More and more organisations and charities are calling for mandatory microchipping and I have to say I have always been resistant to the arguments and I was wondering if it was time for me to have another think. It's been a while since I mulled it over. Lots of sensible people are asking for it, perhaps my instincts are off or things have changed?
What exactly is mandatory microchipping meant to achieve?
What will it alter? Which specific animal welfare problems will it help?
Chips help identify your dog and are I think are a great belt and braces. The collar with a tag is much better. It can can be read by anyone and is still a legal requirement. It is universally accessible to all should your dog go missing. A simple inexpensive non-invasive identifying system already on the statute book.
Has anyone ever been prosecuted for not having a dog tag? Why?
So why will anyone ever take action against people who don't microchip?
Something that usually has no visible clue as to the owner's compliance.
If a collar falls off or is taken off by someone who steals your dog, the chip becomes much more valuable.
That is should anyone bother to take your dog somewhere for scanning. Especially if you dog goes missing on a Friday night and the good person who takes it in has to wait till Monday for the dog warden to come back on duty.
After a few days on the run will someone who takes in your dog assume this poor obviously maltreated wretch has a loving owner somewhere?
As we know, just having your dog chipped is no guarantee that someone will scan your lost dog and contact you.
We have cases of stolen chipped dogs being rehomed to new, unsuspecting pet owners by very reputable charities. Many months later two chips might be discovered and a messy custody battle ensues.
But how often does the old owner simply never get that call because the new owner is already too bonded or the vet doesn't want to get involved?
Sadly many routinely chipped dogs don't have loving owners actively searching for them and people in the rescue world don't have time to become private detectives. How many times would you waste valuable time trying to track down someone who may or may not care about their dog and probably moved house many years ago and didn't bother to update their details on the central database.
They may find it more productive to use their energies to find the dog a really good home rather than find the technical owner that probably allowed the dog to escape in the first place.
Chips can be hard to find even if you know they are there.
If you don't know whether or not the dog is chipped, how long do you keep scanning before you give up? (Oscar's chip, for example, is moving down his leg! I know where it is so I can show the vet where to scan - but would anyone else find it?)
Chips are useful for identifying dogs that are going to be health tested, but even that isn't a fail safe if someone is intent on breaking the rules.
No one has been caught, but I am told by those who know that chips can and have been taken out and implanted in other dogs. DNA is probably the way to go with regard to definitely logging parentage and linking that information to health tests in breeds where there is a temptation to confuse results.
Am I being unfair? Why would someone move a chip or lie about a dog's identity?
Where someone has unbroken chain of very many Champions followed by a beautiful dog that either won't conceive or is perhaps too small to give birth safely - ascribing a litter from another of their own dogs to that glorious pedigree has sometimes been too much to resist. After all they know who everyone really is, so they might think, where is the harm?
Or they may have had an accidental mating between close relatives that would be embarrassing to admit or a litter from a bitch that was too old for the KC to register. Or someone really unscrupulous who has a top winner about to be used at stud extensively and not wanting to risk the possibility of a bad test result so they move the chip to their other dog that has already had a very good hip score and have that dog retested before moving the chip back.
I am told the chip can be removed and re-implanted really quite simply. We all know there are people in the dog world (not vets) with the skills to change an ear set or a tail carriage with illegal operations or indeed implant a false testicle where needed. Moving a chip and reimplanting it is much less complex that cutting a tendon.
Mandatory chips will discourage someone with lots of near identical dogs and only one lot of health insurance from claiming for different dogs under the same policy - which should keep our renewals down a tad. And I guess it will put off some people who might otherwise have been tempted to fake their health tests - but it isn't going to change the world.
It may actually reduce the number of people using the official testing scheme as those who don't want to chip or tattoo will still test for their own records, but their data will be lost from public scrutiny. And those that just didn't like testing generally will have yet another excuse not to!
Some people just don't like the idea of implanting a foreign body in their dogs, especially those in immune-compromised breeds.
Chips are useful for Pet Passports - for linking dogs to documents. But they do sometimes fail or even disappear. And they can always be moved from dog-to-dog to fit the paperwork should someone have the need to move a dog quickly who hasn't been vaccinated.
Mandatory microchipping to me seems a classic red herring.
It reminds me of being at the opticians and being asked to choose between two lenses - "better with or without?" they say - and just like with mandatory microchips - very often I can't see any difference!
The difference I do see is - someone makes loads of money manufacturing and retailing a chip rather than a tag. Someone makes moneymaking and selling scanners so that people can read the chips. Someone gets paid for collecting and updating the data. Someone might get power from knowing more about the people owning dogs and where they live and being able to sell them other stuff like insurance.
Good owners will microchip, bad owners will not. People who do chip will often forget to update their records when they move or forget who holds the data even if they do want to update the records.
No one will enforce mandatory testing even if it does become the law.
I have my dogs chipped, but I just don't think if we're going to the bother to make legislation changes for dogs, couldn't we have something a bit more evolved than this?
Something that does make a visible difference?
Why not have chips and something a bit more meaty?
Universal use of the puppy contract would cost virtually nothing and bring enormous change to the way dogs are acquired in this country.
The puppy contract - a fair agreement between seller and buyer tested in law - would make both sides responsible for doing the right thing. The breeder would be expected to do all the available and appropriate health tests and rear their dogs correctly. The puppy buyer has an obligation to look after the dog properly, too.
In layman's terms it provides a very specific extended warranty that makes both sides obligated to do their best or pay the consequences. The Small Claims Court and Trading Standards would be able to act for all puppy buyers currently saddled with expensive and avoidable vet bills if they've bought a poorly pup - significantly without having to prove that their breeder was a trader.
Good breeders would be completely protected if they do the right things.
Bad breeders would be made to pick up the vets bills.
Consumers could be educated to download the freely available contract and insist that the breeder or even shop should they continue to sell dogs signs it.
The message would be a very simple one. No contract - no sale.
Passive breeders and poor commercial outlets would find dog breeding very much less attractive with the prospect of weighty bills denting their profit margins potentially for many, many years to come if they don't clean up their act and test stock and rear them properly.
The puppy contract is already used extensively in Sweden and is a working model for us to be inspired by.
In Sweden dogs are not sold in pet shops.
In Sweden rescue kennels are few and far between because they are never full.
Novices can and do still have an occasional litter, but they must health test and use the contract. It is clear to all what good practise is.
So in short, why is everyone asking for just chips when I think there's so very much more to be gained with a side order of the universal puppy contract!
Imagine if we could get it included in the law so that everyone selling a dog has to use the universal puppy contract.
I reckon we'd stop puppy farming by just making it unattractive.
We'd also stop people short of money carelessly breeding from their own untested Labradors on every season for tax-free undeclared income. Stop people imagining that having a litter doesn't have very real consequences.
And if we dissuade inappropriate people from breeding dogs, perhaps we'll also have many fewer disastrous impulse purchases, too.
It's all win, win, win as far as I can see.
Something that costs nothing, but changes everything!
I like chips, but I think we need much more for a healthy future for all dogs.