Plato's Misadventures Expose the Pitfalls of RFID Technology as Applied to Cats
"I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior."
-- Hippolyte Adolphe Taine
Plato, a three-year-old Siamese cat, was recently successfully reunited with his former owner, Erin DeBoard (See photo below), after having been missing for more than a year. The reunion was made possible because a microchip about the size of a grain of rice had been implanted in his shoulder before he was adopted in August of 2003 from the Monterey County SPCA in California.
As it is now known, Plato was picked up off the streets of Monterey by an unidentified couple shortly after he disappeared from DeBoard's household. Since he had been injured, he was taken to a veterinarian who patched him up but did not scan him for a microchip. He continued to live with his new caregivers for more than a year but when they relocated to Portland, Oregon, they cruelly and irresponsibly abandoned him on April 30th to the mercy of the Oregon Humane Society (OHS).
A routine scan of the cat revealed the existence of the chip and DeBoard was contacted. She promptly drove seven-hundred-forty miles to Portland and reclaimed Plato on May 2nd. "I was just in shock because I thought he was dead," the happy owner told KGW-TV in Portland (See "Micro-Chip Reunites Cat in PDX with Calif. Owner.") Like his illustrious namesake, Plato (See photo below) seems to have weathered his many trials and tribulations with philosophical equanimity.
Meanwhile, Susan Mentley of the OHS has been hard pressed to restrain herself from extolling the merits of RFID technology. "It's a great day here when we get to reunite pets and their owners -- it's also a great reason why every pet should have a microchip ID," she is quoted as saying on her organization's web site.
In spite of Mentley's effusive praise, microchips have only a limited utility. As this case demonstrates, they are totally useless if veterinarians, animal control, and shelter personnel do not look for them. Even some of the shelters that do scan incoming cats and dogs for microchips wait until after they have already anesthetized them for extermination. In such cases, there is not any guarantee that they would be willing to cancel their death warrants at the last minute even if microchips are found. (See Cat Defender post of May 11, 2006 entitled "Mass Murderers at SPCA Are Operating an Auschwitz for Cats and Dogs in Lakeland, Florida.") Also, just as vaccinations can sometimes lead to the development of deadly cancers (Vaccine Associated Sarcomas), the implantation of microchips, like all invasive procedures, is not one-hundred per cent safe.
Once a cat is out of sight he or she is exposed to a multitude of dangers that run the gamut from theft to malice aforethought. Since it is impossible for owners to be with their cats all the time, they must balance a cat's need for freedom on the one hand with the dangers associated with the exercise of that freedom on the other hand. Even cats locked inside are not completely safe because accidents do happen even at home and careless visitors (building inspectors, landlords, etc.) can let them escape.
Despite their obvious limitations, microchips sometimes do work miracles as the cases of Plato and Cheyenne (See Cat Defender post of December 9, 2005 entitled "Adventurous Wisconsin Cat Named Emily Makes Unscheduled Trip to France in Hold of Cargo Ship.") have demonstrated. In the final analysis, there is not any substitute for close personnel supervision when it comes to feline safety.
Photos: KGW-TV, Portland (Plato and DeBoard) and Oregon Humane Society (Plato).