RESPONSIBLE DOG owners are encouraged to get their pet permanently identified with a microchip, a tattoo or even a DNA profile – but whereas that works – most of the time – for live dogs, what happens when the dog might be accidentally killed on the road?
Microchipping is, of course, the method preferred by the Kennel Club who co-ordinated the third National Microchipping Month in June 2005 with the support of Vets, Rescue Centres, Dog Wardens, Pet Shops and Kennels. The law requires that all dogs be identified by a suitable collar and tag when in a public place, but a collar can be removed or in some situations come astray. A microchip or tattoo is non-removable and supporters claim they speed up the process of reuniting lost pets with anxious owners.
But, as Nikki Powditch of Waltham-on-the-Worlds, Leicestershire, found out, having your dog microchipped is no guarantee that you will be reunited with your pet, particularly if it is unfortunate enough to be killed on the road.
Nikki was walking her dog Jester, a three-year-old rescued Rottweiler, near Colsterworth, Lincolnshire on 24th May when he disappeared, something he had never done before. Jester was wearing a collar and tag and was microchipped.
After calling and searching for two hours, Nikki reported his loss to the local police station, and then returned to the area to continue searching. Some four hours after Jester disappeared, Nikki was told that the body of a large black dog was on the nearby A1 trunk road. She rushed to the area but found no trace of her dog.
The local Council had not been notified of a dead dog on the road and further calls to the police, vets and dog wardens failed to find any further information. At this point Nikki did not know if this was her dog, who had removed it or where the body had been taken. After more telephone calls, she was told by the police that they had received a report of a dead dog but as the body was on the A1 she was advised to contact the Highways Agency as this was their area of jurisdiction. She did so, with further calls to their Agent for the Lincolnshire area and the plant where the body was processed. Nikki was told that this particular dog was not wearing a collar and tag and was never scanned for a microchip. This omission means that she still has no idea whether this was Jester or not, and as anyone who has ever lost a dog will understand, it is not knowing that causes tremendous emotional upset.
What happened in this case is standard practice rather than a failure in procedure. The Highways Agency maintains England’s motorways and trunk roads and Roger Jones from their Press Office confirmed "When we find the body of a dog on our roads, maintenance crews will make attempts to trace the owner. This is often hampered because we do not often find a collar or tag. Currently we do not have facilities for checking dog microchips in all areas but we are looking into this.
Established procedures require us to have remains dealt with in a hygienic way and they are taken for incineration." The number of dead dogs removed from Highways Agency roads in 2004 was 301, representing 10% of all dead animals.
Removal of dead animals from other roads is the responsibility of the local authority, which in this case is South Kestevan District Council. Pat Swinton, Cleansing and Contract Services Manager, said that dead animals were picked up and taken to a landfill site. Dead dogs were usually collected by the local Dog Warden but his department had only dealt with about six in the last two years; they did not scan for microchips. The Public Relations Department, on behalf of the Dog Warden Service, confirmed that live dogs were scanned but dead ones were not.
Councils in other parts of the country have the same procedure. If an animal has a collar and tag the owner is contacted, if not, the body is not scanned for a microchip. Other forms of visible identification, such as a tattoo were not mentioned and Gillian Christian, Registrar of the National Dog Tattoo Register said, "I cannot recall ever receiving an enquiry from a Council, most calls come from vets". Recent research carried out by Virgin Money Pet Insurance found that 93% of drivers would stop to help if they hit a dog on the road, with over one third taking the animal to a vet themselves.
The RSPCA also recommend microchipping as a permanent way of linking dogs to owners. The Manager of the Radcliffe-on-Trent Centre assumed that local authorities would routinely scan dead dogs but was not surprised to hear that this was not the case, particularly as most Dog Wardens work normal office hours, Monday to Friday and not all have scanners. The Radcliffe Centre had never been asked to scan a dead animal but would do so if asked.
No Legal Requirement
According to Ann Harpwood of Justice for Dogs, there is currently no legal requirement for such a check to be made and whilst a good idea it may be unworkable in practice, not least because of the expense. Jayne Hayes, founder of Doglost, the leading organisation dedicated to getting missing and stolen dogs back with their owners, is dismayed to know that dead dogs found on the highways are not being scanned automatically. "Doglost can only imagine the heartbreak that this has caused to the over 300 owners of dogs incinerated last year with out being scanned," she said. "Owners just want to know what has happened to their dog, even bad news is better than a fruitless search for a missing dog. A scanner only costs around £80 - maybe the microchipping companies should be donating scanners to these authorities so their system provides the service of reunification that customers who have had their dogs microchipped are expecting."
Dog Theft Action is a political lobby group with clear aims and objectives, one being: ‘To encourage all local authorities to invest in scanning equipment and use appropriately and correctly.’ Margaret Nawrockyi DTA press co-ordinator stated, "DTA were deeply dismayed but not shocked to hear of Jester’s story."
"This is an aspect of our campaign that needs to be exposed. Responsible dog owners, who have taken the trouble to permanently identify their dogs, deserve more support from central and local government. We are calling upon all agencies that come into contact with found dogs whether dead or alive, to scan them for microchips and check for tattoos. If the dog is deceased, owners should be informed and have the opportunity to dispose of their pet’s remains in their own way.
They should not have to bear the knowledge that their dog might have been dumped on a landfill site or turned into bonemeal!
"The cost of scanners is not prohibitive and dog owners would be reassured that should the worst happen, they would at least be spared the appalling anguish of not knowing what had happened to their beloved pet."
The majority of microchipped animals are registered with Petlog, run by the Kennel Club. Petlog is the largest pet reunification service in the UK, with a database of nearly 3,000,000 records, over half of which are dogs. This is on hand 24 hours a day to authorised bodies such as dog wardens or animal welfare centres, who can scan the chips in found animals and trace their owners via the Petlog database. Phil Buckley from the Kennel Club Press Office offered his sympathy to Jester’s owner and said he would be contacting her. "When a dog or cat is found, dead or alive, the first thing that should happen is that it is scanned for a microchip." Petlog works closely with all agencies and he would be highlighting this failure in procedure at high-level meetings in the next few weeks.
Some 50,000 dogs go missing every year, some are reunited with their owners because they are microchipped, but some chipped dogs end up in rescue centres and are rehomed without ever being scanned. The Kennel Club and the RCVS have recently issued guidelines to vets on what steps to take if ownership of a microchipped animal is in doubt, so it does happen.
It is impossible to say how many microchipped dogs die on the road, and their bodies disposed of in landfill or by incineration. This case highlights the need for better communication between all agencies that may be involved with dogs that are lost or found and for those agencies to not only have scanners, but also use them every time an animal is found, whether alive or dead.
If this simple procedure had been carried out Nikki Powditch would know whether to mourn her dog or to carry on searching. How many other owners are still desperately searching for a lost dog with no hope of success but still holding out hope that the microchip will lead to a happy reunion? .
Nikki Powditch has decided to take action and has launched a campaign for what she is calling "Jester’s Law" to ensure that "Any persons or authority collecting, finding, treating or removing pet animals from the roads, highways or streets - dead, injured or alive - must scan the animal for a microchip and inform the owners BEFORE the animal is incinerated, re-homed or otherwise disposed of." The petition is available on the Dog Theft Action website
(http://www.dogtheftaction.co.uk/petition/) or contact Nikki by telephone on 01664 464529 or e-mail NICKSPEA@aol.com.
Website details: DogLost - www.doglost.co.uk or telephone 01909 733366
Dog Theft Action (DTA) - http://www.dogtheftaction.co.uk