should be microchipped
How it's come across: If you want to be reunited with your missing cat, all you need to do is microchip them.
The first statement is true, but the second isn't. This disconnect is really important, and it's what I want to talk about today.
WHAT ARE MICROCHIPS GOOD FOR?
There is one scenario that a microchip is absolutely made for, and it does the job beautifully. Let's say you're a vet or you work in an animal shelter, and all day every day dozens of missing or stray cats are being handed in, often emaciated or injured.
You want to know if these cats are truly stray or feral... or whether they've actually gone missing from loving homes.
You invest in a microchip scanner and encourage pet owners in the neighbourhood to microchip.
Now, any cat that gets handed in to you can be scanned, and if there's a microchip it's wonderfully easy to reunite that cat with its loving owners. Hurrah!
WHAT IS THE MICROCHIP GAP?
It probably won't have escaped your notice that in the example above the missing kitty in question has somehow ended up at a vet or animal shelter where its microchip can be scanned.
But the sad truth is that it's usually only when a cat is found sick or injured that they end up in that sort of place.
For everything that happens before then, while a cat is missing and potentially still wandering the streets, a cat's microchip is absolutely zero use at all because it can't be read by members of the public. In fact, it can't even be seen.
That means that as far as people in the street are concerned, your cat is carrying no ID at all. Because of that, even if they have seen one of your missing posters, and thought - 'huh, this cat looks a bit like the one on the missing poster' - the chances of them feeling confident enough to scoop said cat up and drive it to a vet's are slim to non-existent.
CASE STUDY: LOLA
It's something I've had the misfortune to experience first-hand. When our youngest cat Lola went missing two years ago, she wasn't wearing a collar and ID tag (we hadn't founded Supakit yet) although she was microchipped.
In the time that she was missing, over 10 lovely people in the local neighbourhood called us to say that they had seen our missing poster, and thought that they might have seen our cat.
But with no tag to check, they really couldn't be sure. It was really just a (very friendly) stab in the dark. We spent hours traipsing round local parks, back gardens, streets - following up on those leads. They all came to nothing.
Even if they had been Lola, by the time the spotter had called us (sometimes hours after the sighting) and we'd managed to get there, she could have been miles away. The trail had gone cold. I remember feeling frustrated to the point of tears that none of these well-intentioned people who were calling us had tried to keep her in one place until we got there, or take her to a vet's where her chip could be scanned.
But then we discovered that all of those sightings were actually false sightings! Thanks to our desperation to locate Lola, we actually followed up and spoke to people and knocked on doors and worked out that it wasn't our cat that each of those people had seen - it was someone else's. I had no idea that there were so many similar-looking cats in such a small area!
Suddenly all my frustration turned to grim relief...we still hadn't found Lola, but thank goodness those people hadn't gone round scooping up random cats and taking them to a shelter or the vet's in the belief that they were our missing cat.
Can you imagine?! Chaos! There would be 10 missing cats instead of 1!
It was in that moment that I came to fully understand the Microchip Gap.
I realised that having a microchip is the final link in the chain to bringing a lost cat home. But before then, if members of the public can't check your cat's identity, there is virtually no chance of them taking your cat to a place where that chip can be scanned.
Let me hand things over to the Humane Society here...
I'm so happy to report that there was an 11th call from somebody who thought they'd seen our cat. It was a man who saw our missing poster on twitter, who had been in the garden with his young son marvelling at a particularly naughty and shouty cat earlier in the day. For the 11th time, Kevin and I scrambled to check out the lead, this time not feeling hopeful and expecting another false sighting.
By some sort of miracle, it wasn't. We stood in the man's back garden shouting Lola's name and suddenly she leapt over the fence and into our arms! We were so lucky.
While we were there, the man mentioned to me that he had originally thought Lola was a stray (because she wasn't wearing a collar), and his son had been pestering him to put food out for her in the hopes that they could keep her. He had almost given in when he chanced upon my twitter post. Who could blame him? I felt we'd let Lola down by not giving her any way of showing other people that she already had a home and was loved.
The experience shook us so much that it led us to found Supakit - in the pursuit of collars that our cats would actually wear, and ID tags that would help bring them home if the unthinkable ever happened again.
I feel really passionately about the Microchip Gap message - there's so much misinformation out there, and it really is essential that people know about the need for tags as a cat's main ticket home.
If you'd like to help spread the word, I've made an image that you can share on social media. It's copyright-free for anyone to use, so please share as widely as you can.
Finally, to thank you for reading, and to help you put a tag on your cat, I wanted to end with a little something - a blog Easter Egg, if you will. If you put the code SECRETTAG50 into the 'discount' box at checkout, it will give you 50% off a personalised ID tag with any collar order.
I'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts on the subject. Just send me a message in the comments below, or over on Facebook / Instagram (both @supakitstore).