It seems incredible but the subject of compulsory microchipping is at last being discussed and organisations have declared their support or intention to discuss its potential.
This is very welcome news for Dog Theft Action.
Since 2005, DTA has been calling for compulsory microchipping as a fundamental weapon in the fight against dog theft as well as the obvious benefits to other aspects of dog welfare.
Dogs Trust launched their campaign for compulsory microchipping this summer and have pursued it with vigour and the RSPCA has also announced its support for compulsory microchipping.
The voluntary microchipping campaign has undoubtedly been a successful one. Literally millions of pets have been microchipped by responsible owners, breeders, welfare and rescue organisations and local authorities.
So why do we need to go further? Why do we insist that compulsory microchipping is the best way forward?
At shows dog owners often subscribe to either microchipping or tattooing and many to both methods of permanent ID for their dogs but we are surprised occasionally to hear a dog owner claim that he or she would never have a microchip inserted into their dog.
The reasons given are varied and some are the stuff of myth and legend.
When a tiny chip (pictured) is implanted in an animal its unique number is then stored on a database.
Currently in the UK we have three microchip databases and one tattoo database.
The BSAVA Microchip Advisory Group’s (MAG) Code of Practice for Microchip Distributors and Manufacturers states on its website that “All Database records held by a manufacturer or supplier or their agents should comply with the Data Protection Act and comply with the DIG (Dog Identification Group) Database Code of Practice.”
This assures us then that our personal information is secure and can only be changed on production of that unique number stored on the microchip inside our pets and the reason why we must never disclose details of that number to anyone other than the database concerned.
The microchip makes it easier for dog wardens, police, welfare and rescue organisations, and vets etc. to establish ownership of the dog and take the necessary steps to reunite it. Alfie’s story is a case in point.
Alfie’s owners Niki and Ant Barlow were called on Easter Sunday 2006 and told that Alfie their bull terrier, who had been stolen from their home in Tamworth, Staffordshire during a burglary, was at Stokenchurch Dog Rescue and Welfare in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire and had been identified via his microchip.
Not an unusual story you might think – these days thousands of dogs are reunited every year through the microchip system BUT Alfie had been missing for four years!
This example clearly demonstrates the microchip’s unique ability to reveal ownership of a pet so it can be reunited even though criminal activity has interfered.
Although Alfie was discovered 100 miles away form his home after an absence of four years, a safe, secure and happy retirement was achieved for this much loved pet who passed away earlier this year.
This along with other successful stories has convinced DTA that legislation to introduce compulsory microchipping must include compulsory updating of microchip details.
The BSAVA’s records show that 308 adverse reactions to a microchip have been recorded since 1996 to May 2009.
Since the records began 182 of these cases are migration where the chip has moved but continues to function within the animal and there are no unpleasant effects.
Only 1% – in fact 2 cases report a tumour – though whether this is due to the microchip’s presence or another unidentified cause is not conclusive.
Perhaps it is true that not all cases are reported to the BSAVA but given the number of dogs that are microchipped – approximately 2.5 million – it’s a very small number in comparison.
Chris Laurence (pictured above), Chairman of the BSAVA Microchip Advisory Group said, “Microchips are an internationally accepted means of identifying dogs that is both safe and reliable.
“The experience of many millions of pets being microchipped has shown that they make identification of the pet’s owner easy and that failure is rare.
“The UK adverse reaction reporting scheme has reported only a few hundred reactions, and the majority of those have been migration of the microchip which still leaves it entirely functional.”
The microchip has far reaching benefits for dogs. Clarissa Baldwin (pictured below) CEO of Dogs Trust says “Microchipping – The ability to rapidly identify a stray dog and return it to its owner has a clear welfare benefit to the dog as well as saving Local Authorities vital funds.
“But compulsory microchipping makes sense for a number of other reasons: making owners more responsible for their dogs, helping to identify breeders of battery farmed dogs and assisting in combating the increasing numbers of dogs being stolen. A central registry holding relevant information brings wide ranging benefits to dogs and comfort to their owners.”
Who would argue with that? Surely dog lovers want to see all dogs secure and puppy farmers stopped in their tracks.
A central registry of microchipped dogs which has the ability to store and share information on whether a dog is missing, has been stolen or has been found would surely save time, money and effort for those agencies concerned with reuniting dogs.
A central organisation available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing cover 365 days of the year is essential if we are going to have a system that is effective.
Fragmentation will only lead to confusion and we will end up with a system that the public will not respect, support or subscribe to.
So how might this database operate? Scanning is the key to a fully effective system.
Debbie Matthews (pictured below), founder of Vets Get Scanning says “Compulsory Microchipping is a must but compulsory scanning must also be included in the legislation, not only for the owner who will microchip their pets but also for owners who have already microchipped their pets.
“Today the Government only recognises microchipping for the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) and this has allowed the microchipping industry to regulate itself. This means that there are no clear guidelines with regard to scanning for microchips and huge loop holes have evolved which become evident when owners are searching for their lost or stolen pet.
“Vets also set their own practice policies despite a BSAVA MAG statement in February 2008 saying they ‘consider scanning to be a reasonable professional obligation’.
“The microchip system can only be fully effective if animals are routinely scanned at vets, rescues, dog pounds and by the highway agencies.
“Responsible pet owners are being let down by the microchipping industry and will only find this out when their pet is stolen or goes missing.”
For a microchip to work the animal has to be scanned – it’s as simple as that. All manner of scanners are available from the tiny, handheld scanners to the enormous walk through scanners that many will have seen at shows and events. Indeed we had one on display at our last symposium in 2007.
Scanning should be part of a routine, annual health check at the vets. The efficacy of the chip should be checked to reassure the owner that it is in place and doing its job. This can all be included in a conversation about weight, feeding, exercise, worming and flea products when vaccinations boosters are administered.
However dogs should be scanned by other agencies beside vets.
They should be scanned on leaving the country – under the Pet Passport Scheme dogs are currently only scanned when they enter the UK. How does this then prevent stolen dogs from leaving the country?
They must be scanned by local authority highways services as well as the Highways Agency itself so that the owners of deceased pets can be notified and given the opportunity to dispose of the remains according to their own personal wishes.
Nikki Powditch, founder of Jester’s Law said, “Compulsory microchipping is definitely the way forward in helping to reunite missing and stolen pets with their owners. However agencies must be required to scan all found, retrieved and recovered pets in order for owners to gain closure when the worst news is received.
“My dog Jester, despite being microchipped and wearing a collar and tag was collected and incinerated without being scanned and consequently only by DNA profile could poor Jester be identified. The prolonged misery inflicted on my family for six months was unbearable.”
Dogs should be scanned prior to participating in shows. DTA recommends that any dog participating in a KC certified show should be microchipped and this should be established before competing at any level.
Firstly this would acknowledge the KC’s undoubted concern and support for responsible ownership, it would provide a means of ID if a dog strayed during or in transit to and from the show and it would be a helpful means of establishing the lineage of a dog if necessary.
Dogs travelling to the UK to participate in shows have to be microchipped to comply with PETS but UK dogs don’t – is that ethically right?
Scanning must take place before a dog is rehomed or sold.
Almost every month DTA receives an email from a distressed person whose relationship has ended and one partner has removed the dog from the family home. We have been so concerned that ‘Dogs and Relationships’ has been a major theme when out and about at shows and events.
If the dog’s microchip established legal ownership there would be a clear contingency plan in place if the relationship ends and the dog would not become a pawn in the ensuing ‘who gets what’ fight.
People sometimes part with their dogs in very haphazard ways. They give them away to people they don’t know then regret it and want them back.
The credit crunch has already convinced some people that they cannot continue to support a pet yet despite the compassionate work carried out by Dogs Trust and others, they allow a complete stranger to walk away with their dog.
We have even heard of debts being settled by handing over a dog!
If registration of the microchip established ownership then a process must be completed to change ownership. This would ensure that both parties would have to think carefully about the steps they take when deciding the future of a dog.
So can all this work? At our last symposium speaker Chief Superintendent Simon Ovens was concerned about how this kind of legislation would be enforced.
Barrister, Pam Rose makes some interesting observations, “We cannot just say we want compulsory microchipping without consideration of three points:
- The scheme needs to be financed so as not to make a burden on the dog owner, particularly the young or disabled or out of work who cannot afford it. We need to offer free microchipping to those who need it.
- There needs to be a time factor to allow people time to set this in place and to come to terms with it.
- What are the intended measures if a dog is not microchipped?
“The objective should be to microchip and not to punish and certainly not to seize an animal. I don’t want to find dogs chucked into rescues or abandoned because someone has not microchipped them or worried about the penalty and I don’t want to find ‘stop and search’ used indiscriminately to check if a dog is microchipped.
“There should be a proper reason to check. Sorry I am so cynical nowadays. We must remember that the reason for microchipping is not to punish but to help find lost and stolen dogs, to identify them and as a barrier to dog theft. The difficulty is enforcement.”
We can all appreciate where Pam is coming from and Solicitor, Trevor Cooper would go further, “I agree that to require compulsory microchipping is a huge step forward but I would like this to be in addition to the current collar / tag requirement as well as compulsory third party liability insurance.”
A register of dogs and their owners, identifiable through the microchip will obviously be a useful means of establishing responsibility for a dog’s actions and in proving liability if an attack or damage has occurred.
These points indicate the need for compulsory updating of records and need to be included in the discussions for legislation to make microchipping compulsory.
Wandsworth Council has already introduced compulsory microchipping for all tenants and leaseholders.
This is carried out free of charge and private residents can participate in the scheme at a reduced rate. The scheme initially offered a time frame to allow for everyone to get their dog chipped and although the council do not intend to evict anyone for failure to comply, those who don’t chip their dogs will find various sanctions working against them.
So it’s clear that a local authority can provide funding for free or reduced rate microchipping and many do – but funding also needs to be made available for the national database.
Currently most microchipping manufacturers pay £2.00 per registration to Petlog, the Kennel Club’s Pet Reunification Service. This is an extremely small amount for the quality of service Petlog offers.
As a result of this inadequacy Petlog now charges for changes of address and owners can update to Petlog Premium to access the other services on offer which will prove beneficial should a pet go missing or be stolen.
Petlog – 0870 6066751- holds data for all microchip manufacturers except Anibase run by Animal Care (Identichip, Virbac & Petcode) and Avid (Pettrac).
Anibase is available during office hours for ‘lost and found’ calls and is manned by Petlog out of office hours when ‘found’ calls are routed through the Central Number above.
The Avid/Pettrac database is available during office hours for ‘lost and found’ calls and 24/7 for ‘found’ calls.
Petlog gives the contact number for any out of office calls relating to Pettrac. All microchip manufacturers have committed to the MAG Code of Practice with the exception of Avid/Pettrac. This ensures that minimum requirements and standards are observed and complied with by microchip distributers and associated businesses.
It also incorporates the Code of Practice for Databases holding permanent identification data on dogs introduced by the DIG in May 1999.
Petlog, Anibase and the National Dog Tattoo Register have signed up to this. Avid/Pettrac has not.
Registration of a pet on Petlog is for the life of the pet and on Anibase registration is for eight years. If you wish to remove your pet from a database in favour of another reunification service you can do so by paying a registration fee.
This fragmentation is disappointing.
In an arena where co-operation and co-ordination are crucial the fact that manufacturers of microchips and associated equipment sold in the UK have not all committed to these codes is lamentable.
Furthermore because of this inconsistency, DEFRA, advised until recently, “It would be virtually impossible for a local authority, or indeed a normal veterinary practice or police station, to be stocked with all the microchip readers that they would need to read every possible microchip.
“Although certain standards of microchip are recommended for use as part of the Pet Travel Scheme, the pet owner may use any microchip that is available. This includes microchips that may be available in Africa, South America etc, i.e. microchips that the police, local authorities or a vet would not be expected to have a reader for. Nor is there a national database for microchip numbers; at present, most manufacturers run databases only in support of their own product.”
This negative view of the potential of the microchip service caused great concern as anyone reading it would believe there is no point to obtaining a scanner at all.
When contacted by Bruce Forsyth and Debbie Matthews of VGS Secretary of State for DEFRA Hilary Benn MP apologised that the information was misleading. He wrote “…while we are confident that all ISO standard scanners can read FDX-B chips, we can provide no guarantee that these scanners will be able to read every make of FDX-A chip.”
Microchips and scanners sold in the UK conform to the International Standards Organisation (ISO) standards 11784 and 11785 covering design, safety and performance.
Microchips are either FDX-A (phased out during the late 1990s, but there are still live animals with them) or the currently used FDX-B chips. ISO standard scanners read both types of chip so it is misleading to say that local authorities would need every type of scanner to read all chips.
Those animals microchipped abroad would be best served if they were microchipped again with an ISO standard chip if the animal is to remain in the UK.
Most European chips conform to the ISO standards and owners of pets travelling under the Pet Passport Scheme with American or African chips – non ISO chips – are advised to travel with their own scanner to demonstrate the presence of the chip to UK Customs.
Indeed it would be worth while to ascertain from the manufacturer whether the chip inside your pet is readable by an ISO standard scanner.
I have made no secret of the fact that in my own personal opinion, Petlog would be the ideal national database for lost, stolen and found dogs. It is ideally placed to adapt to this extra service.
It is a sophisticated organisation staffed by trained, sensitive people, working to an exceptionally high standard.
Having visited Petlog and seen for myself the accuracy and patience of all the staff and the potential of the database, I am confident that this jewel in the Kennel Club’s crown could fulfil the requirements for a national database.
The question is do we care enough to provide for this service financially? I have had four dogs microchipped and paid full price – up to £30.00 each. A microchip costs only a few pounds to produce.
So someone somewhere is making a tidy profit out of this – even when reduced rates or combined offers are available.
Surely some of this money should be channelled into providing a database that has an adequate amount of money to operate to its potential.
Petlog already works successfully with many different agencies involved in the reunification of pets and is part of the European Pet Network with the ability to share details of missing dogs nationally and across Europe.
This is the best chance we’ve had of getting close to a co-ordinated system to protect our dogs.
The discussion on compulsory microchipping has featured in the national and canine media.
The main political parties have expressed their interest in looking at the potential to make it work.
Ian Cawsey MP Brigg & Goole writes “Microchipping is an inexpensive and effective way of registering dogs and their owners. It helps fight dog theft and would be a big help to local councils who have to pick up stray dogs, keep them in kennels and try to find the owner.
“It should be a mandatory requirement and I know that no responsible dog owner would object to such a simple thing that gives them peace of mind, knowing their dog could be traced if lost or stolen”.
In conclusion DTA believes that compulsory microchipping is a fundamental step towards tackling the vicious crime of dog theft but it must be combined with compulsory scanning and an adequate national database to create a viable system that will assist those who work in this complex and often thankless arena, and ensure the best possible security for dogs and their owners.
We don’t want a return to the dog licence – a tax on dog owners. We want a co-ordinated system with the welfare, well being and safety of dogs at its epicentre.
There are always going to be people who oppose new laws or break existing laws but that’s not a strong argument against having them. If legislation to introduce compulsory microchipping is fundamentally concerned with protection of dogs and their owners, it can and will work.
Our friend and vice patron Peter Purves (pictured above) sums up the defence of compulsory microchipping perfectly, “And about time too! There can be absolutely no argument that microchipping your pet is the way forward – the peace of mind it can give you to know that your dog can be instantly identified and returned to you should it stray, or even worse be stolen.
“DTA is very sensible in campaigning for a national updateable database of microchipped animals. At last some really sensible legislation to help protect our pets.”
This overview is intentioned to set out DTA’s position on the subject of compulsory microchipping. I am grateful to all those who have contributed information and opinions to enable me to put it together.
It has been an exercise of total co-operation and co-ordination and I appreciate the fact that extremely busy people have taken time to assist and guide a small charity.
It’s easy to write down a list of requirements but the process of achieving them is not that easy, nor is finding the means to implement them but we must find them.
As Cicero said,
“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.
You are his life, his love, his leader.
He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion!”
Are you going to Discover Dogs?
If so don’t forget to drop by the DTA & VGS stands and say ‘Hello’. We are on stands 30 & 32 right opposite Petlog!
Discover Dogs is on 14th & 15th November at Earls Court 1 – London.
10.00 till 17.00