Three years on from my original post in Dog World on the dangers of microchipping (click HERE for the article), with April 6th looming I revisit the issue.

I recently saw a story in the Daily Mirror that certainly gave me food for thought. It concerned microchipping, which, as many of you know is a particular interest of mine. Three years ago I wrote a letter to Dog World because I was concerned about the blanket acceptance of this procedure and what seemed to be the complete exclusion of all dissenting voices. There had been many concerns raised over the safety of microchipping dogs, movement of the chips and indeed mumblings about a possible link to cancer.

I brought all of these fears up in my letter and I wasn’t surprised by the reaction it caused. The ‘big guns’ were brought out to slap me down, all of them seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet, ‘movement of chips was exceedingly rare’ and ‘there could be no possible comparison between microchipped mice and rats (which developed cancer) and microchipped dogs.

All in all I was roundly derided and written off as ‘hysterical’ and something of a drama queen (I’ve certainly been called a lot worse) and the mighty microchipping machine rolled on. However, time is a wonderful leveller and in the intervening years we’ve seen the denials on movement of chips, in the face of scores of reports of migrating chips made public by worried owners, gradually change from ‘exceedingly rare’ to ‘uncommon’ and a requirement has been written in for anyone who identifies an adverse reaction to report it the Veterinarian Medicines Directorate.

Potential harm

Indeed I have an email, sent to Mrs H Stephenson on behalf of Richard Lochhead MSP, who now acknowledges the ‘potential harm that microchipping may cause to a small proportion of dogs and the cost implications that may result (for the owner) from that.’ The same correspondence also stated that, ‘in the very rare event that a microchip migrates somewhere that has the potential to cause health problems, the keeper responsible for the health and welfare of the dog would be expected to pay for any vets bills incurred.’

Despite reassurances I know many owners are still worried about chipping their pets and the letter, which is on my website, regularly gets over a thousand hits a week and I get sent many (often heartbreaking) stories by worried dog (and horse) lovers from all over the world.

The lines that are trotted out to those who express concern is, of course, that all this is necessary for the welfare of dogs; it will help track dogs that have attacked people – no one has ever explained exactly how this would work, as the majority of people are attacked in their homes by dogs they already know and those who are attacked outside, who is going to grab hold of a strange dog that has just attacked them and wait for a scanner to be produced? – and the main benefit in microchipping is reuniting lost or stolen dogs with their owners. It is estimated (I’m always suspicious of that word!) that 10,000 owners and their pets were reunited in the UK through this route in 2014.

However official statistics from Ireland, where microchipping has been compulsory for some time seem to completely refute what many animal rehoming charities here in the UK say about the predicted savings which will supposedly result from microchipping being made compulsory.

And as many of us know, for every wonderful, heart-warming tale about a dog being reunited with its owner thanks to its microchip, and there’s certainly been a lot of these in the press lately, there are just as many stories, that don’t get quite the same amount of coverage, of microchipped dogs that are lost/stolen and are never seen again.

Which brings me to the story I saw in the Mirror. It concerned a little Lhasa Apso called Mickey. One day, Mickey managed to escape from his garden, a nightmare scenario that has probably happened to many of us at some time or another. Of course Mickey’s owner, Tracey Minor, was distraught at his disappearance but was confident that he would soon been found, after all, he was microchipped. Despite this reassuring thought, like any good owner, she plastered ‘lost dog’ posters around the neighbourhood, scoured the streets and informed the local police and council kennels. Despite all this she heard nothing about Mickey… until, four years later, out of the blue, Mickey suddenly appeared!

Rightful ownership

Of course Mrs Minor was overjoyed when the council kennels rang to say they had discovered Mickey. Officials scanning a lost dog had traced it back to Mrs Minor thanks to its microchip. All good so far… but the champagne had to stay on ice… a short time later the dog warden called her back to tell her somebody else had claimed ownership of Mickey. The kennels would be keeping him until the issue of correct ownership was finally sorted out.

This didn’t bother Mrs Minor, after all she could easily prove that she was the rightful owner of the little dog; she held all the correct documentation relating to Mickey and his microchip.

However she was in for a big shock. The council informed her that they had decided to return Mickey to the family who had looked after him for the past two years.

As Mrs Minor quite rightly points out: “I feel that I’m being punished for doing the right thing and for them doing the wrong thing. I got my dog microchipped and registered when I got him and I did everything I could to find him. But the people who found him, didn’t report Mickey to the authorities as they were meant to – I am completely baffled by the council’s decision. What’s the point of having dog’s microchipped if some people are just going to ignore the system?”

A spokesman for Gedling Borough Council responded saying: “Based on the welfare of the animal we made a decision to return it to the person who could reasonably show that they were the most recent owner.”

The ownership of the dog is now a civil matter between the people involved.

Following on from this story came the revelation in the Daily Record (Feb 7) that Scottish vets have revealed that they won’t be enforcing the new microchipping laws; unchipped dogs won’t be reported to the authorities unless there are concerns over the animal. And quite rightly so; vets are there to provide assistance to animals in need, not police laws and, further on in the article, more critics voiced exactly the same concerns I raised all those years ago that the law is unworkable, impossible to enforce (where, despite threatening headlines of £500 fines in the press, non-compliance may be followed with a 21-day notice to chip the dog and only after that a fine may be issued) and a needless risk for dogs. Featured in the piece is dog trainer Heather Smith whose Bearded Collie, Skye, twice faced an operation to remove a microchip when the device migrated through her body. After speaking to the chipping company to report the issue she was told, ‘chips usually adhered better to fleshy animals’ however after speaking to other dog owners, ‘migrating chips were apparently quite common’.

I truly hope that this legislation does make a difference and I hope the voices that have been raised in concern are ultimately proved wrong, after all, all five of my dogs have been microchipped. But when one considers that any dog in a public place should be wearing its collar and tag bearing its owners name, address and telephone number, and how many times this law is flaunted – added to the fact that vets are not going to help police this law, who on earth is going to enforce microchipping? Is this going to be yet another piece of legislation with no real enforcement?

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