One of the first prosecutions under new dog chipping laws that came into force earlier this year has revealed confusion among some councils on how to interpret the new rules.
The new laws requiring dog owners to microchip their dogs by the time they are eight weeks old came into force in April this year in England, Scotland and Wales. However, a lack of guidance from Defra appears to have left many council in the dark as to how they should be interpreted.
Under the new laws local authorities that come across a dog without a microchip or with inaccurate details on the chip can issue a 21-day notice on owners to rectify the situation. Owners who then then fail to properly chip their dog could be fined up to £500. The law has been in place in Northern Ireland since 2012.
In what is thought to be the first prosecution in England, Stockton on Tees Borough Council prosecuted Heather Westwood, 29, for failing to comply with the Microchipping of Dogs Regulations (England) 2014. Westwood had been given an extra seven days in addition to the 21 days stated on the original notice.Her dog, named Dotty, escaped from the family home in April and was handed in to Stockton Council’s animal welfare services by a member of the public. Officers found that while she was chipped it contained the wrong details.
It appears that Westwood had bought the cross breed as a puppy but had failed to change the details on the chip. Stockton Council has issued up to thirty 21-day notices since the regulations came into force and this was the first non-compliance.
After failing to turn up in court Westwood was fined £220, ordered to pay £130 costs and a victim surcharge of £30 totalling £380 payable in full in seven days with a collection order.
Mark Berry who is principal EHO at Stockton Council but is also chair of the National Companion Animal Focus Group (NCAFG) told EHN: ‘We are finding a lot of local authorities are struggling with these new rules which is worrying as there has been no guidance from Defra regarding the regs and no standard 21-day notice template so it has been left for every local authority to invent the wheel.
The NCAFG acts as the national forum on animal welfare issues. Defra estimates that one-in-eight of the estimated UK dog population is microchipped however, research carried out by local authorities estimates the figure to be far higher.
‘We did a survey with about 50 local authorities showing that at best you are looking at about 30 per cent of stray dogs are micro chipped,’ said Berry.
‘What our survey found is that not only is this is a much smaller number of chipped dogs than Defra anticipated but also of the dogs that are micro chipped at least 50 per cent of them have out-of-date details.’
Councils are finding that often the details are of the previous owner or that phone details are incorrect requiring resources for council staff to actually visit an address to see if they can find the owner.
Dog Trust research has revealed that 3,463 dogs are put down each year by local authorities. Chipping provides obvious benefits for the dog and owner but also save council funds as it allows the council to immediately return the animal rather than having to incur kennelling costs.