2012年5月10日 星期四

QR Codes and Pet ID Tags - A Replacement for Animal Microchipping?

QR Codes, or "Quick Response" bar codes, are quickly growing in popularity in the United States, showing up on anything from ketchup bottles, restaurant menus, packages of chewing gum, magazine ads, electronic store product pricing cards, and now dog and cat identification tags and collars.

What is a QR Code?

A Quick Response code is a 2-dimensional bar code created by Japanese car manufacturer Toyota back in the late 1990s for tracking automotive parts. Because they are in the public domain, they've been growing in popularity over time in Japan and Europe. Google even provided QR codes to retailers on stickers to place on their store windows showing their online directory listings and ratings. Microsoft also announced its own version of the bar code in the summer of 2010, adding the element of color to add a 3rd dimension thereby allowing a greater amount of data to be encoded and stored within an image.

This brings us to the present day where QR codes are entering the pet industry. The idea is to provide yet another way for people to help get animals home faster and safer than ever before. This is done through the use of the QR code and a would-be rescuer's Smartphone (i.e. an Apple iPhone, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Mobile device, Blackberry, or other camera-equipped, Internet-enabled device). The Good Samaritan scans the tag with their phone and is either presented with static data encoded within that image, or, more commonly, a web address that causes the Smartphone's web browser to launch and navigate to a page showing that pet's profile. The use of a QR code to protect a pet begs the question of how it impacts the use of microchips.

Use of Microchipping

The microchipping industry has been around for decades using a very simple RFID (radio frequency identification) chip that is slightly larger than a grain of rice. These inert, self-contained circuits are embedded beneath the skin of an animal, typically in the loose skin between the shoulder blades or in the neck. An external, hand-held device can scan for that chip and, when detected, read the manufacturer's phone number and unique identifier for that chip. If the owner of the animal has registered the microchip with the chip's manufacturer or a third party microchip tracking database, the person using the scanner can place a phone call to find the owner's contact information.

However, there are challenges faced by this animal protection solution, including:

The animal must be taken somewhere that has a scanner - most veterinarians and animal shelters have hand held scanners and these organizations themselves routinely implant chips into animals to help ensure their safe return either to the shelter or the adoptive "pet parent." But not everyone is willing to take a strange animal, load them into their car, and drive them to find a scanner. Thankfully, some people are willing to do this, but they are the rare heroes and not the norm

No one type of scanner- horror stories abound about how an animal was microchipped only to have the chip go undetected because the veterinarian or shelter had the wrong type of scanner (of which there are four types). Fortunately, newer scanners can seek out the 4 types of microchips to minimize the risk of this happening, but because of their expense not every shelter and vet are equipped

Not all pets are microchipped- the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that only 3-5% of all dogs and cats in the U.S. are microchipped. Reasons for why they aren't chipped include the expense for the implantation procedure, cost of the chip, and annual fees, as well as owner objection to implanting a foreign object into one's companion animal

Information is outdated- a report published by the HSUS also finds that of the 3-5% of animals that are chipped, 58% of the data referenced by those chips is outdated. Phone numbers, addresses, and even owners may have changed, and the records were never updated. In those cases, the animal may as well not have a microchip

Even with these strikes against the microchip, however, the fact remains: microchips work, they won't fall off like a collar could, and they have been proven safe for the majority of pets.

QR Code Pet ID Tags

The power of the QR code is that it's fast, easy, and recognizable. The QR code, etched onto a dog's or cat's identification tag, is currently offered in two forms:

Pet ID Tag- these tags are like any typical tag you'd find that hangs on an animal's existing collar. They can be anodized aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, or even laminated paper. These solutions are currently offered by BarkCode.com, DogIDs.com, PetQRtags.com, and theBetterPetTag.com

Collar Embedded- one company, DogIDs.com, has patented their ScruffTag collar that has the tag incorporated into the collar itself both avoiding the dangling tag and improving safe access to the animal's data by eliminating the need to reach down by an animal's mouth to scan the tag

The biggest selling points of the QR code, when compared to the microchipping solution, include:

Anyone can scan the pet- Over 50% of people with mobile devices in the United States have a phone capable of scanning a QR code. Many Android phones and Microsoft Windows Mobile devices now come with the scanning software already installed. For iPhone users, the scanning software is widely available from 3rd party software publishers (in most cases free of charge)

Common format- any QR code reader can scan the pet ID tags (unlike the microchip that has 4 different formats and therefore 4 types of scanners, except in the case of the more expensive scanners that will scan for all types of microchips)

Affordable and Simple- most of these QR code tags and collars can be purchased for anywhere from $9.95 to $29.95 and come with a free basic service for storing and editing that animal's data. A number of these manufacturers also warrantee their products for the lifetime of your pet and will replace any damaged tags free of charge

Information is Updatable - the profile for an animal is stored on a website and pointed to by a QR code tag or collar. This means that the profile can be changed as often as you want and from anywhere in the world. Did you just leave for vacation but forget to update the collar to include your pet sitter's phone number? Jump on a computer or your own Smartphone and make that adjustment to the pet's profile

With the growth of the use of QR codes compounded by the adoption of Smartphones within North America, combining a collar etched with a phone number and scannable code provides an enormous amount of protection for your pet. But, this only works if an owner takes action to protect their animal.

It Comes Down to Us

At the end of the day it comes down to the guardian of the animal. Taking the approach of microchipping and tagging an animal with a QR code and phone number is a complete solution. If the animal is found with the collar, the person has a rich amount of data at their fingertips to help the animal. If the collar has fallen off, the microchip with updated information will get the animal home if taken and scanned at a shelter or veterinarian's office.

If you are a pet owner, it's a very personal and important decision to make whichever solution you choose. Make the commitment to choose at least one so that your four-legged family member will find its way back home to you again quickly and safely.

PetHub?, Inc., pioneered the QR code & pet ID tag technology in 2010 when Microsoft employee Tom Arnold left the Redmond, Washington, software giant to focus full time on using leading-edge technology to protect companion animals by leveraging his 22 years in the software development industry. PetHub subsequently won Dog Fancy Magazine's 2011 "Editors' Choice" award for best top-10 new products of the year. http://www.PetHub.com has continued to add new features and services to its website for both its free and premium subscriptions. They can be followed at Facebook.com/PetHub.
Copyright c 2011, PetHub, Inc. All rights reserved.

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