Comment: Compulsory microchipping in all dogs cannot come too soon

First published in Opinion

I was delighted to hear the Goverment's recent proposals to introduce compulsory microchipping in all dogs from 2016.

It is heartbreaking to see so many dogs ending up with the dog warden and in rehoming centres, and so frustrating as vets to have perfectly healthy lost dogs brought in with no way of finding their owner.

Last year a dog was brought to the Kirkby Lonsdale surgery after a client found him wandering along her road.

Hurrah! He had a microchip - within minutes we traced the owners to an address in Durham.

He had gone missing six months earlier and had not been found, despite weeks of searching.

We will never find out what adventures he had on his nearly 100-mile journey.

But I cannot describe the owners’ delight to be reunited with him.

Without his chip he would have ended up like thousands of others in a rehoming centre, or put to sleep if a home couldn’t be found. His microchip may have quite literally saved his life.

We are lucky to live in an area with very low numbers of stray dogs roaming the streets, and very few incidences of animal cruelty and neglect.

Before moving to Cumbria I worked at the RSPCA hospital in Manchester (the one with Rolf Harris!) and felt so depressed about the huge numbers of badly-treated animals that I saw. I will never understand why someone would buy a dog and then not look after it.

The new microchipping law is part of a wider issue of responsible dog ownership and there are hopes that microchipping could help hold people accountable for their pets’ health and welfare.

However, I am concerned that irresponsible owners will simply not obey the new laws.

Many of the abused and abandoned animals that are rescued by the RSPCA already have microchips, but inaccurate or out of date records mean owners cannot be traced or people can simply claim that they 'gave the dog away' and are no longer the owners.

With no proof of ownership, the abusers often remain unaccountable for their actions.

Will it be made an offence to fail to keep a dog's microchip up to date?

Will owner details registered on the database be regarded as legal proof of ownership? How will the law be policed?

These are important questions that the Government will need to answer before the microchipping legislation will help with animal welfare.

I can understand how records on the database may become out of date as a genuine oversight - for example, when moving house it is not everyone’s first priority to update their pet’s details.

Unfortunately a new, unfamiliar area is a very likely place for a dog to get lost. Hopefully with the age of mobile phones, people will keep some contact details the same even if their home address changes.

In addition, the chip manufacturer that we use allows owners to log into their details on the Internet to update them, making the process quick and easy.

I do question how useful the microchip legislation will be for welfare of dogs and for prosecutions of irresponsible owners but I am confident that it will make a massive difference in this area, where our main problem is local pet dogs getting lost on walks or pets getting lost wihile on holiday.

I can’t understand why someone would not want to microchip their dog - it seems a logical part of responsible pet ownership.

It only costs the same as a few weeks’ dog food (about £20).

The Dogs Trust is supplying free microchipping at its main centres, and Westmorland Veterinary Group is hoping to work with them to offer discounted chipping for our local area.

Emily Sapsford, Westmorland Veterinary Group

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