A new annual fee from a pet ID chip provider has the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) barking mad.

Markham, Ont.-based PetNet sells the chips to vets,

pet adoption centres and breeders, who then charge their customers anywhere from $65 to $70 to implant the chips between a pet’s shoulder blades, just below the skin.

Now PetNet is charging an annual administration fee to pet owners of $18.65 a year. The OVMA says that the fee contravenes the company’s traditional policy of a one-time up-front fee for the microchips and its member vets and their customers are complaining.

Doug Raven, executive director for the OVMA, based in Milton, Ont., said the organization began getting calls from concerned members when PetNet started sending out invoices to pet owners last fall.

“”We have tried to convince them since that time that this was not a good idea,”” he said. “”They should abide by the terms of the agreement when the chip was sold to veterinarians.””

The OVMA has given PetNet a week to retract the $18.65 fee or it will lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services. “”It’s sort of like buying a new car and then getting a letter from GM saying, ‘By the way, if you want to be able to continue to run that car, you have to pay us $500 a year,'”” added Raven.

But according to PetNet president Paul Brown, the fee may be all that stands between the company and financial ruin. PetNet has been offering its service across Canada for 12 years. The microchip information is stored on a MySQL database, which contains about 400,000 entries.

Recent upgrades and server relocation to a remote site for security purposes have put a financial squeeze on the company. The company is also experiencing rising service costs for maintenance of its chip scanners, which are provided for free to humane societies and at cost to vets, said Brown.

“”We’ve never made any money,”” he said. “”We’ve set up a system and it’s one of those businesses where you think you’ll turn the corner next year, but there’s always something else you’ll have to if you’re going to be running a pet recovery system.

“”I try to explain to them (OVMA), we’ve got to survive as a business. Our responsibility is to pet owners who have registered with us to ensure that we can do the recoveries,”” said Brown, who added that his company relocates about 10,000 lost or stolen pets a year.

The company has received calls directly from pet owners, he said, but they are more often questions about how the fee will be used than complaints about paying for it. Brown said he hasn’t been contacted by the other animal and pet organizations that use his chip.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) implants the chips into the cats and dogs that end up in adopted homes. Brian Pemberton, OSPCA manager of marketing and communications, said he hasn’t heard any complaints from adopters yet. “”Nothing has been brought to our notice,”” he said. “”We wish the dispute to be settled amicably. Because it’s a good system. These things do cost money (such as) maintaining databases.””

There are other chips available in Canada from companies like Eidap Inc., said Raven. But PetNet is the leading provider and he’s concerned that the company is setting an industry precedent by introducing the new fee.

PetNet sells its chips to zoos, which are implanted into animals like ostriches but are not part of its MySQL database. The company also has a separate chip business for livestock.

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