WATERFORD (CBS13) — Mike Weed learned one year after his dog Chevy escaped from his yard that a flaw in the microchip system kept him from getting notified when she was found six months earlier.

He also learned the 8-year-old dog he raised since she was a puppy was adopted by a new family, and no one would share that family’s contact information.

REPORTING CHEVY MISSING

Mike reported Chevy missing to Microchip Company HomeAgain when she vanished in September of 2017. He made sure the company had his contact information. He alerted his veterinarian and Stanislaus County Animal Care.  He also posted Chevy’s picture on social media.

“I thought if a dog was microchipped and they were found, you for sure would get them back,” Mike said.

GONE FOR A YEAR

With no response after several months, Mike suspected Chevy either died or was with a new family.  In September, one year and one day after Chevy disappeared, he received an email from HomeAgain.

“We have received a request to transfer the microchip contact information for your pet Chevy.  Please respond to this email with your approval.”

“I broke down,” Mike recalls. “It was like, ‘Oh my God. She’s alive.’”

MICROCHIP COMPANY WON’T SHARE WHO HAS CHEVY

He called HomeAgain to find out how to get Chevy back and was shocked when the company said its privacy policy prevented them from sharing who was trying to update Chevy’s contact information. They directed him to Tuolumne County Animal Control — 40 miles from his house — where Chevy showed up as a stray in March of 2018.

HomeAgain also claimed it emailed Mike in March after the shelter called them to report Chevy’s arrival.

We recovered that email, and noticed HomeAgain sent it using two “@” signs, making it an invalid address.  Although we checked, and Mike provided the proper email address when he reported Chevy missing in September 2017, HomeAgain would not tell us what failed. The company did tell us is an email:

“We are dedicated to reuniting pets and their families and we have been fortunate enough to reconnect more than 2 million pets with their loved ones over the 10+ years that we’ve been in service.”

When we questioned the company about not sharing who had Chevy now, it responded:

“HomeAgain’s privacy policy prevents us from providing information about individuals unless they give us approval. It could also be a safety issue if there is a dispute involved…..We may attempt to get the parties together over the phone, acting as an intermediary but not offering contact info to each other.”

WHY DIDN’T THE SHELTER NOTIFY MIKE WHEN CHEVY WAS FOUND?

We turned our attention to Tuolumne County Animal Control. It says 60% of the microchips they scan are either never registered or have outdated contact information.

We also learned that scanning a pet doesn’t pull up the owner’s information.  Instead, it directs you to a particular microchip company to call. The microchip company then shares the pet owner’s contact information over the phone.

“It’s kind of archaic,” said Tuolumne County Animal Control Manager Mike Mazouch.

MULTI-STEP PROCESS OPENS DOOR FOR ERRORS

Our investigation uncovered that the current system leaves the door open for clerical errors.

In Chevy’s case, Mazouch says Animal Control alerted HomeAgain in March that Chevy was at their shelter and received two numbers to contact Chevy’s owners.

“The information we got from the microchip company was put into our database, and that’s what we called,” Mazouch said.

Through the California Public Records Act, CBS13 requested the Animal Control records. We learned both of the contact numbers Animal Control entered into its database had transposed digits, meaning the office called the wrong phone numbers.

It’s unclear if HomeAgain provided the wrong numbers, or if the person at Animal Control entered them incorrectly.

CHEVY IS ADOPTED OUT

Facing the possible fate of being put down, Chevy was legally adopted by an Animal Rescue in April. That Animal Rescue eventually found her a new home in Sonora.

That family fell in love with Chevy, bonded with her, and paid for her vet care. They eventually tried to update her microchip contact information and discovered that Chevy had another family who wanted her back.

The law stands on the side of the adopters because Chevy was held at the shelter for the required amount of time before she was adopted out.

“Dogs are personal property,” Mazouch said. “So they (new family) have legally adopted the dog correctly. So it’s their dog.”

Mike sees it differently.

“She belongs to us. She belongs home with her family,” Mike said. “I had the dog for 8 of 9 years of her life. This dog belongs to my family. If it was your child, would it be okay? No.”

EXPOSING A WEAKNESS IN MICROCHIPS

Aimee Gilbreath with Michelson Found Animals says microchips are the only permanent identification for a pet. The best way to get your pet back is for it to have a collar with a tag listing your contact information. She says microchips are only as good as the people using the system.

“Honestly, I don’t know if this imperfect system can ever be completely fixed as long as it involves humans,” she said.

READ: Call Kurtis: Pet Microchip Mix-up Confuses Chihuahua For Rottweiler

WHERE MISTAKES CAN HAPPEN IN THE COMPLICATED PROCESS

  1. Chipping Your Pet – The complicated multi-step process starts with you having your pet chipped.
  2. Registering the Microchip with Your Contact Information – Gilbreath says many don’t take the next step of going online to register the microchip with the registry and entering how to get in touch with you. “The most frequent problem we see is pet owners do not register and keep their chip up to date,” Gilbreath said.
  3. The Shelter Must Thoroughly Scan your Pet to find the Chip – Sometimes microchips migrate to other parts of a pet’s body. Once a shelter finds that microchip, a scan produces a lengthy number.
  4. Microchip Number Must be Accurately Entered into the Industry’s Online Look-up Tool- http://www.petmicrochiplookup.org/ The American Animal Hospital Association’s universal lookup tool supplies which microchip registry the shelter should call. There are dozens of brands of microchips.
  5. Registry/Microchip Company Must Respond to Shelter – The registry must answer the phone or return contact with the shelter.
  6. Accurate Contact Info Must Be Shared – You must trust the registry/microchip company will give correct email/contact numbers, and the shelter must accurately write them down.
  7. Shelter Must Contact You – It’s up to the shelter to put in the work to track you down. Some send letters and call, while some may make just one call.

In Chevy’s case, Tuolumne County Animal Control made two calls to incorrect phone numbers.

“I think it’s sad and most of the time it’s avoidable,” Aimee said.

THE BEST CHANCE AT GETTING YOUR LOST PET BACK.

Michelson Found Animals created a free registry where you can register your pet’s microchip, no matter which brand. You can go to Found.org to enter your pet’s microchip number and personal contact info.

When a shelter scans your pet, the universal industry lookup tool will direct the shelter to first contact Michelson Found Animals. The second they are contacted, the non-profit hits one button to blast calls, emails and texts to you and your personal contacts. They will contact you 12 different ways in four days.

“It saves a shelter time and eliminates fat fingers and human error,” Aimee said. “We like to say we really bug you to come and pick your pet up at the shelter.”

THE SURPRISE CALL

The day I met with Mike Weed in his Waterford backyard, where Chevy escaped a year earlier, I had already spent days working with everyone involved in her case. His phone rang. It was Tuolumne County Animal Control. He started crying at what he heard.

“Fantastic. That’s awesome news. Thank you,” he said before hanging up.

“They’re going to give her back,” he yelled.

Chevy’s adopters had a change of heart and wanted to return Chevy.  Tuolumne County Animal Control’s Mike Mazouch says he was in contact with that family.

“They’re very saddened to do this; but, they want to do the right thing and they want to give the dog back to the original family,” he said.

Mazouch insists his department followed the law adopting out Chevy, but he admits his office could’ve worked harder to track down Chevy’s owner.

“From now on, I will make sure I’m the last person on the line making a phone call,” Mazouch pledged.

READ: Sacramento Changes Lead To More Licensed Pets

CHEVY’S RETURN

On a Sunday afternoon, outside the Animal Control Office in Jamestown, Mike’s family stood outside staring at the door.

“I’m gonna start crying before they bring her out,” Mike said.

With all eyes trained on that door for several minutes, Chevy came through it.  Mike and family saw her for the first time in 382 days. She started licking Mike’s face, her tail aggressively wagged as tears streamed down the faces of those watching.

It was too hard for the other family to be there, but they shared a message with Mike.

“They said it was just a blessing to have such a beautiful dog and to care for it. They’re upset they had to give her back, but it was the right thing to do,” he said.

That family said they planned to adopt another dog.

An excited Chevy was then loaded up into the car to go home.

“I don’t think dogs forget,” Mike said.

ALSO: 9 Things To Do If Your Pet Is Lost

HOW TO REGISTER OR UPDATE YOUR PET’S MICROCHIP

If you have your pet’s microchip number, you can register it now for free at found.org. If you don’t have the number, most shelters or vets will scan your pet’s microchip for free and help you register it.

Some microchip registries ask for money to change contact information and/or charge annual subscriptions. Registering your pet’s chip with found.org is free, and you can update your contact information at any time.

CBS13 FREE MICROCHIP CHECK EVENT 

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READ ALSO: Facial Recognition Software Could Help Bring Fido Home

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