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Allegheny County program to help police reunite lost pets, owners

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:06 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Three-month-old Hugo is scanned for a microchip implant by Allegheny County Humane Officer Kathy Hecker on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at Animal Friends in Ohio Township.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Chloe begins to dose off on Tuesday, June 8, 2014, while Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala details the county’s free microchip scanners program for police departments during a news conference in Animal Friends in Ohio Township.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Animal Control Officer Gina Secreet (left) and county Humane Officer Kathy Hecker use a scanner on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, to show that Beauty, who was found abandoned in a barn in Washington County, does not have a microchip. Once Beauty receives medical and behavioral exams, she will be chipped by Animal Friends in Ohio Township.

Baldwin Borough police have a soft spot for stray animals.

“For a long time, our tradition was to bring them back to the station so we wouldn't have to turn them over to a shelter,” said Chief Michael Scott, who said officers would hold the pets for a few days while trying to find their owners.

State law allows shelters and animal control agencies to euthanize or place for adoption unlicensed pets after 48 hours.

In an effort to help reunite lost pets with owners two years ago, Scott sought help from Robert Fragasso, a volunteer with Animal Advocates, a West End nonprofit. The organization gave the police department a device to scan animals for microchips to find their owners. Fragasso and his wife bought Brentwood police a scanner, too, he said.

The two departments were considered the “guinea pigs” for an initiative that will give 119 pet microchip scanners to police departments across Allegheny County, county District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said during a news conference attended by animal welfare, police and other county officials on Tuesday in Animal Friends in Ohio Township.

When a veterinarian, animal shelter or a police officer scans an animal, numbers are presented that the microchip manufacturer can use to identify the pet's owner.

A 2009 study co-authored by the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at Ohio State University found that microchipping significantly increases the chance of lost pets being reunited with their owners.

Animal shelters were able to find the owners of microchipped pets in nearly three out of four cases, according to the study.

All major animal shelters in the Pittsburgh area microchip animals before they are adopted out.

Still, the total number of animals with microchips is low, said Dr. Larry Gerson, a veterinarian who founded Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. He said about 20 percent to 30 percent of the animals he treats in his practice are microchipped.

“A lot of times, these animals are just a block or two from home,” he said.

In Allegheny County, 20,000 animals are euthanized each year, said Fragasso, who is an Animal Friends board member and spearheaded the purchase of the 119 scanners.

“Most of those are good companion animals that got caught up in the system,” he said.

The 119 scanners were purchased with $12,000 from the Allegheny County Abused Animal Relief Fund and $12,000 from the drug forfeiture fund at the District Attorney's office. The devices each cost $199, said Kathleen Beaver, chief operating officer of Animal Friends.

The Allegheny County Abused Animal Relief Fund was founded by Weinstein and Zappala 14 years ago, and has raised $1.4 million by collecting $1 donations from people when they buy licenses for their dogs.

Animal Friends will distribute the scanners to police during the next 45 days, during which time they will train officers on how to use them, said David Swisher, president and chief executive officer of Animal Friends.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at

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