Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Compulsory Microchipping (part 2)

As discussed in Part One of my thoughts on compulsory microchipping, dogs are going to need to be chipped, by law, from 2016 onwards (in England - earlier than that in Scotland and Wales). Arguments in favour of compulsory chipping cover a range of outcomes, from cost savings, to making it easier to document hereditary health issues, to improving the ease and speed of reuniting owners with their lost pets.

By Reinraum  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But the argument that compulsory microchipping will "improve traceability generally"  is an interesting one. Admittedly, if a higher percentage of the pet population is chipped, then in theory it should be easier to reunite pet with owner. But as we can see from research, even if a microchip is found, in a significant proportion of cases the contact details associated with the chip are incorrect.

American researchers carried out a study at a local shelter to determine the impact of being microchipped on rates of return home. In all, of the microchipped animals arriving at the shelter, 72.7% were able to have their owners contacted. Of the remainder, the majority had incorrect contact details registered, or the owner couldn't be contacted through the given details, with a much smaller proportion having a chip that wasn't registered in any database. This last is less of an issue in the UK, as the action of inserting the chip and the action of registering the animal are both done by the vet at the same time. In the US, the owner is often left to carry out the registration.

By Steffen Heinz (Caronna 14:47, 20 February 2007 (UTC)) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) o via Wikimedia Commons

On top of this, the issue of traceability is muddied by the fact that many vets don't scan new patients for existing microchips, and rescues are under significant time and financial pressure, sometimes meaning that pets aren't scanned as thoroughly as would be ideal. Couple this with the fact that there is no obligation for the Highways Agency or local council to scan deceased pets on the roads, and that a microchip doesn't act as proof of ownership, and suddenly using a microchip to identify and return your pet becomes a lot less clear cut.

In the UK, there is a campaign called "Vets Get Scanning" to raise awareness of these issues. Initially I was sceptical as to the value, since I (wrongly) assumed that every agency associated with stray animals and animal welfare would scan as a matter of course, but this assumption turned out to be spectacularly incorrect. I've also come across some horror stories of the owner having done everything right but the chip not having been read within the statutory seven days when a straying animal is held and so the animal passing into the rescue network and being rehomed or worse.  It seems like such a small thing, to make it at the very least "best practice" to scan a new dog at the time of registration with a vet, or (if at all possible) if it is unfortunately found deceased.

The Vets Get Scanning group also believe that a microchip should act as proof of ownership. At the moment, it does not, which leads to issues where an animal is passed on to a new owner having entered the rescue network after straying or having been stolen, and the chip shows up as being registered to another person. Data Protection laws prevent the old owner being given any details of where the dog is now, and as a result if they are notified that a dog registered in their name has turned up, the original owner has to resort to legal action to get the name of the new owner released, and potentially go to the small claims court to get the dog back. While I have no problem with the data protection law as it stands, it seems a little silly that there has to be a legal dispute over the ownership of the dog, when the original owner's details are on the chip.

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