for National Geographic News
Last week U.S. President George Bush signed a bill that includes language calling for microchip-identification technology that will work for all pets across the country.
These tiny microchips have been implanted in about 5 percent of the U.S. pet population.
Using a scanner, shelter workers can read a chip's maker and unique number. They can then call the chip manufacturer's registry to get the pet owner's name and phone number.
The high-tech identification devices are credited with reuniting hundreds of thousands of pets with their families.
But in recent years the industry has been plagued with controversy because of competing and incompatible technologies on the market.
Companies selling chips have been using four different frequencies134 kilohertz (kHz), 128 kHz, 125 kHz nonencrypted, and 125 kHz encrypted.
Each chip works with a scanner tuned to the chip's frequency. A universal scanner that detects all of the chips is not available in the U.S., even though the technology exists.
By signing the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, President Bush has charged the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the federal agency in charge of animal-welfare issues, to remedy the problem.
The agency has 90 days from the time the bill was signed to develop regulations that would require all scanners to read all chips.
The incompatibility of microchip technologies has been hampering efforts to reunite some lost animals with their families.
In one case, an eight-month-old pit bull implanted with a chip disappeared from his Virginia home and was picked up by an animal-control agent. But the shelter's scanner failed to detect the animal's chip.
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