Every cat and dog adopted from the ASPCA and New York City Animal Care and Control has one thing in common: they?ve all been microchipped. That?s because those organizations know firsthand what can happen when dogs and cats are lost or separated from their owners. Collars and tags can come off or be taken off. If those are an animal?s only means of identification, that pet is in big trouble. ?Every year, thousands of lost animals come in to AC&C and many aren?t claimed by their owners because the pet can?t be identified,? said Richard Gentles, director of administrative services. Gentles believes that microchipping is ?absolutely necessary.? ?It?s the only truly permanent method of identifying your animal if it ends up lost or in a shelter,? he said. ?It helps ensure their safe return.? Microchipping entails embedding a small chip, the size of a grain of rice, in the pet?s skin. The chip is encoded with a unique identification code that can be read by a scanner at a vet?s office or animal shelter. The chip is designed not to move around in the pet?s body and has a number that will reveal the owner?s name and phone number. Candace Roediger, veterinary technician at the Murray Hill Pet Hospital, said the implantation process is as quick as a vaccine. ?With a caring pet owner and a calm pet, it takes just a few minutes,? Roediger said. ?The chip is placed just under the skin between the shoulders using a needle just slightly larger than what?s used for a vaccine. It?s just a pinch. The pet may not feel anything.? Then the owner submits paperwork that registers the chip, identifying the number of the chip with the owner. The Mayor?s Alliance for New York City?s Animals sponsors several low cost microchipping events throughout the city (Roediger does a lot of the microchipping). Since its first clinic in 2005, the alliance has microchipped more than 1,000 cats and dogs. Visit the organization?s website, www.AnimalAllianceNYC.org, for exact dates, times and locations. The American Kennel Club also advocates microchipping and recommends the Home Again microchip. The club?s website says ?the microchip has revolutionized the way owners can protect their pets.? So why doesn?t everyone microchip their pets to protect them in case they?re lost or stolen? The most frequent answer is that they don?t think it will happen to them. Neither did all those people who put up ?Lost Dog? or ?Lost Cat? signs that can be found in every neighborhood. Dogs break off their leashes. Owners or dog walkers drop leashes for a moment. A dog sees a squirrel and takes off. Storms, fires and other disasters can cause us to be separated from the animals we love. Emergency workers may rescue your pet, but if it has lost its collar or tags, how will be they able to contact you? Roediger adds, ?There is always a possibility of a cat escaping out an open door, a window or a carrier. There are also owners who walk their cats on a leash, and in that case it only takes one time of dropping the leash or a sudden noise to scare a cat away. The best reasons to microchip a cat: you can?t tame their curiosity! Take all precautions with felines.? Dr. Tom DeVincentis, an East Side veterinarian, said, ?Microchipping is a great idea, simply because tags come off.? He sees another reason, too: ?If someone had a Bichon Frisé or a Maltese who was in a shelter with a dozen others for a week, with all the stress the dogs are under, I doubt the owner would be able to pick out their own dog.? Microchipping generally costs about $25, which includes a free listing in the Home Again database for life. That?s called the Basic Recovery System. It?s a one-time fee for implanting the chip, and you can keep your information up to date. (Call the number on your pet?s tag and they?ll send you a simple form.) The Active Recovery System has an additional annual fee of $14.95, and if your pet is missing, the company will produce flyers and get them out to neighborhood vets, local shelters and people who are active in pet finding. Either way, the chip beats crying your eyes out and walking around your neighborhood night and day calling out for your lost pet.