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Vets urged to scan for ID

THE ROYAL College of Veterinary Surgeons and Petlog have joined forces to remind vets about the valuable role they can play in helping to reunite pets with their owners through the implantation and subsequent scanning of microchips.

Although just one of several forms of pet identification, microchips are increasing in popularity, particularly in light of their use as part of DEFRA’s Pet Travel Scheme. In addition to implanting microchips, veterinary surgeons can help to reunite lost, strayed or stolen pets through scanning for the microchips.

As reported in the last issue of OUR DOGS, many dog reunification agencies together with the anti-dog theft campaign group Dog Theft Action and the Kennel Club are calling for vets to carry out the procedure as a matter of course each time a ‘new’ dog is brought to them for treatment.

If the dog is microchipped and the details do not tally with those given by the owner, then, if the vet has reasonable suspicions that the dog is not the legal property of the owner, they should advise the police and the Petlog microchip registry accordingly. The same system would also apply to ear tattoos, whereby the police and National Dog Tattoo Register should be informed.

However, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had been quick to point out that it could not compel its members in the veterinary profession to undertake this procedure, citing the Data Protection Act as a barrier to a vet sharing information in the case of suspected stolen dog.

Recently, representatives from the RCVS met with the Kennel Club, where this issue was discussed. A joint statement was issued by both organisations last week in which it would appear that the RCVS had changed its stance somewhat and was now urging its members to routinely scan dogs presented at their surgeries.

The statement reads:

In its Annex on Microchipping, the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct recommends that scanning should be carried out on any stray animals brought into the surgery, or those suspected of being stolen, or in cases where the owner is not sure whether the animal has been microchipped.

When a microchip has been scanned, details can be checked with Petlog quickly online, or by phone or email. On the rare occasions when a client brings a vet an animal that has a microchip registered in another person’s name, both parties, with mutual consent, can be put in touch with each other.

However, if the client declines to consent to the release of his or her name and contact details, the RCVS guidance states that a veterinary surgeon may pass these details to Petlog to take further action. Petlog will then inform the registered owner that the whereabouts of their pet is known and advise the correct course of action.

RCVS President Professor Sheila Crispin said: ‘When a pet goes missing it is a stressful time for any owner. Happily, in some situations, veterinary surgeons have the opportunity to help reunite pets and their owners. Where this is possible, vets will wish to take the appropriate action, if necessary with the help of Petlog or other identification services.

‘However, the College maintains its view that it is not the role of the veterinary surgeon to act as police officer in cases where a pet is found to be registered with a different owner from the one presenting the animal. In this situation, the vet’s first recourse should be to Petlog.’

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, commented: ‘In the unlikely event that the ‘presenting owner’ is not willing for their details to be released or refuses to agree to return the animal, the veterinary surgeon can contact Petlog and on instruction from a solicitor or the police, Petlog can release details.’

Caroline concluded: ‘The reunification process can only work if owner details are up-to-date, so Petlog recommends that all owners ensure that they update their personal details, should they move house or change telephone number, for example, to ensure they can be speedily reunited with a lost pet.’

The move was greeted with a mixture of reactions from different organisations involved in combating dog theft.

Margaret Nawrockyi of Dog Theft Action welcomed the initiative, saying: ‘Dog Theft Action sees the recommendations in the KC RCVS joint statement as a major step forward in the process of tightening the loopholes that may have prevented dogs from being reunited with their rightful owners. These recommendations are the building blocks of a positive partnership between vets and responsible dog owners who heed the advice available on security issues like permanent identification.’

Simon Worsfold of the Missing Pets Bureau also welcomed the joint statement, saying: ‘Missing Pets Bureau fully supports the recommendations for the implantation and scanning of microchips. They are an excellent way to identify lost and stolen pets and by storing pets' microchip numbers on our database, they have helped us to locate, identify and reunite many pets with their owners over the years.

‘We work very closely with vets and stress than scanning is essential to the microchip’s purpose as a secure, discreet form of identification. Our own Petback service is designed to integrate with microchips and Missing Pets Bureau recommends pet owners use as many forms of identification for their pets as possible - including microchips, secure ID tags and even DNA identification.

‘Equally important to the reunification of lost and stolen pets is the ability of the organisation to contact the pet owner, and for this, the pet owner must ensure they keep their contact details fully up-to-date.’

Candy King of Doglost UK runs the ‘Dolly’s Directive’ campaign that calls upon vets to routinely scan dogs. The campaign was launched in the memory of her own Jack Russell Dolly who was stolen and has never been recovered, despite being permanently identified.

She commented: ‘I have read the statement with interest. It is a good thing that they are reminding vets what the guidelines are but nothing has changed, it is still voluntary for vets to scan.

‘When you have vets that do scan coming across a dog that has been through two rehoming centres without the chip being picked up and then having to mediate between the two 'owners', it strengthens the need for Dolly's Directive to be in place. If it were required for all organisations to check for permanent ID, then this particular dog’s owners would have been informed that their dog had been found a long time earlier.

‘Recently there has been a case of a tattooed dog that was stolen and ended up in an appalling state in a rescue centre some nine months later, the rescue centre in their wisdom felt that the owner of this dog obviously mistreated it and didn't deserve it back so didn't check with the National Dog Tattoo Register! Some three years later breeders recognised the quality of this dog and the tattoo was checked out, the owners were notified and met with the people who had the dog, the dog was loved, settled in his home and well looked after so it was decided to leave the dog with the people who had got it from rescue.

‘There needs to be a definite rule on permanent ID to protect all owners that have taken the trouble to permanently identify their pets, they need to have confidence in the system and see the system working to its full ability. This is not the case. The new statement is just a clarification of guidelines that are already in place so nothing has changed.’