By STEVEN VIERA
MIDDLETOWN — The township is watching out for its two- and four-legged residents.
Middletown has partnered with the Found Animal Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that provides resources to pet owners, to offer pet microchipping services and access to a national pet microchip registry to help reunite lost dogs and cats with their owners.
According to Health Department Director Rich DeBenedetto, who oversees Middletown’s Animal Control Division, officers will try to track down a lost pet’s owner using information on the collar to look up its license in the township’s database, but not all pets are licensed and not all licenses are up to date. If a lost pet’s owner cannot be found, the animal goes to the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) shelter in Eatontown, which charges daily boarding fees.
Since Middletown has sent 99 cats and dogs to the shelter from the beginning of this year through Aug. 19 alone — about three a week — DeBenedetto hoped to make the process of reuniting lost pets and owners easier, so he began investigating microchipping.
“I was looking for a low-cost microchipping service because we had found over the years of picking up numerous dogs and cats that had chips in them, they were unregistered or their registration had lapsed after the residents had gotten the chips for the animals — they didn’t want to pay a yearly fee,” he said.
That’s how he discovered the Found Animal Foundation, which maintains a free-for-life national microchip registry for pets. Middletown is the first municipality in New Jersey to partner with the nonprofit.
According to the Found Animal Foundation’s website, the microchips — which Middletown will purchase from the nonprofit at a discounted rate — are not GPS devices and cannot be used to find pets in the wild but contain information about the owner that can be useful to help reunite pets and owners once they are recovered by animal control officers.
As part of the partnership, officers from Middletown’s Animal Control Division will be trained to implant pets with microchips. The only requirement is that the pet must be licensed with the township and the owner must pay a $10 fee for each cat or dog, which includes access to the national registry for life. Animals with existing microchips can be added to the registry at no cost.
“We really hope to increase the number of animals that are microchipped or to maintain the registry,” DeBenedetto said. “We really want to reunite pets with their owners — that’s our ultimate goal.”
DeBenedetto thinks Middletown should be ready to offer microchipping services by the fall.
“Dogs and cats are family, so we want to have people reunited with their families as soon possible,” he said.