Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office animal control officers were equipped with chip scanning devices in early July. Within the first couple of weeks of use, the devices had already paid for themselves, said Sheriff Steve Kempker.
Animal Control Deputy Luke Wiersma didn’t like the fact that he was taking so many dogs to a shelter because he couldn’t find out where they belonged.
“It was Luke’s idea to pre-check” the animals for a chip, Kempker said.
Because customer service is so important to the county, and they were trying to be fiscally responsible, the Sheriff’s Office decided to invest in one scanner for each of its two animal control officers, Kempker said. Each scanner cost $250, but it was recouped when the first four chipped dogs were returned directly to their owners.
Without a chip, the animals are usually taken to Harbor Humane Society in West Olive. The county has an annual contract with the animal shelter, but it’s still a $128 fee for each animal dropped off, plus about $15 a day for boarding.
The owner of the missing animal also has to pay the shelter a fine to retrieve their pet. It’s $50 for the first offense within a one-year period, $100 for the second offense and $200 for a third offense, Kempker said.
“A lot of times, those fees get to be too much and people end up just leaving the animals behind,” Wiersma said.
Wiersma, a former Kent County Animal Control officer, said it’s a better experience for everyone if you can return the dog directly to its owner.
“A shelter can be very stressful to an animal,” he said.
It’s also stressful to their owners who often have to wait over the weekend until the shelter is open so they can retrieve their pet.
“Of course, any time you return anybody’s pet, it’s a positive experience,” Kempker said. “And it’s a good chance to educate people.”
Between himself and the other Ottawa County animal control deputy, Jeff Hannah, Wiersma said they’ve picked up about 200 dogs and cats in the past month and a half. Only about eight of those animals had a chip.
“You can definitely see more people are getting chips lately,” Wiersma said. “The animal shelters push it and it’s really cheap.”
It costs $35 for a chip to be implanted at the Harbor Humane Society on a walk-in basis.
In 2016, more than 1,000 animals were picked up in Ottawa County and taken to the shelter, Kempker said. They are now tracking how many animals they find are chipped.
Wiersma said it takes only an extra 5-10 minutes to find an owner when the dog turns out to be chipped.
The chip, which is about the size of a grain of rice, usually sits between the animal’s shoulder blades, but can sometimes slide out of place, Wiersma said.
If the animal has a chip, the scanner beeps and shows a number. Wiersma looks up the number on a universal website and is supplied with a manufacturer and contact information. A call to the manufacturer gets him the owner’s information.
Even if the dog has been given to someone else, the owner is often able to supply that information, Wiersma said.
This saves the two officers a lot of time transporting animals around the county. That’s more time they can spend dealing with everything from dog bites to neglect cases.
On Wednesday, the other animal control officer was in Jamestown Township trying to round up a loose cow that was running around a construction site, Wiersma said. A couple of weeks ago, he was trying to catch an injured bald eagle near Holland State Park. The eagle flew away with an obviously broken leg, he said.
Also on Wednesday, Wiersma helped deputies remove a dog from a home during a medical call. That dog was taken to the shelter because there was nobody to take care of it. Wiersma said they would work with the humane society and the owner to make sure the dog was safely returned.