Lessons Learned From the Hurricanes

Microchips were helpful in reuniting horses with owners after the 2005 hurricanes, but it was usually because owners had proof of horses' microchip numbers. Since 1994, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry (LDAF) has required horses' Coggins or equine infectious anemia tests to be linked with permanent identification, including microchips, tattoos, or freeze/hot brands. The LDAF hasn't always kept an efficient, searchable database of ID numbers; the database wasn't updated for two years before Katrina. LDAF officials say they are updating and improving the data's accessibility.

Bonnie Clark, president of the Louisiana Equine Council, headed the hurricane equine staging facility at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., last September. She and others helped reunite more than 360 horses with their owners. The majority had microchips that were scanned upon arrival to Lamar-Dixon; most Katrina horses were claimed using Coggins papers. In most cases, Clark was able to verify identification and ownership with the help of manufacturers and veterinarians.

Martha Littlefield, DVM, MS, LDAF assistant state veterinarian, said the LDAF microchip data was "searchable before (Katrina and Rita), but it was very difficult to search. Since then, we've gotten on the ball and it's going to be searchable. We're going to get all the files updated."

By law, the LDAF only needs to have a record of a horse's permanent identification method (brand, tattoo, or microchip) and its accompanying negative Coggins test. While it isn't required, the updated database will be searchable by chip number and owner name.

Littlefield said horses with microchips are much better off--it can be difficult to distinguish between branded horses, and it can be dangerous to check tattoos on unfamiliar horses in a chaotic situation. Horses can be "wanded" with a scanner fairly easily.

Clark would like to start a privately managed database for Louisiana horse microchips that would include out-of-town phone numbers and breed registry information in case of horse theft. For more information see www.TheHorse.com/emag.aspx?id=6519.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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