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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Every new pet dog must have a £35 microchip: Plan to control dangerous animals by putting all eight million pets on massive database

By James Millbank

Every new pet dog will be microchipped under sweeping Government regulations to combat dangerous animals.

Each puppy born and dog sold will have an electronic chip implanted under the skin. Details will then be placed on a national database accessible by police and the RSPCA.

A confidential Whitehall document obtained by The Mail on Sunday says: ‘The compulsory microchipping of dogs on change of ownership would affect anyone breeding dogs for sale or gifting to another person or persons.

This would apply to anyone breeding dogs, whether they are a breeder or a private person whose bitch has a litter, whether planned or not.’

But the proposals last night prompted criticism from MPs and animal experts. They claim that the moves will unfairly penalise the law-abiding owners of Britain’s eight million dogs and will do nothing to tackle the problems posed by dangerous breeds such as pitbulls and Japanese tosas.

Until now, Ministers have been reluctant to introduce compulsory microchipping or licensing amid fears of a backlash from dog owners. The Dogs Trust estimates that around 800,000 puppies are born each year.

The ownership of dog licenses was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1988. It was mandatory to have one as a dog owner up until this time and cost only 371⁄2p. But it was phased out because it was widely ignored and regarded as ineffective.

Liberal Democrat MP John Thurso said of the plans: ‘It’s compulsion and I don’t like it. People who have dangerous dogs that are against the law will take no notice of this.

‘This will result in a disproportionate burden on the law-abiding who keep dogs and especially those who need dogs for their work such as farmers who keep kennels. They will be stuck with another expense and piece of legislation to obey.’

The document, drawn up by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), says the chips would initially be imprinted with the details of the dog breeder and would be ‘updated by other persons transferring ownership of their pet with the contact details of the new owner when ownership is transferred’.

Defra officials have sent a memo to other Government departments asking a series of detailed questions such as: ‘How acceptable do you think it would be to require anyone microchipping a dog to request proof of identity/address of the owner of the dog?’

Another question asks: ‘What would it cost a breeder to microchip each dog? And assuming the cost would be passed on to the purchaser, would this price increase cause any difficulties?’

Figures show a dramatic increase in the number of dangerous dogs. In London last year 1,512 banned dogs were held by the Metropolitan Police

The cost of microchipping each animal is around £35. The procedure is usually carried out by a vet and involves a small chip about the size of a grain of rice being implanted between the shoulder blades, under the skin of the dog, using a needle and special syringe.

Once in place, the microchip can be detected using a hand-held device. RSPCA officers already use the scanners to trace dogs that have been voluntarily microchipped. However, police forces will have to order thousands of the devices at a time when many are facing big budget cuts.

There has been a series of deaths after savage attacks by dangerous breeds. In 2009 John Paul Massey, four, died after he was mauled by his uncle’s illegal pitbull terrier.

Last December, Barbara Williams was killed after she was mauled to death at her home in Wallington, Surrey, by a giant Belgian mastiff.

Figures show a dramatic increase in the number of dangerous dogs. In London last year 1,512 banned dogs were held by the Metropolitan Police – up from just 27 in 2005.

Aidan Burley, Conservative MP for Cannock Chase, said: ‘What army of bureaucrats will enforce the monitoring of a microchip in every new pet dog? This is just another layer of costly bureaucracy and it will hit those on lowest incomes the hardest.’

Robin Page, farmer and former presenter of One Man And His Dog, said: ‘This is absurd. There is no point in it. For those who work with dogs such as low-paid shepherds and hill farmers, it’s another expense. But it will will hit anyone who wants to have a pet – this from a Government that was going to reduce red tape. It’s all the same; more rules and regulations.’

At present microchipping is only compulsory for owners who wish to take their dogs on holiday or for those moving overseas. Ten years ago Britain abolished the compulsory six months in quarantine for dogs arriving from abroad.

However, all dogs must be vaccinated against rabies and have a blood test to prove the vaccine has worked. Vets then sign certificates, quoting the dog’s chip number.

A Defra spokesperson said: ‘Dangerous dogs and how to tackle the problem of dog attacks are very serious issues and we’re working with the police and welfare groups on the best possible measures for dealing with them. We will be announcing what we will do to tackle them soon.’

Police forces currently find it difficult to trace owners of violent dogs and bring their owners to justice because many have no collars or distinguishing markings.

However, microchipping has also encountered problems such as the chip moving around inside the animal’s body. Some have been reported to be unreadable by some scanners.

Other claims are that they can cause health problems among some small dogs, but these allegations are rejected by the veterinary profession. The proportion of owners who are voluntarily microchipping their dogs has risen sharply in recent years.

The RSPCA has been keen for all dogs to be microchipped. This would link them to an owner and make it an offence to fail to inform the authorities of a change of address or phone number. It is unclear whether it will be a criminal offence to own an unchipped dog or whether this will result in a fine.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said last night: ‘We are 100 per cent in favour of compulsory microchipping of dogs as part of the responsible pet ownership message.

However, we believe it needs to form part of a much more comprehensive dog licensing scheme if it is to have a significant and positive impact.

‘The Government needs to be clear on what specific problem it is hoping to solve by introducing compulsory microchipping because anti-social dog owners are still unlikely to comply and dog attacks on other animals and people will still happen regardless.

‘The RSPCA would rather proactive measures are introduced that look to prevent attacks, rather than react to them once they have already happened.

‘We would also question who would be responsible for policing the introduction of compulsory microchipping of dogs, and importantly where the resources would come from to fund this. Any legislation is worthless unless it can be effectively enforced.’



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