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Robo-Rover? California bill would require microchips implanted in pets.

The grain-of-rice size microchips, implanted between the shoulders, hold an owner's name and address. Animal-rights activists hail the bill as a way to reunite lost pets with their families.

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Jacob Miller scans a cat for a microchip at the East Valley Animal Shelter in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles on July 20. California is considering a bill to make pet microchipping mandatory for pets collected or purchased from shelters.

Richard Vogel/AP

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In a move backers say will greatly reduce the $300-million-per-year California taxpayers pay for housing and euthanizing stray animals, the state Assembly has passed the nation’s first mandatory microchipping-of-pets bill.

If signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate Bill 702 would take effect Jan. 1, 2012, and require dogs and cats to have an identifying microchip about the size of a grain of rice implanted beneath the skin between their shoulders when they are adopted from a shelter or when lost animals are claimed by their families.

Animal-rights groups applaud the move as a way to save lost pets that otherwise might be destroyed.

“Every year, shelters in California impound more than 1 million dogs and cats – and then euthanize more than half of these animals because they could not be reunited with their owners,” says the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Ted Lieu.

“Nationwide, this costs local taxpayer-funded shelters and humane societies $1 billion. This has to stop,” says Senator Lieu.

He emphasized that the bill, if signed, doesn’t mean that every dog and cat owner has to immediately go out and have this done, but rather only when picking up a lost pet at a shelter or adopting one from there. Microchipping can cost from $5 to $50, but this fee is often donated or waived.

An American Veterinary Medical Association study found that 73 percent of microchipped pets are likely to find their way home from a shelter. In California, only 11 percent are making their way home now, data suggest.

“The reason this needs to be a state function rather than a local one is that people pick up strays and take them home and drop them off at the local shelter, whereas the owners are looking for the pet in their own community,” says Judie Mancuso, president of Social Compassion in Legislation, which targets pet overpopulation.

Once the chip is implanted in the animal, an electronic wand can be passed over the area, giving a readout of the owner’s name, phone number, and address. This is superior to a collared name tag, the bill's advocates say, because both tag and collar can come off and be lost.

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